There are so many different kinds of dog foods on the market these days, and the options are only growing. One common phrase seen in advertisements is “holistic dog food,” and you might be wondering if this is something worth feeding your dog.
“Holistic” means that it treats the system as a whole. Here, we take a close look at what “holistic” means when you see it on dog food packaging and whether it’s worth trying.
What Does Holistic Even Mean?
In medicine, holism aims to treat the entire person rather than just focusing on one single symptom. There’s an emphasis on the connection between the body and the mind, which means healing both simultaneously, and it also attempts to avoid medication use.
In addition, holism can be used to describe different approaches to societal systems, like when a city takes a holistic approach to the educational system. But here, we’re only using the term “holistic” with respect to dog food and a dog’s health.
What Does Holistic Dog Food Mean?
When you see the term “holistic” on dog food packaging, it doesn’t always mean anything. There aren’t any standards or regulations in place for the use of the word on pet food manufacturer labels.
The AAFCO does regulate the use of the terms “natural” and “organic,” but at this point, there is no definition of “holistic.” So, manufacturers can use the term to make their food sound healthy and more appealing, but it doesn’t mean they’re actually using natural and nutritious ingredients. Also, these “specialized” foods are generally more expensive.
However, some pet food manufacturers do use the “holistic” term appropriately, so don’t assume that all holistic dog food isn’t healthy. The best holistic food should be made with high-quality ingredients and not be as over-processed as some other commercial dog food.
Technically, holistic dog food should address your dog’s overall health rather than specialized food that only focuses on one health condition.
For example, rather than just treating your dog’s skin issue, it would be treating your dog’s entire body and system, which should help the skin issue and any other possible health conditions.
What Is Natural Dog Food?
The AAFCO does define natural dog food, which means manufacturers must comply with it. The current AAFCO definition of “natural” in pet food is:
“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, 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.”
This longwinded explanation means that for any pet food to have the term “natural” on the label, it must not contain additives, preservatives, or chemically synthesized ingredients.
Ingredients such as propylene glycol, calcium ascorbate, artificial preservatives (such as BHT and BHA), and artificial flavors and colors are not allowed in any natural dog food.
Natural dog foods can contain synthetic minerals and vitamins, however, so a label might read “natural with added vitamins and minerals.”
Since “holistic” doesn’t have any regulations, this type of food can contain any of the aforementioned artificial ingredients. If you don’t want these types of ingredients, your best bet is to opt for dog food that labels its food as “natural,” as it must contain ingredients gathered from natural sources.
How Do I Find Healthy Dog Food?
One of the most important things that you can do is to always read the ingredients on your dog’s food labels and become familiar with them and how they work. It can be tedious and even intimidating, but for your dog’s health, it is crucial.
If you can understand most of the ingredients (remember that many “unpronounceable” ingredients are minerals and vitamins) and your dog enjoys eating it, you’ve probably got yourself a winner.
You can also speak to your veterinarian for recommendations for the best food for your dog. There are fresh, raw, freeze-dried, and limited-ingredient dog foods that your vet can help you choose from. Not all dogs do well on raw food diets, however, so it’s essential for you to have that conversation.
Also, look for food containing probiotics, the right balance of vitamins and minerals, and omega-3 and -6 for a dog with skin and joint issues.
Don’t jump on the grain-free bandwagon unless your vet tells you that your dog needs to be on a grain-free diet. High-quality grains are quite beneficial for most pets.
It helps to read reviews written by other pet owners, but be sure to do your due diligence and look into the pet food manufacturers yourself.
Has the company had many recalls? Does it have an animal nutritionist or veterinarian on staff to oversee the formulation, and is it following the AAFCO requirements? How does the company carry out quality control?
As the bare minimum, check that the food has an AAFCO label, which ensures that your dog will receive at least a balanced and complete nutritional diet.
“Holistic” means that it treats the system as a whole, but it’s practically meaningless on pet food labels. There are companies that use the term “holistic” and do provide pets with a healthy and balanced diet, but unless you read the ingredients list, it could easily be full of unhealthy ingredients.
Don’t forget to speak to your vet about the best food for your dog, and make a point of researching the company. Some dogs do perfectly well on low-quality dog foods, but we all want the finest for our best friends.
Featured Image Credit: Ayla Verschueren, Unsplash