Natural. Organic. Holistic. Raw. Which eating plan will best serve your precious pup? What do these confusing labels even mean?
In this enlightened age of ever-expanding pet food options, choosing the best natural dog food brands has never been more challenging. Here, your dog’s veterinarian will be your best resource and ally to find the right natural dog food that best fits your dog’s unique needs.
In this article we will tackle the labeling game head-on by taking a look at natural dog food brands and what each one has to offer your dog.
Natural Dog Food Brands Versus Homemade Dog Food
Why even choose a natural dog food when you could just make your dog’s meals at home?
Preparing a canine meal that is complete and balanced for your dog’s age, stage of life and nutrient needs is more challenging than it may sound. First of all, you will need to create a food with sufficient protein and fat content to keep your dog’s bones, joint, skin, coat, and organs healthy and strong.
Here, if you do want to pursue homemade dog food, your best option is to ask your veterinarian for a recipe you can work from to be sure your dog is getting the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients she needs.
But if this sounds daunting, rest assured you don’t have to make your dog’s meals in order to feed her a wholesome, natural, balanced meal each day. There are some wonderful prepared natural dog food brands that you can use as is or add additional ingredients to as your veterinarian may direct.
Natural Dog Food Labels
It can be very challenging to figure out the difference between similar-sounding labels such as “natural,” “holistic” or “organic.”
Right now, pet food is not regulated in the same way that human food is regulated. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) very closely monitors human food labels, pet food brands can use these same labels more loosely.
It is often up to you, the pet owner, to decipher exactly what a given label might mean. Even the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is right now the closest thing to a pet food FDA, states that pet food labels can be deceiving if you don’t accurately understand exactly what a given label is telling you about that food.
According to the AAFCO, the term “natural” is defined as a food source that comes from plant, animal or mined sources, and is still in its natural unprocessed state or has been processed without chemical means or additives.
Any food manufactured in a state that requires AAFCO-compliant pet food labeling must not use the term “natural” unless that food has been processed according to AAFCO natural guidelines.
Currently, the term “natural” can be used if at least 70 percent (but not 95 percent) of ingredients are organic.
In order for a dog food to claim that it is “all natural,” the food must comply with the AAFCO guidelines in every single included ingredient.
The only thing that the term “holistic” really means is “in consideration of the whole.” Neither the U.S. FDA nor the AAFCO has given this term a formal definition for pet food purposes.
So there is really no way to evaluate holistic foods except to read the ingredients list in detail.
In order for a dog food to state that it is “USDA organic,” fully 95 percent of all ingredients in that recipe must be organically sourced.
However, if just one or a few ingredients are organic, the food label can state this in a different way, such as saying “Dog food with organic (fill-in-the-blanks ingredients).”
Natural Dry Dog Food—Grain Free
This natural dog food is made without grain or soy and includes lamb as the number one ingredient. The recipe is designed for easy digestion, and is packed with antioxidants to support your pup’s immune system health and function.
This very popular and highly rated natural dog food features wild game protein (salmon, venison/bison, duck, wild boar, deer) paired with natural superfoods, probiotics and essential fatty acids. This natural food contains no grain, wheat, corn or fillers of any kind.
This very popular and highly rated natural dog food includes several tasty recipes (ocean whitefish/herring/salmon, turkey/chicken, wild game duck/turkey/boar/rabbit) and also offers a low-fat option if your veterinarian recommends this. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and nutrients are naturally sourced from vegetable superfoods. There is no wheat, corn, soy, by-products, fillers, preservatives or artificial ingredients in this food.
Natural Wet Dog Food
Natural Balance offers a variety of natural dog food recipes (beef, chicken, lamb, vegetarian formula) suitable for puppies, adult dogs and senior dogs. These recipes contain no artificial ingredients. Each protein is paired with a short list of vegetable superfoods and added vitamins and minerals for a complete and balanced meal.
Nature’s Recipe natural dog food features a variety of recipes (chicken/rice/barley, lamb/rice/barley, healthy skin vegetarian) in an easy-to-digest base of whole carbohydrates and vegetables. Each recipe also avoids known allergens such as corn. Dog owners say this is a great pick for dogs with sensitive digestions, weight issues or special health needs.
This wet natural dog food comes in a chicken/turkey, chicken or red meat recipe plus a puppy recipe. This food is designed to offer complete and balanced nutrition on its own, or it can be served as a topper for dry kibble or other wet food. It is a grain free loaf to suit the needs of dogs with sensitive digestive systems.
Natural Ingredient Dog Food
This natural dog food features chicken or lamb as the main protein with a number of different recipes for different activity levels (All Stages, Extreme Athlete, Adult). In addition to a high-protein content, each recipe features naturally sourced superfoods that contain amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and probiotics to help with digestive and immune system function.
This limited ingredient natural dog food features lamb as the main protein with just five other ingredients: chicken fat, ground rice, brown rice, beet pulp and chicken meal. This food is also free from artificial ingredients, corn, wheat, soy, gluten, fillers and by-products, and is enriched with vitamins and minerals.
