What Is Natural Dog Food? Overview, Examples, and Tips

What Is Natural Dog Food? Overview, Examples, and Tips

As a responsible pet owner, you likely want the best for your pet. Pet food is one area where you have quite a bit of control, yet many commercially made pet foods are full of preservatives and additives that may not provide the best nutritional balance for your pet. 

It's important to note that marketing teams are good at using lingo to sway you into buying one dog food brand over another, so you may see labels like “organic” or “natural ingredients” on the shelves while shopping for dog food.

Because of the lack of regulation on dog food labels and the prevalence of clever (and sometimes misleading) marketing, you can easily become confused about what your pet really needs. Even some foods made from high-quality ingredients may not have the right nutritional balance for your breed or size of dog. To ensure you are giving your pet the best possible food, take some time to learn what natural dog food is and how you can read labels to find a good, well-balanced food for your dog.

Understanding the Difference Between Natural and Organic Food

Natural pet food is often confused with organic pet food. These two terms can persuade people to make a purchase, so manufacturers use them often. But as a pet owner, you need to know exactly what they mean and how they differ. In the following sections, we'll explore these two terms in greater detail.

Before reading these definitions, remember that the USDA and FDA do not regulate pet foods — only human foods. However, The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has the power to define terms for pet food, and they use the FDA and USDA standards for human food as the benchmark to define human grade pet food. AAFCO can recommend that state and federal agencies use their definitions, but they also do not regulate or control the sale of pet food.

Official Definition of Natural

Responsible pet food manufacturers will only use the term "natural" for truly natural ingredients, but how is this defined? With no standard regulations specifically for pet food, pet food brands must rely on official definitions from trustworthy organizations.

AAFCO defines “natural” pet food as follows:

“Ingredients 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.”

This complex definition means that the food or food ingredient does not have chemical additives and was only handled using non-chemical or synthetic processes.

However, that does not necessarily mean that a bag of dog food or dog treats is truly all-natural just because it says so on the packaging. As long as it contains some natural ingredients, brands are free to use labels that say, “contains natural ingredients.” 

This means that the recipe likely contains some artificial ingredients in addition  to those natural ingredients. 

You may also see “Natural with added vitamins and minerals,” as you would find on our packaging at The Honest Kitchen. This means that the ingredients we use to create the recipe are recognized as natural, but we add important vitamins and minerals to make the recipe complete and balanced for pets. These aren’t recognized as natural, however, they’re necessary to include in order to ensure your pet is getting a well-rounded meal that supports all their dietary needs.

Official Definition of Organic

According to the USDA, foods must be grown and handled according to their organic regulations in order to carry organic certification. Though these regulations are extensive, it generally means the food is grown or produced without the use of non-natural chemicals. For example, instead of chemical fertilizers, the organic food is grown with organic matter as a fertilizer.

Though the USDA does not regulate pet foods, it does stipulate how pet food and human food brands are allowed to use the word "organic.” Farmers and manufacturers can only use this term if the ingredients are made and handled following USDA guidelines. So, for a pet food manufacturer to purchase and use organic ingredients and thus use the label, the ingredients must follow these rules.

Certified organic farming is very expensive. The regulations for pesticides and fertilizers are intensive, and the growing and handling process is costly. And sometimes there’s simply not enough organic produce to support mass market needs. 

Because the “organic” label is a USDA designation, the manufacturer will put the label “organic dog food” on the product if a pet food follows organic practices. If it says “natural” but not “organic,” it's safe to assume that the natural ingredients were not produced organically.

That said, dog food may contain organic ingredients and not be fully organic. You can typically find which ingredients are organic by reading the label. For example, the  label may read “organic chicken”  but has other ingredients listed without the “organic” modifier. 

What About Human Grade?

Human grade is another labeling term that you should look for as you look for dog food options. AAFCO defines human grade as follows:

“All ingredients must be human edible and the product must be manufactured, packed and held in accordance with federal regulations in 21 CFR 110, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food. If these conditions are met for a pet food, human grade claims may be made.”

In other words, these foods come from ingredients that are manufactured, packed, and grown in a way that keeps them edible for humans from start to finish. This means that the cooking process is much gentler, which allows the food to retain greater nutritional value. It also ensures that the food is free of harmful additives and doesn't contain anything that a human couldn't eat.

Unfortunately, human grade isn't a requirement, and it's expensive and time-consuming for pet food manufacturers to meet the regulations outlined in the FDA's 21 CFR 110. As a result, most pet food brands don't try to meet human grade standards and instead fall into the feed grade category — which is the same category as food meant for livestock. 

While very few brands can actually make the claim that they are human grade, The Honest Kitchen’s pet foods are truly human grade and made with ingredients you can trust for pets of all life stages.

A Caution About Raw Dog Food

Another buzzword that gets tossed around in the world of dog and cat food is “raw.” Raw means that the food is uncooked and minimally processed. While feeding your dog raw food might sound good, it's potentially dangerous. Because of the risk of food poisoning and food-borne illnesses like listeria, the CDC warns that dogs should not eat uncooked meat or eggs. Instead of raw dog food diets, look for minimally-processed, natural, and organic foods that are properly labeled.

How To Switch Your Dog Food to a More Natural Food

If you are currently feeding your dog commercially produced dry dog food, you may want to start thinking about making a switch. Finding a pet food with natural or organic ingredients will give your dog a better nutritional profile. 

