Understanding Natural Dog Food?

September 27, 2021

Is “Natural Dog Food” Just Clever Marketing?

One of the reasons we started Bramble was to debunk a lot of clever marketing that masks inferior ingredients. With pet owners wanting healthier, high quality pet food for their beloved fur kids, we still see a lot of marketing terms that we rejected in our own diets a long time ago!

For example, one of the biggest growth categories in pet food is the “natural dog food” category. Pet owners can even filter for natural dog food on Amazon! So what is “natural dog food?” According to the USDA’s governing regulatory body that sets the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet food, known as the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO), “natural” ingredients are those that are either in their unprocessed state or processed state – including rendering – so long as they have not been chemically synthetically processed. Basically, “natural” is any non-chemical ingredient! Call us crazy, but when pet owners feel more confident in purchasing “natural dog food,” we don’t think they know the bar has been set so low.

In addition, dog food brands can boldly state “made with natural ingredients” to refer to some ingredients in their dog food – but not all ingredients! – without making that clear distinction. In other words, kibble containing animal byproducts, GMO fillers, artificial colors and preservatives could nonetheless claim its processed dry dog food is “made with natural ingredients.”

It’s also important to remember that buzzy marketing words like “natural” have no real meaning. Just like with human food, there is no legal definition for terms like “holistic” in the dog food industry. In other words, it’s a meaningless term!

Without any real definition, these marketing terms mean different things to different pet owners! Therefore, not every marketing angle – or diet – is the best dog food for your particular dog! Think about the grain-free dog food craze. To some pet owners, “natural dog food” could mean grain-free, because we’ve been made to think that dogs cannot digest grain much like their wolf ancestors. In reality, veterinary nutritionists say that grain intolerance among dogs is more myth and scientific fact. Dogs have evolved over thousands of years and are biologically omnivores. Unlike wolves, dogs are able to digest starch and grains well. In fact, dogs not only digest whole grains such as brown rice easily, but also gain a wealth of nutrients from such foods.

Consider also that many of the pet food brands pedaling these holistic and and natural dog food marketing claims are selling kibble. And there is nothing natural about dry dog food kibble, in which the overheating cooking process denatures the nutrients of otherwise beneficial foods like organic ingredients, superfood veggies and flaxseed.

What is more, AAFCO does not actually regulate, test or approve dog foods. Rather, it is each dog food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to AAFCO’s guidelines. There are too many pet food products out there for AAFCO to be able to oversee every single one at all times, so they rely on consumer feedback to investigate concerns. That means that dog food brands are pretty free to use these terms without any real promise or corresponding high quality ingredients.

Where Does This Leave Pet Parents? 

Why is this important? Well-intentioned pet owners will go very far to meet the specific nutritional needs of their beloved fur family, and will pay more to feed what they believe is the healthiest food possible. Companies can use clever marketing terms to take advantage of high-paying consumers, without actually delivering a high quality, substantially better dog food.

If what you want when looking for natural dog food is really healthy and clean dog food, what should you look for? In our opinion, look out for dog food brands that use clever marketing language to mask inferior quality ingredients. Here’s how to read between the lines.

  • Don’t just buy dog food based on what the front of the package says. Saying a brand is ‘natural dog food’ doesn’t necessarily mean what most pet owners hope that would. Savvy consumers need to read ingredient labels and nutritional facts. Ask yourself whether the ingredients actually reflect the marketing on the front of the package. For example, “Is this chicken recipe made of human-grade, organic chicken, or is it filled with chicken meal byproducts?”
  • Avoid too much overly-processed food. Just like with food for humans, the nutrients from processed foods are not as digestible and available from the actual ingredients and likely contain preservatives in order to live on a shelf.
  • Look for whole food ingredients you recognize and trust, that are easily digestible and gently cooked.
Bramble uses whole food ingredients that we carefully source from human-grade suppliers in the United States. Our recipes contain superfood ingredients, such as garbanzo beans, lentils, whole grain brown rice, sweet potato, blueberries and carrots. We gently cook our food in small batches and then freeze the meals to maintain freshness so that the actual ingredients are what is meeting your dog’s nutritional needs.  Sign up now!