Visit any pet food store and you’ll see a wide selection of natural, grain free dog food formulas. Clearly, there is a high consumer demand for these diets, but should your dog join the trend?
Before you head to the store, let’s examine just what makes a dog food natural and grain free. A "natural" dog food must meet the following definition established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO):
- 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. 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.
While you'll find "natural" on many dog food labels, it does not necessarily mean the diet is healthier than dog food formulas that are not 'natural' or those that contain grains. The term "natural" can be used to describe an entire formula or just a few ingredients. It’s important to read the label carefully so you know what you’re buying.
Now, let’s talk grains. Grains are sources of carbohydrates, which provide an easy, readily available source of energy. In a complete and balanced grain free dog food formula, alternate carbohydrate sources, such as cassava root flour, pea starch and sweet potatoes, are used in place of grains.
Are grains good for my dog?
In essence, yes. Properly processed grains, as part of a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, provide needed nutrients that are truly beneficial to your dog. Grains provide not only energy-rich carbohydrates, but also fiber to help promote healthy digestion, B vitamins, which play a key role in metabolism, and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
Some people, however, prefer to feed their dog a natural, grain free dog food formula. For these dog owners, a dog food like Purina® Pro Plan® Natural Grain Free Formulas are a great option. They’re made with carefully chosen ingredients, like real chicken, tuna, lamb or beef as the first ingredient, and include alternative sources of carbohydrates.
Natural, grain free dog food formulas are an excellent choice for many dogs, but it's always a good idea to consult your veterinarian before making a change to your dog’s diet. Grain free formulas aren’t for every dog. For example, some grain free formulas contain higher levels of protein and fat than what your dog may need based on his activity level and other factors.
If you do decide to go grain free, be sure to transition your dog slowly to his new food. Follow the transition instructions on the package, to help ensure that you minimize dietary upset during the switch from your current food to the new food.
Whether you choose to feed a natural grain free dog food or some other type of formula, always make sure your dog’s diet is helping him reach his fullest potential. And, as always, if you have any questions about your dog’s nutrition, talk to your veterinarian.