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Natural Pet Food: Health & Nutrition

Natural Pet Food: Health & Nutrition

With an increase of health-conscious consumers, a significant focus is being placed on organic food made with “natural” ingredients to meet healthier lifestyles. Like us, our pets should be eating foods that provide them with the nutrients they need to remain healthy daily. It is essential! When our pets eat a well-balanced meal, not only can it help them to maintain a healthy weight, but it can potentially lower the risks of any diseases or disorders commonly found as a result of a poor diet—such as obesity.

Shifting their attention to how their pet’s food is sourced and the ingredients that go into it, pet parents are looking for the best of the best when it pertains to the health of their furry friends!

Consumers Want Natural Pet Food Products That Optimize Pet Health

One of the main trends shaping the pet food industry is the move towards healthier pet lifestyles. With an increase in the number of consumers who own pets, many of them are starting to apply their own health and wellness standards to their furry friends as well. Surprisingly—or maybe not—some pet parents are even taking care of their pets better than they are themselves! As we know, many people view their pets as an integral part of their family, therefore they have become very passionate and devoted to providing their fur babies with the healthiest foods to the best of their capability.

More so, there has been an increase in the demand for natural pet food options by pet owners who want to support their furry friend’s well-being. According to a study, 70% of millennials reported that they wanted natural and organic products for their pets. The term “natural” typically refers to pet food and treats where the ingredients are free of additives, artificial flavorings, colors, sweeteners, and chemical preservatives. However, it is important to note that there is no regulation by the FDA or the USDA when it comes to using this term. Therefore, it is possible that companies can label their product as being “all-natural” when it may not be. With that in mind, pet parents are taking their time to scrutinize the ingredients so that they can purchase the highest quality product most beneficial to their pet’s health.

The primary factor driving the growth and desire for pet owners’ need for natural pet food is the health benefit claims associated with these products. Natural pet food products are considered to be healthier as they tend to have ingredients that contain higher and better nutrient contents, therefore pet owners are hoping that these products can help to benefit their pets who may have a medical condition or illness. For instance, pet owners are turning to natural pet food products as a way to help gut health and indigestion in their pets. In a global survey conducted by Wizer—a market research company—90% of respondents said they would be more likely to purchase a pet food product if it supported digestive health in their pets. Other health benefits pet owners would like to see in their pets include immune system support and improvements in their joints and bones.

Though natural food options can be a little bit more expensive due to the quality of the ingredients, pet owners are still willing to pay that price. Nothing matters more than ensuring that their pet is happy and healthy. A healthy diet can make anyone feel good—and that applies to our precious fur babies as well!

What Pet Owners Should Look For When Shopping

With an increase in consumer preference towards healthier and natural food options for their furry friends, pet owners are seeking out foods that are minimally processed—or better yet, not processed at all. Sure, processed food may taste great and our pets love it! But does it improve their overall health and well-being over time? Not necessarily. Highly processed food reduces the nutritional value found in the ingredients and can lead to gastrointestinal problems, indigestion, and other health-related issues. For instance, a recent study conducted by the University of Helsinki in Finland reported that puppies who were fed a diet consisting of highly processed dried kibbled food were 29% more likely to develop chronic enteropathy later in life.

In addition to minimally processed foods, pet parents are also in favor of pet food that is ethically sourced and contains whole ingredients that have not gone through any alterations. Whole ingredients typically refer to foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables that remain close to their most natural, unaltered state. In these cases, it’s always best to go the organic route to ensure that the ingredients contain no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms.

Based on these preferences, selecting the proper pet food is key. Sometimes, it can be pretty overwhelming to stroll through aisles and see the variety of food options that are available for our pets. Not only are there a plethora of brands to choose from, but purchasing the best option for your pet can be difficult if you are unsure of what to look for. Therefore, it is always important to research so that you can make an informed decision on what to buy.

Here are some things you should do to ensure you are purchasing the right product for your pet’s nutritional needs!

Check the Labeling

One of the first things you should do before purchasing pet food is to look at the labels on the packaging. Not only do these labels provide you with more information about the product, but it ensures that what you are buying is correctly suited for the type of pet you have and their dietary needs. For example, the product should display the brand name, the product name, and whether it is formulated for cats or dogs. Pet food labeling should also adhere to the requirements set by the FDA and the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control)—a non-profit organization that works to set standards for the quality and safety of animal feeds and pet foods in the United States. Let’s take a look at some required food labeling that should be visible, according to the AAFCO.

