Natural and Organic Pet Foods: There is a difference
Written By Christina Brownlow
As more Pet Parents are giving careful consideration to what’s going into their pet’s food bowls, natural and organic pet foods are becoming increasingly popular choices. In fact, Pet Parents spent $1 billion last year on natural pet food and $67 million on organic pet food, according to PetFoodIndustry.com
Amid the buzz whirling around these green diets, it can be easy to use the two terms interchangeably, but note: There are differences between “natural” pet foods and “organic” pet foods.
Natural pet foods = contains no chemicals
The term “natural” refers to feed or ingredients that come from only plant, animal or mined sources, according to U.S. Association of American Feed Control Officials. This means that pet foods labeled “natural” should not contain any chemically synthetic processing aids and chemically synthetic additives like artificial flavors, coloring or preservatives. Instead, natural preservatives such as vitamin E and vitamin C derivatives are used.
Natural pet foods are also made from whole ingredients like chicken, beef, vegetables and fruits instead of “meals” or ground skeletal meats, connective tissues or organs. By-products like hearts and livers are generally not found in natural pet foods although some manufacturers do use them. If they are used as ingredients, they should be listed on the food’s nutrition label. While by-product may not sound appetizing to Pet Parents, they aren’t detrimental to your pet’s health, says Mark Taylor, MA, DVM of Banfield, The Pet Hospital® in Christiansburg, Va.
“By-products do have health benefits. They are rich in nutrients like vitamin A, K, E and D – the four most crucial soluble vitamins – as well as copper and magnesium.”
Organic pet foods = raised without chemicals
With organic pet foods, it’s not so much about the ingredients as it is about the way those ingredients were raised or grown. Organic foods are grown or raised without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or fertilizers, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), and are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation. Instead of using chemicals, organic foods are grown and raised with more natural, biological methods like using mulch to prevent weed growth or compost instead of manufactured fertilizer.
In order for a product to receive one of four organic labels, it must meet certain standards set by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to be labeled “100% Organic,” “organic,” “made with organic,” and “made with organic ingredients.” For you label enthusiasts, here’s the NOSB’s organic label breakdown:
• Products labeled “100% Organic” must have 100 percent organic ingredients and additives, including processing aids.
• Products labeled “Organic” must have 95 percentorganic agricultural ingredients, and the remainder may be approved non-synthetic substances or synthetic substances.
Products labeled “Made with organic” must have 70 percent organic agricultural ingredients. The remainder may be approved non-organic agricultural ingredients, non-synthetic substances or synthetic substances.
• All products labeled as “Organic” or “Made with Organic Ingredients” cannot include ingredients that are genetically engineered, be produced using sludge or irradiation, synthetic substances that are not approved, contain sulfites, nitrates or nitrites, or include organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredients. Products labeled “organic” cannot contain non-organic ingredients when organic sources are available.
So now that you know the difference between natural and organic pet foods, which one is right for your pet? That is up to the individual Pet Parent and there are benefits to both, says Dr. Taylor.
“There’s nothing that says pesticides are good for us. People who eat natural and organic diets say they feel better. For Pet Parents, it’s peace of mind to know that if your pet is eating a natural diet, they aren’t eating synthetics or artificial dyes. If you’re feeding your pet an organic diet, you know that your pet is eating foods that are grown naturally without pesticides, antibiotics or hormones.”
Changing your pet’s diet
If you have decided to change your pet’s diet to a natural or organic food, Dr. Taylor recommends that you feed your pet a combination of the new and old food over a seven-day period to get them used to the new texture and smell. "Changing a pet’s diets can trigger diarrhea and other intestinal upsets, especially if the pet has a sensitive stomach, so be deliberate and consistent in how you do it," he says.
On the first day, feed your pet 90 percent old food, 10 percent new food; continue on the second day with 80 percent old food, 20 percent new food and so on. At the end of the seven days, your pet should be fully transitioned to the new natural or organic food.
As always, consult your Banfield veterinarian on the nutritional needs of your pet.