However, switching from commercially produced feed grade kibble to a high-quality natural dog food cold turkey could potentially cause digestive complaints. It also doesn’t give you the chance to watch for allergic reactions. The best way to transition your dog to a new food is to do so gradually over seven days. Here’s a sample transition schedule:

  • Day 1: 25% new food, 75% old food
  • Day 3: 50% new food, 50% old food
  • Day 5: 75% new food, 25% old food
  • Day 7: 100% new food

You can extend this transition if you know your dog has a sensitive stomach or is prone to allergy problems. If you notice any signs of problems, slow down the transition and talk to your vet. Even natural and organic foods can upset some dogs’ stomachs, so more slowly as you make this change.

Natural Foods Dogs Can Eat

One way you can incorporate natural food into your dog’s diet is by adding fruits, meats and veggies into your dog’s food. If you want to supplement your dog at home with some human foods, here are some of the ingredients that are safe for dogs:

  • Turkey
  • Venison
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • White and brown rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrots
  • Blueberries
  • Lentils
  • Apples
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans
  • Watermelon

Natural Foods That Dogs Should Avoid

Remember that food can be natural and still be unsafe for dogs to eat. Many foods are safe for humans but very dangerous for dogs. Make sure you avoid these potentially toxic food choices:

  • Chocolate
  • Onions, chives, and any other allium-family plants
  • Asparagus
  • Citrus
  • Avocado
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Raw meat and eggs
  • Uncooked yeast dough
  • Xylitol

You aren’t likely to find any of these in commercially produced dog food. However, if you're planning to make your own pet food at home, be sure not to include any of these ingredients.

Great Natural Food Options From The Honest Kitchen

While you can make your own natural dog food, sometimes buying dog food from someone else is much easier. The Honest Kitchen makes dry, dehydrated, and wet dog food made from human grade ingredients. With high-quality ingredients and careful manufacturing and handling, these foods deliver a powerful nutritional punch without fillers and additives that your dog doesn’t need. We're the first truly human grade pet food brand and are proud to meet the 100+ FDA and USDA safety standards to maintain our human grade title.

The first ingredient in our foods is a high-quality, human grade protein source, and we add fruits, vegetables, and sometimes grains to round out each recipe's nutritional profile. Throughout the manufacturing process, The Honest Kitchen uses very few processes to preserve as many nutrients as possible, and we never use dyes or spray-on flavoring like many feed grade manufacturers.

If you're unsure where to start, here are some of our most popular dog food choices from The Honest Kitchen:

1) Dehydrated Whole Grain Chicken Dog Food

Our Dehydrated Whole Grain Chicken Recipe is made from GAP-certified free-range chicken, carrots, and oats. It also contains celery, bananas, kelp, potatoes, and additional minerals and vitamins to make a wholesome and tasty food option. Like all of The Honest Kitchen’s foods, it is human grade, has no GMO ingredients, feed grade ingredients, or rendered meats. Just add water or broth, and you have wholesome, homemade food for your dog! 

Shop the Dehydrated Whole Grain Chicken Recipe here >>

2) Dehydrated Whole Grain Beef Dog Food

If your dog prefers beef, our Dehydrated Whole Grain beef recipe might be a good fit. It contains ranch-raised beef, apples, oats, carrots, and other natural ingredients. All ingredients are human grade and safe for you, but in a balanced recipe for adult dogs of all breeds and sizes. 

Grab your Dehydrated Whole Grain Beef Recipe here >>

3) Dehydrated Whole Grain Turkey

The Dehydrated Whole Grain Turkey recipe contains cage-free turkey meat and fruits and veggies that dogs love. The grains are in the form of organic oats, and the recipe is sweetened with just a dash of honey. Dogs love the taste, and like all of our dehydrated recipes, prep is easy: Just add water or broth and mix!

Buy the Dehydrated Whole Grain Turkey Recipe here >>

4) Grain Free Turkey Clusters

Many pet owners prefer the convenience of dry dog food over wet or dehydrated food. You can still give your pet the best natural dog foods while enjoying the convenience of kibble-style food. If you are looking for a grain-free dry dog food option but want to benefit from natural, human grade foods made with no GMO ingredients then consider The Honest Kitchen’s Grain Free Turkey Clusters. This dry dog food is great for traveling and contains fresh produce, like apples and pumpkin, to add nutrients and fiber. It also has probiotics to help with digestion. 

Shop our Grain Free Turkey Clusters here >>

5) Grain Free Chicken Clusters for Small Breeds

If you have a small or toy breed dog, you will want a smaller type of kibble. The Honest Kitchen’s Grain Free Chicken Recipe is the perfect size for small dogs. Made from real, human grade chicken, each small bite is cold pressed, slowly roasted, and gently dehydrated to preserve the nutrients while creating a tasty morsel of food. 

Get the Grain Free Chicken Clusters for your small breed dog here >>

6) Dehydrated Grain Free Fish Dog Food

This is a popular choice for dogs that love fish! Our Dehydrated Grain Free Fish recipe is packed with dehydrated white fish and other delicious high-quality human grade ingredients like sweet potatoes, eggs, pumpkin, coconut, banana, and more. This recipe is also loaded with essential vitamins and minerals to help give your dog a tasty, nutritionally balanced meal.

Shop the Dehydrated Grain Free Fish Recipe here >>

Try The Honest Kitchen's Natural Dog Food

If you are ready to give your dog natural dog food full of nutrients and free of unwanted, potentially unhealthy ingredients, then check out the dry dog food, dehydrated dog food, wet dog food, and food toppers from The Honest Kitchen. All of our recipes are made from natural, often organic ingredients to provide well-balanced nutritional profiles. Check out our entire list of foods and discover flavors that please even the pickiest eaters!

But don't just take our word for it—check out this review of our line up of healthy, human grade pet foods to see which recipe might be best for your pet.

Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.

Back to Blog