Posted: 12 October 2011 at 6:54am | IP Logged
With the healthy eating trend in full swing, it should be no surprise that there has been a huge demand by pet owners for better nutrition from their pet‚Äôs food as well. Manufacturers have answered this popular plead with a larger selection of natural, holistic, and organic pet foods. The movement is fueled by veterinarians who state that feeding your pet premium (high-quality) pet food can increase their longevity and is one of the major factors that we can control when it comes to our pet‚Äôs health. However, with so many more choices and so many opinions and rumors out there regarding different types of pet food ‚Äď how do we know we are feeding our pet the best?
First, let‚Äôs informally describe the characteristics of what makes a food ‚Äėnatural,‚Äô ‚Äėholistic,‚Äô or ‚Äėorganic‚Äô based off of many of the foods that are categorized in this way at Petco, which currently has the largest selection of natural, holistic, and organic foods of any national pet food retailer.
Natural pet foods use ingredients that are recognizable, highly digestible, and their formulas do not contain any additives like synthetic colors, flavors, or preservatives. However, there is no legal definition for natural pet food and foods are able to claim that they are natural even if they use additives.
Holistic pet foods also use recognizable ingredients and refrain from using artificial ingredients in their formulas as well as abstaining from using ingredients that are known for allergies ‚Äď like wheat, soy, and corn. Holistic pet foods also do not use controversial by-products in their pet food formulas as it is viewed as an inconsistent protein and nutrient source.
Organic pet foods use ingredients that were grown through organic farming. One advantage to organic foods is that they are legally defined and are ‚Äúminimally processed to maintain integrity of food without artificial ingredients or preservatives,‚ÄĚ according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
What exactly is organic farming?
Organic farming means that products are produced without using synthetic pesticides or herbicides. Organic livestock, which are often grass-fed and free-ranging, are not to be given antibiotics, hormones, or medications in the absence of illness, however, they are vaccinated to protect against disease. For these reasons, organic farming is seen as promoting humane treatment of farm animals. What exactly is free-ranging? Coleman, which is Pet Guard‚Äôs supplier of natural beef, describes how they raise free-ranging chickens: "Coleman Natural chickens get approximately one square foot per bird, which is significantly more space per bird than those raised in conventional poultry operations. Depending upon the ranch, the pens outside are 50% to 100% of the size of the inside houses." (http://www.colemannatural.com)
All products sold as organic must be certified, which includes annual submission of an organic system plan (which describes the practices used) as well as inspection of farm fields and processing facilities. Since 2002, there has been a national standard for organic by the USDA National Organic Program. Foods labeled as organic must contain 95% of organic ingredients.
When it comes to organic versus conventional food ‚Äď an apple is an apple, it‚Äôs just in how it was grown.
So, is organic the best option? Not necessarily for every pet and pet owner. Are there benefits to feeding organic? Certainly, along with having natural ingredients, pet owners find security in knowing that there are strict guidelines not only by AAFCO, but also by the USDA that must be met by the farmer and manufacturer in developing their pet‚Äôs food. A 2002 report indicated that organic food is far less likely to contain pesticide residues than conventional food. However, no definitive studies have been done or have shown that organic food is more nutritious than regularly grown food. While many pet foods boast that they were made in the USA, the organic ingredients may not have come from the United States ‚Äď they were simply mixed here, despite consumer‚Äôs common misconception. For example, Newman‚Äôs Own Organic pet food uses grass-fed beef from certified farms in Uruguay. This is not uncommon, as BusinessWeek Magazine explains in an article in October 2006 about the Organic Myth, informing readers that organic foods do not come from small, local farms as they simply cannot keep up with the high demand. According to the article, many organic foods come from industrial-sized, certified farms in China, Sierra Leone, and Brazil. The food is then shipped here to be used. For some pet owners, this raises ethical concerns as they desire local foods, while for others where the food came from does not matter, it‚Äôs all in how it was grown or raised.
With so many people struggling in today‚Äôs economy, pet owners are worried about whether or not the price of organic pet food is worth the benefit. It depends on how important it is to you that the ingredients be pesticide, antibiotic, and herbicide free. For pet owners who feed a pet food containing organ meat, especially liver, it is advantageous to switch to an organic formula. While liver is a great source of Vitamin A, Zinc, and Iron, it also is used to filter toxins from the body and can hold on to these toxins for a long time. Since pets usually eat the same food every day, eating potential toxins, even in small amounts, can add up over time. Feeding your pet liver from an animal that was raised in a certified organic farm is safer because these [often grass-fed] animals did not receive antibiotic supplements or hormones and should not transfer any of these substances to your pet. For this same reason, many holistic veterinarians are recommending that pets battling or recovering from cancer be fed grain-free, organic pet foods. On the other hand, it can be downright frustrating for pet owners with a companion animal that has an allergy to chicken to switch their pet to organic as most organic foods use free-range chicken as a primary ingredient. Some organic formulas use soy in their recipes, which can make certain brands off limits for pets with allergies to this bean. For owners of pets with certain health conditions, feeding a food containing organic ingredients is not as important as finding a food with the appropriate amount of nutrients in the formula to support their condition.
There are a lot of high-quality pet food options out there to choose from and I believe never before has there been a better time to be a dog or cat. Feeding your healthy pet organic is not required for your pet to live a healthy life; it‚Äôs just one more option for nutrition in today‚Äôs improving world for animals. We can analyze and rank pet foods and brands all day, but in the end the most important thing is that the food you buy is balanced (AAFCO approved) and works for your unique pet ‚Äď whether the food be basic, natural, holistic, or organic.