Think Twice About This New "Natural" Pet Food That Contains Sketchy Ingredients

Natural Pet Food

Story at-a-glance

  • Among the “Top 10 Pet Trends of 2013” is growing consumer demand for pet food made in the U.S. that is all natural and organic.
  • In response to the demand, according to Pets Weekly, “Even the big names in pet food are making a move to natural pet foods.” One of those big names is Hill’s, a major industry player that came out with a new brand called Ideal Balance, which carries the slogan “natural ingredients perfectly balanced.”
  • Pets Weekly seems to put Hill’s Ideal Balance side-by-side with smaller standard bearers of the natural pet food market.
  • A comparison of the ingredients in the Hill’s brand vs. products made by smaller, quality-focused pet food companies reveals who is using truly natural, organic ingredients. There’s also the crucially important matter of raw ingredient sourcing and processing, and in that arena, the smaller producers also win hands down.
  • As more big industry players enter the natural, organic pet food category, the more vigilant pet owners must become about reading product labels and understanding the significance of, for example, human grade ingredients in pet food.

By Dr. Becker

At the close of the annual Global Pet Expo earlier in the year, online site Pets Weekly put together a list of the "Top 10 Pet Trends of 2013."

The list includes initiatives to make pets safer when traveling by car; tents, shades and patio furniture for four-legged companions who enjoy the great outdoors alongside their human family members; environmentally responsible pet products; and specialty pet beds.

Also on the list were supplements and nutraceuticals for pets, novel protein sources for pet foods and treats, and a growing trend in pet food: products made in the U.S. that are all natural and organic.

According to Stacy Mantle of Pets Weekly, "Even the big names in pet food are making a move to natural pet foods." She cites Hill's new brand called Ideal Balance, and Science Diet's new line introduced in summer 2012, Nature's Best (which has since been discontinued).

Mantle continues:

"We predict a number of other companies will be following suit as pet parents realize the value of raw, freeze-dried, and dehydrated foods for their pet. This is something that companies like The Honest Kitchen, Merrick and Stella & Chewy's have been doing for years. But, as we all know, it takes time for the big boys to implement change."

What Mantle seems to be saying is that the new Hills and Science Diet offerings are comparable to The Honest Kitchen, Merrick's and Stella & Chewy's products (and there are dozens of other excellent small pet food companies out there besides those she mentioned).

I disagree, and I certainly hope pet owners take the time to carefully evaluate the differences in commercial pet foods as they search for more natural, organic, species-appropriate diets for their furry companions. It's never a good idea to take product packaging or marketing/advertising claims at face value.

How to SPOT TRULY Natural, Organic Commercial Pet Food.

Let's take a quick look at the first 10 ingredients in grain free dog food formulas from three of the companies Mantle mentions: Hill's, The Honest Kitchen, and Stella & Chewy's.

Hill's® Ideal Balance™ Grain Free Natural Chicken & Potato Recipe Adult
(dry processed)
The Honest Kitchen
Embark Dog Food
(dehydrated raw)
Stella & Chewy's
Chewy's Chicken™ Frozen Dinner
(frozen raw)
1. Chicken 1. Turkey 1. Chicken Ground w/ Bone
2. Potato 2. Organic Flaxseed 2. Chicken Liver
3. Yellow Peas 3. Potatoes 3. Chicken Gizzard
4. Pea Protein Concentrate 4. Celery 4. Pumpkin Seed
5. Potato Starch 5. Spinach 5. Potassium Chloride
6. Chicken Fat 6. Carrots 6. Organic Cranberries
7. Chicken Meal 7. Organic Coconut 7. Organic Spinach
8. Dried Beet Pulp 8. Apples 8. Organic Broccoli
9. Chicken Liver Flavor 9. Organic Kelp 9. Organic Beets
10. Lactic Acid 10. Eggs 10. Sodium Phosphate Monobasic


Clearly, The Honest Kitchen and Stella & Chewy's products contain more natural, organic ingredients at the top of the list than the Hill's formula. Would you prefer to offer your dog a few apple slices, a bit of organic broccoli... or some dried beet pulp?

Now let's take a look at another extremely important feature of commercial pet food that determines the quality of the finished product – the raw ingredients.

Another Test for How Natural and Organic Your Pet's Food Is: Where Did the Ingredients Come from?

According to The Honest Kitchen, their formulas are made in a human food facility, not a pet food plant. This means they are held to the same quality standards as human food manufacturers.

Their ingredients are purchased from suppliers they trust in the human food industry. They choose many ingredients from as close to home as possible, as well as from their native lands around the world. All their foods are 100 percent human grade.

The Honest Kitchen dehydrates each ingredient to remove moisture. This process – as opposed to cooking, canning or extruding – helps preserve vital nutrients.

According to Stella & Chewy's, their products are made with raw, naturally raised meat, poultry or fish sourced from USDA-inspected facilities. These animal protein sources contain neither added hormones nor antibiotics. The vegetables and fruits are organic, and their formulas are made without grain, fillers, artificial preservatives or colorings, sugar or salt.

Stella & Chewy's formulas are produced with an exclusive "SecureByNature" food safety process (patent pending), designed to make them safe from harmful bacteria naturally, while retaining the food's nutrient value and flavor. And while high pressure pasteurization (HPP) is certainly a much debated topic in raw food circles, we can assume all types of human grade raw pet food are safer than extruded kibble, which contains carcinogens as a byproduct of the extrusion process.

The Hill's website talks about the safety of their products, but there's no mention of how the ingredients are sourced... no mention of human grade or USDA-inspected facilities... and no mention of how the food is processed (since it's kibble in the example I used, above, we can assume it's extruded). This of course means the food is not human grade but rendered, and is made in a pet food processing plant that is not held to the same standards as a human food facility.

I suppose if you compare Ideal Balance formulas with other Hill's product lines, they may seem more "natural," but I certainly wouldn't put them in the same category as the others mentioned in Mantle's post, or several other smaller-sized manufacturers that produce excellent quality, human grade pet food.

Arm Yourself with Information so You Can't Be Fooled by Clever Marketing.

More and more consumers are making it clear they are looking for nutritious, higher quality diets for their dogs and cats. In response, many of the largest pet food companies in the industry will attempt to meet the demand not by significantly improving the quality and species-appropriateness of their products, but by making relatively small tweaks to their formulas that can be spun by marketers to appeal to the desire of pet owners to feed a more wholesome diet.

That's why it's important for you, as a pet owner concerned about feeding your dog or cat a nutritious diet, to know the difference between real natural, organic pet food and pet food that only claims to be.

There are dozens of other companies not mentioned by Pets Weekly that offer excellent, species appropriate, human grade pet foods. The key is to know what to look for.