What exactly does 'natural' mean in pet food?

April 19, 2019
Angela Witzel Rollins, DVM, PhD, DACVN

Veterinary clients are seizing on a term that is essentially meaningless.

Your clients want to do right by their pets in every avenue of care, including what food they're providing. Toward that end, it makes sense that they would seek out a natural diet, assuming that products labeled as such would be inherently better.

But what does it even mean when a bag of food is labeled as "natural"? Fetch dvm360 conference speaker Angela Rollins, DVM, PhD, DACVN, starts with the definition from the Association of American Food Control Officials (AAFCO).

"A feed or feed 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," she says.

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AAFCO's website continues: "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 in good manufacturing practices."

It's easy to see that "natural" doesn't equate to "non-processed" or "non-synthetic." In fact, Dr. Rollins points out that many methods of processing are favorable, saying, "There are certain vitamins that you just can't really get without having synthetic forms in pet food at mass scale."

Bottom line: Does Dr. Rollins think pet owners should be forking over the extra bucks for a bag of food shouting out "natural"?

"Probably not," she says. "Because it's not going to be very different from what a traditional, regular dog food would be."

Listen to the audio clip above for more.

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