  • Quantity statement. This lets you know how much product is in the food packaging. It is usually stated in terms of net weight, volume, or count. (Ex. g, oz., lb., kg, etc.)
  • Guaranteed analysis. Specifies the exact amount of certain specific nutrients in the product. (Ex. minimum amount of crude proteins, fats, fiber, etc.)
  • Feeding directions. This is a requirement for most pet foods that claim to be complete and balanced.
  • Calorie Count. This should be expressed in terms of weight (kilocalories per kilogram) and volume (kilocalories per can, cup, or biscuit)
  • Nutritional adequacy statement.
This is a significant part of the label. For one, it guarantees that the pet food you are considering purchasing is “complete and balanced”. This means that the food is complete with all of the required nutrients and balanced which means that all of the nutrients are present in the correct proportions. Pet food stating that they are complete and balanced can usually be fed as a main diet to your pets. If it does not say this, then the food is not nutritionally complete and may require supplements/vitamins to complete it.
The nutritional adequacy statement also lets you know which life stage the food is most appropriate for. The different categories of life stages are puppy/kitten, adolescent, pregnancy/nursing, adult, and senior. Feeding your pet according to their life stage is important because each stage requires varying nutritional needs, in terms of the quantity and ratios of nutrients.

Check the Ingredients

Always check the ingredient list before purchasing. Since many pet owners are seeking out natural pet food, they will want to make sure that there are no fillers, additives, artificial flavors or colors, or chemical preservatives in the product. Examples of artificial preservatives to stay away from include BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), nitrates/nitrites, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and propyl gallate. Many of these preservatives are known carcinogens and may be responsible for several health-related issues in pets such as dry skin, allergies, tumors, or kidney and liver failure.

Ingredients must be listed individually and in descending order by weight. The first ingredient listed usually holds the most weight in the product. It should also contain high-quality meat proteins as a primary ingredient—except for vegetarian formulas—as well as nutrients from whole food sources. Be mindful of questionable or potentially harmful ingredients that add no nutritional value or have no evidence of it benefiting pets. Some ingredients to watch out for include corn syrup and MSG (monosodium glutamate). Consumption of corn syrup in high amounts can potentially put your pet at risk of diabetes and obesity, while consumption of MSG over time can be toxic and may cause damage to the liver, kidney, and brain.

Essential Nutrients for Your Pets

To achieve a well-balanced and healthy diet for your pet, there are six essential nutrients that you need to make sure are incorporated into their diets, as well as found in the pet food products you purchase. With the right quality, from the right source, and in the right amount, these nutrients can help to improve your pet’s overall health—mental, physical, and behavioral—and wellness! Let’s discuss them below!

  1. Water
As important as water consumption is for us, it is also highly important for our fur babies! Not only does it help to transport valuable nutrients in and out of our pet’s body, but it also helps in the absorption of nutrients. Water also helps our pets to function properly by aiding in digestion, regulating body temperature, improving cognitive function, and more. 
Water makes up about 60 to 70 percent of our pet’s bodily weight, therefore it is very important to make sure that they stay hydrated and consume appropriate amounts of water. When our pets don’t get enough water, it can lead to dehydration, organ failure, and in more serious cases—death. At the same time, drinking too much water may indicate that there is an underlying medical condition. Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, dry nose and mouth, panting, etc.
  1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates play an important role in your pet’s body since they are the main source of glucose and provide your pet with energy. They come from plants and are made up of sugars, starches, or fibers. Fibers can be soluble or insoluble and are important since they can help aid digestion and control blood sugar levels. Though not necessarily essential to your pet’s diet, healthy carbs can help to supply important minerals, vitamins, and plant-based nutrients. Examples of carbohydrate sources include grains, brown rice, or whole wheat.

