When it comes to dog food, there are more choices than ever, including natural dog foods. For dogs with more specific diet needs, natural foods, made from whole ingredients and more unique protein sources can be a great choice. Here’s what “natural” means to you and your dog:

Selective Ingredients

Dog food brands with a natural nutrition label on them should meet specific requirements, including having selective natural ingredients that contribute to the overall health and wellness of your pet. Their ingredients should:

  • Meet Association of American Feed Control Officials, Inc. (AAFCO) nutrition standards.
  • Contain high-quality meat proteins as a primary ingredient (except vegetarian formulas).
  • Contain nutrients from recognizable whole food sources like meats, fruits and vegetables.
  • Contain no unnecessary chemicals, preservatives or additives.

Good for Sensitive Dogs

Unique protein sources like venison or duck can make a big difference in your pet's diet, especially if they have trouble digesting more standard foods. Natural nutrition brands offer many healthful ingredients that can support your pet's needs. Look for specifically named animal-based proteins such as “chicken,” “lamb” or “salmon,” which tend to be of higher quality than labels with the terms “poultry,” “meat” or “fish by-products”. There also are formulas designed to support skin and coat, life stages, activity level, breed or other health conditions.

  • Skin & coat. These formulas have special ingredients to help improve the health of your dog’s skin and coat, including making it shinier and softer, from the inside out.
  • Sensitive stomach. These formulas help improve your pup’s digestion and benefit dogs with food sensitivities.
  • Weight management. The right weight is key to keeping your dog’s bones and joints healthy. Special weight management formulas meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile for less active or overweight dogs.
  • Kibble size. This label will generally mean that the kibble size is larger or smaller than the average kibble size. The actual size should be mentioned on the packaging (such as small or large bites). The smaller the breed, the smaller the kibble size.

Natural Nutrition Checklist

Here are some of the descriptors you’ll find on natural nutrition labels and what they mean:

  • Limited ingredients: Formulated to include one protein source, one easily-digestible carbohydrate and limited ingredients for dogs with food sensitivities.
  • Higher protein: Formulated with higher than average protein levels (32% or more) for dogs with higher energy needs.
  • Vegetarian: Contains no meat-based proteins such as beef, poultry or fish.
  • Holistic: All-natural premium quality foods based on the holistic health philosophy, which focuses on the dog’s overall well-being, including physical, mental and emotional health. Includes superfood ingredients like cranberries, blueberries or flaxseed to help boost overall health and immunity.
  • Organic: Contains food sources that have not been exposed to pesticides, growth hormones, or antibiotics, while also following USDA, FDA or other recognized authorities in organic standards.
  • Grain-free: Contains no grains.

Other Considerations

  • Carbohydrates. Your dog’s energy source should come from high-quality carbohydrates such as rice, oats or potatoes.
  • Fats. Chicken fat, flaxseed oil or salmon oil are great sources of healthy and high-quality fats.
  • Whole foods. Look for natural whole food ingredients such as grains, fruits or vegetables. They’re easily recognizable in your dog's food and provide vitamins and minerals, as well as their own specific health benefits.
  • Preservatives. Chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin are often added in dog foods. Natural preservatives such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and oils of rosemary, clove or other spices are a better alternative. Natural preservatives do not provide as long of a shelf life, but are generally safer.
  • Antioxidants. These are often added to supplement and help a dog's immune system. Antioxidants can help deter many diseases including kidney disease, heart disease and cancer.
  • Artificial dyes. Artificial dyes are often used in dog foods for visual purposes, but are not necessary and some have been linked to medical problems.

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