Purina’s natural dog food gets enthusiastic reviews from dog owners and their pups. This recipe features just nine ingredients and two recipes (chicken/whole barley, lamb/whole barley). The remaining ingredients include spinach, egg, beef fat, liver flavor, rice, barley, chicken meal, canola meal and vitamins/minerals.
Natural Organic Dog Food
This natural dog food is completely organic and made in the U.S. It has chicken, brown rice, quinoa and flaxseed plus essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to support the needs of puppies and adult dogs.
This all natural dog food wet features several recipes (chicken, turkey, chicken/liver, beef, liver, beef/liver) in a grain-free, gluten-free, corn-free, soy-free base of dietary fiber, and plenty of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
The Honest Kitchen is not a fully organic food, but it does feature organic human grade whole grain—one of just a handful of dog food brands that do. Choose from three recipes (free range chicken, cage free turkey, range raised beef) that are naturally dehydrated with no preservatives or artificial ingredients. To serve, just add water.
Natural Brand Dog Food
Natural Ultramix is one of the natural dog food brands that offers both a grain-free and a poultry-free recipe for dogs with special dietary needs. The high-protein kibble is salmon-based with natural fruit and vegetable superfoods. Essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are included to support healthy skin, coat and immune system function.
This top natural dog food offers three protein-rich recipes (lamb, chicken, salmon) for puppies, adult dogs and senior dogs. Each recipe is supported with the addition of natural fruit and vegetable superfoods, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, plus glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joint support. There are never any fillers, artificial ingredients, corn, wheat or preservatives.
IAMS has long been a veterinarian-recommended dog food, and the company has now come out with a natural dog food that is grain-free. You can choose from two recipes (chicken/garden pea, salmon/red lentils) with no grain, corn, wheat, artificial ingredients or fillers. Each recipe is enriched with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals for immune system support.
Natural Holistic Dog Food
This holistic pure natural dog food includes grain-free recipes for puppies and adult dogs of all sizes, from small breed to giant breed. All recipes are free from by-products, wheat, gluten, fillers or artificial ingredients. Each recipe also features healthy probiotics, digestive enzymes and digestive fiber.
Halo Spot’s Stew is one of the most natural dog food brands, with its consistently holistic approach to building recipes for puppies and adult dogs. Choose from wholesome chicken, wholesome lamb or wild salmon recipes. Each recipe has whole protein sources (raised with no antibiotics), real vegetables and fruits, plus essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
Solid Gold offers one of the best all natural dog food options with this holistic weight control dog food recipe. You can choose from grain free chicken or potato free Alaskan pollock recipes. Each recipe offers 20 naturally sourced vegetable and fruit superfoods that contribute antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats to help keep your pup at an optimal weight. This food is always free from corn, soy or wheat.
Natural Raw Dog Food
Feeding natural raw dog food has become very popular over the last few years. Research shows that there can be both benefits and possible drawbacks (such as transmission of bacteria to both dogs and humans), depending on how the raw food is prepared and served.
Purchasing reputable natural raw dog food that has been appropriately prepared and freeze-dried can ease the risks associated with serving raw meat while providing all of the nutritional benefits of a raw food diet to your dog.
This highly rated and popular natural raw dog food comes in a 12-ounce, re-sealable pouch. You can choose from six recipes (bison, chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, chicken/salmon). Every recipe is always gluten-free, grain-free, and free from artificial ingredients or preservatives. This raw protein meal receives minimal processing, and is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. It contains whole protein plus natural fruits and vegetables for a complete and balanced dog food.
This very popular and highly rated raw dog food includes real protein and natural organic fruit and vegetable superfoods in a highly palatable patty. This food is enriched with probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals for overall health. There is no need to rehydrate this freeze-dried dog food—just thaw and serve.
This innovative brand is one of the best natural dry dog food options for how it brings together dry dog food plus raw dog food in a wholesome, healthy and tasty mix. Choose from four proteins (lamb, chicken, beef, duck) and different formulas for small and large breed puppies, adult dogs and senior dogs. Each recipe is also enriched with essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals plus probiotics in a formula that is unique to your dog’s age and stage of life.
Best Natural Dog Food
We hope you have discovered some new and wonderful all-natural dog food brands your pup will love.
References and Further Reading:
Dr. Deb, 2013, “Organic, Holistic, Natural Pet Food—What Does It Really Mean?” Cimarron Animal Hospital
Heinze, C., VMD, MS, DACVN, 2016, “Should You Make Your Own Pet Food At Home?” Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School at Tufts University
Lenox, C., DVM, Diplomate ACVN, 2014, “Alternative Diets for Dogs and Cats,” TexVetPets
“Natural,” American Association of Feed Control Officials
“Pet Food Labels,” 2017, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
“Raw Pet Foods and the AVMA’S Policy: FAQ,” 2012, American Veterinary Medicine Association
Schlesinger, D.P., and Joffe, D.J., 2011, “Raw Food Diets in Companion Animals: A Critical Review,” The Canadian Veterinary Journal