  1. Proteins
Proteins create amino acids (essential and non-essential) that are vital nutrients for pets. They are also the building blocks of life. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by your pet’s body and must be received through their diet from plant or animal sources. Proteins supply your pets with energy and are critical in helping to maintain their health. Since protein cannot be stored in the body, your pet will need constant dietary intake. Great sources of protein include egg, fish, lean-muscle meats like chicken and beef, and beans. 
Proteins have many health benefits when added to your pet’s diet. It can help boost muscle mass and growth, tissue growth and repair, and can also make enzymes and improve hormone production and regulation. Other benefits that proteins provide are that they can help support the function of your pet’s immune system, strengthen your pet’s nails, aid in the growth of healthy hair/fur, and support skin conditions. Always be sure to look for pet food products that contain natural, high-quality protein sources!
  1. Fats/fatty acids
Fats, also known as lipids, are made up of fatty acids and are a source of energy for pets. Fats can benefit your pet by helping to protect internal organs, regulate body temperature, and maintain healthy skin and coat. Fats are important because they enable the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. When fat levels are too low, it can potentially cause your pet to develop dry or itchy skin. 
Fats provide essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid (also referred to as Omega-6) and Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important because they can help to reduce inflammation in your pet caused by conditions such as allergies, arthritis, dermatitis, and more. Some of the best pet-friendly sources of fat are flaxseeds and fish oil.       
  1. Vitamins
Vitamins are organic compounds essential for growth and health maintenance. Two types of vitamins are fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble (B and C). Whereas fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in your pet’s body for long periods of time, water-soluble vitamins cannot. Therefore, they are needed daily by your pet’s body in small amounts.
Vitamin A helps to boost the immune system and is necessary for proper growth, reproduction, vision, and skin health. Vitamins C and E function as antioxidants, while Vitamin D helps in maintaining and regulating calcium and phosphorus levels in your pet’s body to support the health and growth of bones and muscles. Vitamin K is important as it helps to ensure proper blood clotting.
In terms of Vitamin B, there are different types that each play significant roles. For instance, B7 promotes healthy skin, nails, and fur, while B1 helps your pet break down carbs and sugar and turn them into energy. Other examples of Vitamin B include B6 and B12. B6 helps to create neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which influences mood and works to calm pets down. It is necessary for normal brain development and function, strong immune systems, metabolizing amino acids, and more. B12 is necessary for maintaining a healthy nervous system. It is also crucial in producing red blood cells, healthy digestion, and more. 
  1. Minerals

Minerals help to keep your pet’s immune system functioning normally and are required as part of your pet’s diet.  Calcium and phosphorus are two important minerals that make up bone matter in pets and are necessary for the maintenance of teeth as well.  Iron is essential for transporting oxygen through your pet’s body, while Zinc helps in healing wounds.  Minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium help in maintaining fluid balance and nerve transmission.  Other general benefits of minerals in your pet’s diet include the production of hormones, the formation of cartilage, blood coagulation, muscle growth, and more.

Personalized Nutrition Plans

Every pet is different and has individual needs regarding their health that must be addressed to ensure their overall well-being. Therefore, it is often best to work with a veterinarian to create a unique and personalized nutrition plan for your pet that can cater to their health. When formulating individualized nutritional plans for pets, veterinarians will take into account their age, weight, breed, activity level, medical conditions or illnesses, current diet, and more. Customized nutritional plans tailored to your pet’s specific needs can help to prolong their life for the better as they age.

Some pet owners are even looking into creating homemade meals for their pets themselves. Despite it being time and labor-consuming, for many, it offers peace of mind knowing exactly what is going into their pet’s food. If this interests you, it is still important to seek advice from a veterinarian who can validate that your recipe is being prepared correctly and provides your pet with the right balance of nutrients and quality ingredients—best suited to their needs. Veterinarians can also assist you in determining the proper amount to feed your furry friend, along with an appropriate feeding schedule.

It is important to formulate a diet that is not only highly nutritious but one that your pet enjoys as well. You want to make sure that it is palatable and to their liking. A healthy diet does not mean that it should be bland—taste is still important! Always monitor your pet to see how they react to certain changes in their diet, especially if it’s homemade.

If incorporating treats or chews, it is also important to make sure they never take up more than 10% of your furry friend’s daily calorie/energy intake!

Consult a Veterinarian!

It’s always best to seek out a veterinarian or pet nutritionist if you have any concerns or inquiries regarding your pet’s health and nutrition. With their expertise, they may be able to offer you helpful advice or provide you with nutritional counseling to help keep your pet safe and healthy. Visits with your pet’s veterinarian is also beneficial in checking that your pet is meeting all of their nutritional needs.

From the amount of food your furry friend should receive to the type of food you should be buying, they can help answer any questions you may have. Seeking out a veterinarian or pet nutritionist is also a good idea if your pet has specific dietary needs, where these specialists can help you in putting together a well formulated diet that is needed for your pet to achieve optimal health.

Keep in mind that you should also be doing your own extensive research. A well balanced and nutritional diet is one of the best ways to ensure the overall health and well-being of your pet. Through proper nutrition and care, your pet will be able to live a long, happy, and healthy life!

*This post is intended for informational purposes only.
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