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If a Cat’s Natural Prey is Mice, How Can a Bag of Kibble Be “All Natural?”


Story at-a-glance -

  • More and more commercial pet foods and treats labeled “natural” are showing up on store shelves these days, and the trend is expected to continue.
  • It’s important that pet owners understand there are no regulations governing the use of the word “natural” on pet food. AAFCO has provided a definition that includes as “natural,” ingredients that have been subjected to “… physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation.”
  • Despite the misuse and abuse of the term natural, over 60 percent of consumers believe if a food is labeled “all natural,” it must be healthy.
  • Truly natural food for dogs and cats should closely mimic what they would eat in the wild. Freshly hunted prey animals are natural. Processed kibble in a bag is not … despite what the label may claim.
  • Knowledgeable consumers don’t fall for marketing hype, so we encourage every owner of a dog or cat to learn the true definition of natural nutrition for pets.

By Dr. Becker

I’m sure if you spend any time shopping for pet supplies, you’ve noticed all the label claims of “natural” on commercial pet foods and treats.

Believe it or not, there are no regulations governing the use of the term “natural” on pet food (or human food). However, AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) offers the following definition:

NATURAL - A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices. 

My definition of natural food is very different. Fresh food is natural. I certainly don’t feel processed food is natural – and especially commercial pet foods that undergo the most extreme processing methods in the industry.

The vast majority of foods that come out of a can, a box or a bag aren’t in any way natural, regardless of what the label says.

Majority of Pet Owners Believe the Hype

Sadly, according to the London-based market research firm Mintel Group Ltd, more than 60 percent of consumers agree with the statement, “If a product is labeled all natural, it’s healthy.” That’s surely why, also according to Mintel, over 35 percent of all new consumer products in 2010 claimed to be natural.

Current projections for sales of “all natural” pet products show significant growth over the next five years. According to David Lummis of Packaged Facts, this growth will be the result of a spread of “natural” themed pet products to mass merchandisers like Petco and PetSmart, Walmart and grocery stores.

In addition, names like Nestle Purina, Hill's, and Iams are introducing their own lines of “natural” pet foods.

Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware

As always, I encourage pet parents to become knowledgeable about the type of nutrition that is best for their dog or cat. Awareness is the best defense against falling for marketing hype designed to make you believe a processed product labeled “natural” is beneficial for your pet.

For healthy dogs and cats, balanced nutrition that closely mimics the animal’s natural diet is ideal. If your dog or cat lived in the wild he would eat freshly hunted prey animals, which is the very definition of a natural food. Certainly a highly processed food from a can or bag is about as far from “natural” as it gets.

For a primer on how to shop for pet food, view part 1 and part 2 of my videotaped visit to a small pet food boutique called Bad Dog Frida in Madison, WI.

+ Sources and References