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Organic Food for Pets: A Good Idea or Hype?

I have a confession to make. I own a t-shirt that says “Kale University” on it. I eat a lot of kale. I have even made kale brownies (hint: kale does not belong in brownies). The point is that because I eat so much kale, I purchase it organic. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that provides research-based information about the toxins in our food supply and environment, kale and other leafy greens frequently contain hazardous pesticides that are toxic to the nervous system. I eat kale because I love the taste and the health benefits; I can do without the neurotoxins.

Many foods today contain toxins, such as pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones and chemical additives that have been linked to serious health issues in people and animals. To minimize this toxic assault, I feed my family, including my four-legged son, Chase, as many organic foods as possible.

organic food for pets

Let’s take a look at why “going organic” may make sense for your canine or feline companion.

“Natural” versus “Organic”

Many people confuse “natural” foods with “organic” foods, believing the two terms are interchangeable. However, there is no legal definition or regulation of “natural” in human or pet food, so manufacturers can use this claim without following a specific standard. As a result, “natural” may have more to do with marketing than with the purity of the ingredients.

Definition of “Organic”

Unlike “natural”, “organic” is legally defined and strictly regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program, so foods labeled as “organic” must meet specific standards.

By law, USDA Organic products cannot contain:

  • Toxic or synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
  • Chemical additives, such as artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
  • Antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones (in food production animals).
  • Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs (crops that have had their DNA artificially modified in a laboratory to obtain certain attributes, such as resistance to insects or herbicides).
  • Irradiation.
  • Sewage sludge.
  • Synthetic fertilizers.

Benefits of Organic Food for Pets

The benefits of feeding your dog or cat organic foods are less about what they will get and more about what they won’t get – toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health issues, including neurological diseases, developmental disorders, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and cancer. Modern dogs and cats are exposed to multiple toxins on a daily basis, from vaccines and topical flea and tick products to home and lawn chemicals. I believe that food should nourish the body, not pile on more chemicals and increase the toxic burden.

Deciphering “Organic” Labels

Foods for human consumption are allowed to contain four types of “organic” claims based on the amount of organic content in the product:

  • “100% Organic” – All ingredients in the product must be certified organic.
  • “USDA Organic” – 95% or more of the product’s ingredients must be certified organic.
  • “Made With Organic Ingredients” – The product must contain a minimum of 70% certified organic ingredients.
  • Ingredients Panel Listing- Products containing less than 70% certified organic content may list individual organically produced ingredients on the ingredients panel, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.
  • Only products containing 95% or more certified organic ingredients are allowed to display the USDA Organic seal on the label.

    IMPORTANT: When purchasing organic pet food, look for the USDA Organic seal. Pet foods displaying the USDA Organic seal are regulated by the USDA’s National Organic Program and must meet the same standards as human organic foods. The National Organic Program has no legal authority to regulate “organic” claims on pet foods that do not voluntarily meet USDA Organic standards, so some pet foods claiming to be organic may lack any certification.

    “Go Organic” without Draining Your Wallet

    Do you want to incorporate more organic foods into your dog or cat’s diet but are put off by the higher cost? Here are some of my favorite organic money-saving tips:

    • Prioritize your purchases. Not all produce is heavily sprayed with pesticides, so going 100% organic is unnecessary. Each year, the EWG publishes the Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean 15™, two lists that rate fruits and vegetables according to their level of pesticide contamination.
    • Join an organic food co-op or buying club to leverage the purchasing power of other like-minded organic consumers.
    • Support your local farmer’s market for sustainable agricultural products that, on average, are less expensive than retail stores. To locate a farmer’s market in your area, visit the USDA’s National Farmer’s Market Directory.
    • Buy in bulk when organic meats are on sale and freeze for later use.
    • Join a membership club, such as Costco, which has become the largest organic grocer in the world.
    • Join an online organic delivery service, such as The Green PolkaDot Box, which offers USDA Certified Organic commercial pet food as well as organic meat and wild-caught fish at discounted prices.

    Feeding organic food for pets may require additional effort or financial investment up-front, but a healthy dog or cat requires fewer expensive veterinary trips and medications. Incorporating organic food into my boy Chase’s diet has made sense for me, and I believe it has played a large role in enabling him to gracefully mature into a healthy 16-year-old “super senior.”

    (This article is adapted from my Chow Time article that originally appeared in the Feb/March edition of Dogster magazine.)

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  1. Because I kept reading that “organic” doesn’t mean “organic” in that some brands were using it as a marketing label, I started shopping at a local farmer’s market and growing my own vegetable. It’s a lot easier and less expensive than I thought. I live in a smaller town so the organic vegetables are more affordable. Having my own garden is a lot of work and exhausting, but worth it when you taste the vegetables. Wow!

    I make an organic-ish veggie mix for my dogs. The vegetables and fruit are organic, but then I mix it with a bone broth, which isn’t organic. Hence, the “ish.”

  2. Joanna Kosloff says:

    I used to think that all you had to do was buy an expensive dog food and your baby would be just fine. Well, I found out the hard way that wasn’t true. My Irish setter, Dylan, began to have digestive problems @ 7 mos. of age when I started switching from one very highly rated commercial food to a host of others. His intestines That’s how it started. His intestines started to rumble so loudly you could hear them in the next room. This happened often — at least 2-3 times a week. It was accompanied by his inability to eat anything until the rumbles stopped — usually 12 hrs.. Then he would get mucous-y diarrhea. I tried feeding him every 3 hrs. to see if that would stop the excessive gas — to a point that helped but did not stop this vicious cycle. I got no sleep for 1 year, basically.The short story is that his system got worse and worse to the point where I had gone to 12 different vets, most of them specialists, including a vet nutritionist. He had 3 different allergy tests and was basically allergic to everything. I spent thousands of dollars on diagnostic tests. I put him on proscription vet diets — worst results of all. Then my vet in FL told me about Diana.She was my last hope before an endoscopy/colonoscopy. I contacted her, She came up with a home cooked diet w/ three basic ingredients and a host of nutritious supplements. Once we had decided on the right protein (in his case lean beef) within 3 days .. YES 3 DAYS!!! of starting the new diet, the rumbles stopped, the diarrhea stopped, the every 3 hr. feedings stopped and he was a normal dog again!!! It is now 4 months that Dylan is on Diana’s diet.He’s 2 yrs. old. He looks great, has plenty of energy, he eats 3 big meals a day plus two smaller snacks in between and most importantly, NO TUMMY RUMBLES!!! I tell everyone that Diana is a miracle worker, and she was truly that for us. RUN DO NOT WALK to sign up to work with her. Even if your fur baby is healthy (mine was … until he wasn’t) Diana will guide you to make sure he/she stays that way. I cannot thank her enough and will work with her FOREVER!!!