Understanding Natural Dog Food?

September 27, 2021

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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 parents wanting healthier 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. So what is “natural” dog food? According to the 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! That doesn’t sound like what consumers would think “natural” means.

In addition, companies 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. It’s also important to remember that the word “natural” has lost much meaning – not everything that is natural is good or healthy! A food may even have “natural” ingredients in it, but that still doesn’t guarantee it is the right diet for your dog.

Similarly, we’re seeing a rise in pet food marketing terms like “holistic.” Just like with human food, the problem is that there is no legal definition for “holistic” in the dog food industry. In other words, it’s a meaningless term!

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 companies are pretty free to use these terms without any real promise or corresponding higher quality ingredients.

Where Does This Leave Pet Parents? 

Why is this important? Well-intentioned pet parents will pay more to give their beloved fur family what they believe is the healthiest food possible, and companies can use clever marketing terms to take advantage of high-paying consumers, without actually delivering anything substantially better, healthier, cleaner or safer.

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 companies 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 mean what most consumers 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.
  • 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 are gently cooked in small batches and then frozen to maintain the optimal nutritional value of the actual ingredients. Sign up now!