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Tips for Living Well with Your Dog: Health and Nutrition

The unnatural truth about natural dog food

First in a four-part series

Health and safety concerns about dog food have more owners turning to so-called natural products for their loyal companions.

The response is understandable in the wake of the largest pet food recall ever in 2007 when a contaminated ingredient from China found in the food sickened or killed many dogs and the current nationwide peanut butter recall that has affected many dog treats.

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According to a survey done by Packaged Facts, a market research firm, sales of natural pet products grew by a staggering 41 percent in 2007, reaching $1.28 billion, and double-digit annual percentage gains are predicted through 2012.

Natural implies that the food has no chemicals, preservatives or color additives, but the reality is that the American Association of Feed Control Officials and the FDA have no definition for what is natural regarding pet food.

Pet food manufacturers are bound by no regulation or definition of natural, so they pretty much can create their own definition, which may differ from your interpretation.

For example, one dry food that has "Natural" in its name contains added trace minerals such as zinc oxide, zinc proteinate, ferrous sulfate, iron proteinate, manganous oxide, copper sulfate, copper proteinate, calcium iodate, sodium selenite. These may be harmless or even helpful to your pal, but they are hardly "natural."

Another product, promoted for dogs who love poultry, contains "chicken stock, chicken and chicken byproducts," but the label fails to specify how much of each. So it could have a minuscule amount of chicken and more stock and byproducts.

So before going "natural," here are a few suggestions:

  • Read the labels. Since the AAFCO and FDA have no rules defining natural, the only real way to determine what you are buying for your pal is to read the labels and compare products. After comparing ingredients, you can then determine what ingredients you are willing - or unwilling - to accept.
  • Research the chemical additives. Some additives put in the food are believed to benefit dogs, such as ferrous sulfate, which is an iron supplement, and copper sulfate, which can help prevent anemia and osteoporosis. On the other hand, copper sulfate in large concentrations is also used to kill pond algae - so you have to decide if the benefits outweigh any potential risks.
  • Decide whether you want only meat or are willing to accept byproducts. In poultry, for example, byproducts include feet, neck, head, intestines, feathers and blood. These parts are considered unfit for human consumption, but some argue they are perfectly fine for dogs since a dog's evolution includes catching and eating its entire prey - including the bones.
Most importantly, educate yourself about the ingredients in the food you are feeding your dog. Research questionable additives and ingredients online or at the library. And then, consult your veterinarian about questions you have about the food and its ingredients. The veterinarian is the one who has the most knowledge about your pal's medical circumstances and is best equipped to make recommendations about diet.

No easy answer exists regarding the food we feed to our dogs, and the decision is very much a personal one. But by doing research and asking questions, you can accurately determine the quality of the chow you are feeding your loyal companion rather than relying on fancy labels and promotional hype from the pet food manufacturers.

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Signed Set
*The Hunt of Her Life signed book series sets are only available to U.S. customers.

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