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Your dog deserves the healthiest food possible. But, does "natural" mean that it is the healthiest? Is a natural dog food diet more nutritious than other dog foods?

"Natural" is not always synonymous with "healthy." While a natural formula may be an excellent diet for many dogs, the word "natural" on a label does not guarantee that the formula provides better nutrition for your dog.

To prevent misuse of the word, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates how "natural" can be used for dog food. AAFCO defines a natural dog food as:

    A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject 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.

AAFCO guidelines allow the term "natural" to be applied to an individual ingredient or to a product as a whole. If a dog food label states that it "contains natural fruits and vegetables," for example, then those ingredients must adhere to the AAFCO standards of "natural."

When describing a product as "natural", all ingredients in the product must meet the definition of "natural" -- the exception is that AAFCO recognizes that some synthetic nutrients need to be included in the formula to help assure the product is nutritionally complete. Therefore, synthetic sources of essential amino acids, vitamins or minerals, can be used provided that the "natural" claim is qualified with a disclaimer statement such as "Plus Vitamins and Minerals" to disclose that synthetic nutrients have been added to the product.

Some dog foods use "natural" in their names, like Purina® Pro Plan® Natural Formulas. These formulas use carefully chosen, natural ingredients, including real, high-quality protein sources, plus essential vitamins and minerals.

If you're looking to reduce or eliminate artificial ingredients in your dog's food, a natural dog food diet may be a good choice. Luckily, most pet food stores stock a variety of natural formulas, many of which also offer high-quality nutrition. If you don’t know what to look for, the variety of options may seem overwhelming, especially since labels can sometimes be confusing or even misleading. It is helpful to research before you shop. You can narrow down your choices by reading online reviews and asking your veterinarian about a natural dog food diet.

Once you're ready to shop, here are a few additional things to consider when choosing a natural formula:

  • Is the formula 100% complete and balanced for your dog's life stage?
  • How is the word "natural" used on the label? Does it describe the entire formula or just an ingredient or two?
  • Does the formula contain any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives?
  • Is real, high-quality meat, poultry or fish the first ingredient?
  • Does it contain other ingredients you want to avoid, such as wheat, corn or soy?
  • Is it made by a brand/company that you know and trust?

Now that you're in-the-know about "natural", hopefully choosing the right option for your dog's needs and life stage will be easier.