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What do 'Natural' and 'Organic' Mean When it Comes to Dog Food?

When it comes to health, physical fitness is only one aspect - diet plays a crucial role too. If you like to eat food that's grown organically, tastes good and is part of a healthy lifestyle, odds are you want your dog to do the same. Regardless of your intentions, however, sometimes it can be hard to know exactly what "organic" and "natural" mean when they're printed on the side of a dog food container.

It can be even harder for caring pet parents to tell how organic food affects their dogs and what nutritional impact natural ingredients have.

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Here are a few things that everyone should keep in mind while shopping for organic or natural dog food:

Organic may not mean the same thing as it does for humans
In the most basic terms, organic food, whether for dogs or people, is vegetation or livestock that's grown or raised with no synthetic additives or pesticides. Many people likely grow organic things in their gardens with the basics of seeds, good soil and water. Although you may know that your herbs and flowers are organic simply because you grew them, it's different when it comes to human food you can buy at the grocery store.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a strict set of rules for which chemicals and processes can be involved in the production of food in order to call it organic. A company can't legally sell a food or product with an organic label unless it complies with these rules. Dog food isn't exactly the same way.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, which creates the animal food labeling rules that many states adopt, does have a criteria for food being called "organic." The AAFCO uses the USDA organic certification standards for ingredients, their handling, manufacturing and labeling, but doesn't have the authority to regulate or test the products for compliance. Similarly, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which sets pet food requirements federally, said that it had no rules when it came to the term "organic," but that the USDA would be used to determine which additives could be included.

In short, "organic" dog food shouldn't have synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, more than 5 percent non-organic material, hormones or pesticides, according to WebVet. "100% organic" means all ingredients should be organic, while "Made with organic ingredients" means 70 percent of the food is organic.

Natural isn't the same as organic or artificial
Like "organic," the term "natural" is appealing for pet parents who want to make sure that their dogs are getting the best food with the most nutrition. Although natural food sounds good, the labeling is also a complex process. The AAFCO's definition of the term "natural" is basically about not using chemicals or chemical processes to create the food. For example, if a preservative is used, it must be naturally based, not artificial, like using tocopherols, more commonly known as Vitamin E, according to the FDA.

In an article in The Bark written by Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim, Ph.D., they strictly defined "natural dog food" as ingredients and products "derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources." The Bark reports these ingredients can be processed in a variety of ways, such as fermentation, but none that contain chemical additives. Natural food should not only meet this criteria, but shouldn't mislead the shopper.

Unlike natural and organic, the AAFCO doesn't allow the phrase "human grade" on dog food packaging, specifying that it would mislead customers.

Organic or natural dog foods aren't necessarily better for dogs than other foods
When the USDA announced organic guidelines for food, the American Veterinary Medical Association emphatically said that "organic" doesn't denote safer food.

"The AVMA recognized that there is interest in organically produced food stuffs, including livestock products. However, an organic label in no circumstances implies any assurance of increased food
safety," the AVMA announced.

On the other hand, Rebecca  Remillard, D.V.M., pointed out on WebVet that no long-term studies have been done to verify this.

There are also plenty of pet parents who swear by natural or organic diets. If you're considering buying natural or organic foods, be aware that the term may not necessarily be a guarantee and there may be legal or guideline complications.

It's a personal choice between you and your dog - there aren't any more health or nutritional concerns with these foods than there are with regular food choices. Some people may trust one organic food company but not another, or may simply figure that "natural" labeled food is probably better for their dog.

This helpful blog post is just one of thousands of articles included in the Voyce Experience. Written by pet-health experts and veterinarians, the articles that comprise the Voyce member portal round out the complete health and wellness experience of our revolutionary technology. To be the best pet parent you can be, purchase Voyce now.