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Are Holistic Dog Foods Worth It?

Updated on January 11, 2018
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Holistic dog food has nothing to do with holistic veterinary medical care for your dog, so if you are spending more on holistic dog food, ask yourself if it is really worth it. Spending more money on your dog does not justify spending less time with her.

Your puppy can grow up healthy without holistic dog food.
Your puppy can grow up healthy without holistic dog food. | Source

What is holistic dog food?

The commercial dog foods were first invented as a way to sell the sweepings from the grain mills. Since those feeds were first introduced, the companies have spent millions of dollars convincing the dog owning public that they are too stupid and uneducated to feed their own dogs without purchasing commercial products.

You do not have to buy commercial dog food nor be a veterinary nutritionist in order to feed your dog.

In the last few years dog owners have finally learned that these commercial products are making their dogs sick, and the companies have tried to change the labels and convince the consumers that their new products are better and actually what a dog should be eating.

The holistic dog foods introduced to the dog food market in the last few years are one of those commercial products labeled to draw in naïve dog owners that have learned the sweepings are making their dogs sick. But what is holistic?

There is no definition that they have to follow, so companies can call any food “holistic” and get away with it.

Holistic dog foods claim:

• They use only whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, and never utilize by-products.
• They use only natural ingredients.
• They use only bioavailable minerals and vitamins.
Dogs eating commercial foods are prone to obesity.
Dogs eating commercial foods are prone to obesity. | Source

Do holistic dog foods provide benefits to dogs?

Any time a company pastes the “natural” label on their product they can raise the price. If they are able to use the word “holistic”, they can charge even more. And, since they are so expensive, most people willing to spend so much money on a dog food are going to claim that it is helping their pet.

So are these “holistic” dog foods really worth the extra costs? They are claiming a lot of things, but they have no proof that any of them are true.

Holistic dog foods claim these benefits:

• Improved health
• Shinier coat
• More energy

Are holistic dog foods natural?

Natural is anything a company says it is. In the US, AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) “recommend” that natural is supposed to be a feed that has nothing artificial. Corn, wheat gluten, and bone meal are all natural ingredients, not artificial, so a company can put them in their food, charge extra, and label and sell to you as a natural diet.

Artificial only refers to artificial flavoring, coloring, or preservatives. Anything else is fine, and, since AAFCO does not inspect, anything else can be added.

Some companies also claim that natural means “whole”. As in whole grains of corn, whole grains of rice, or whole vegetables. (Some of the dog foods that are labeled as natural and holistic do not contain grains, but you have to read the ingredient list if this is what you are looking for. Do not assume that the picture on the bag is correct.)

So although the dog food with the holistic label may be natural by some definition, it does not have to be what a dog would eat naturally, nor what he needs for his health.

The best dog food is:

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Are holistic dog foods worth the extra money?

Many holistic brands are out there, many claiming to be hypoallergenic, reduce cancer rates, and make your dog healthier. The latest fads are holistic diets that are supposedly better for a dog because of his breed.

But is it worth it to spend money on these diets? Not in my opinion. If you choose to supplement this industry you are doing your dogs a disservice.

Is it worth it to feed your dog correctly? I think so. I feed my dogs whole food and balance it with natural ingredients.

They have improved in several areas since their diets have changed. The biggest benefit is their dental health. By eating food with bones, they have their teeth scraped at every meal. This does not occur when you feed the “holistic” foods out of a bag or can.

They also have shiny coats, so much so that my neighbors comment on it. Their stools are small and dry, so I no longer have the clean up that used to plague my day. Most importantly, at least for my evening, the dogs no longer pass gas secondary to that grain-based commercial dog food.

Natural foods do not come in a can or bag.
Natural foods do not come in a can or bag. | Source

How to feed your dog every day

· Give mostly meat and bones. About ¾ of his diet can be provided by bringing home chicken necks, beef scraps from the butcher, and even raw tripe.

· Some organ meat like an occasional piece of liver or kidneys. If you feed chicken backs the organs are attached to the inside of the back and it is not even necessary to worry about buying extra organs.

· Some vegetables, mixed with a few tablespoons of raw yogurt to provide bacteria to aid digestion. (In Paleolithic times, the probiotic most commonly consumed was fecal material. If you do not want your dog picking up horse droppings you should provide something else.)

· Fresh fruit. Almost all dogs enjoy fruit.

· Some areas of the world will be deficient and dogs may require some supplements—if there are local street dogs that are healthy and doing fine do not worry about this. (Commercial dog foods will not take this into account and will just provide enough nutrients to keep your dog alive.)

· All dogs benefit from the addition of fish oil and some benefit from other antioxidants like vitamin C.

What is the best option for your dog?

I will agree that most of these dog foods are superior to the sugary ingredients of Gaine´s Burgers or the Corn and Bone meal that are the main ingredients of Ol´Roy. But are they really your best option?

If you look at the holistic foods, they are considered better than average by most dog food sites, but even these “above average” holistic foods are made up of chicken meal, rice, oatmeal, and dried beet pulp. Further down the ingredient list they contain things like carrots, peas, quinoa, apples, vitamins, and probiotics. If you look at their advertising, however, they tout these ingredients as if they were the most important thing in their dog foods.

And, if you look at the photos on the dog food bags, these ingredients are what are shown to the customer.

The best option is to stay away from all commercial feeds and to feed your dog a diet based on real meat. The box to the left will give you an idea of how you can feed her correctly. This is not as easy as just buying a bag of food off of the shelf but it is well worth your time.

Take the time to learn a little more.

Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog
Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog

I found this inexpensive book easy to follow and it provides some sample feeding schedules and more details on feeding your dog naturally.


Other References

Dr. Ian Billinghurst, Give Your Dog a Bone, Warrigal Publishing, 1993.

© 2015 Dr Mark


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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Thanks for that comment, Bob. I could have added a lot more ingredient lists on those holistic foods that claim to be great for dogs but the hub would have read 10,000 plus words, a lot more than people want to read.

      No, I do not think the people that are buying these foods are dumb. I do think they are being bamboozled by big corporations, though, and I do not think it takes a person from ACVN to tell you what to feed your dog. And the organizations like USDA have loose enough regs that dog food manufacturers are allowed to add whatever they want to dog foods and then put an entirely different label on them. The only worse thing is groups like the AVMA that lie because they are supported by the big feed corps.

      As always, I disagree with your comments but do appreciate your jumping in there and defending the dog food manufacturers.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Wow, every keystroke was a pin stuck into the Big Bad Pet Food Company voodoo doll. I’m sure you’re shocked that I would write a dissenting opinion on this, and I can’t speak for the people of the world, but I’d like to say some words on behalf of the millions of Americans you just called too dumb or naïve to realize they’re being bamboozled by corporate pet food makers.

      In the interest of full disclosure, let me inform your readers that I rep for a family-owned (4th generation) pet food company that that has been making quality pet food since 1926. In our 89 years, we’ve never had a recall. We make premium, super premium and holistic dog and cat foods and treats.

      Americans own about 80 million dogs and spend about 23 billion dollars a year feeding them. That’s a lot of people, spending a lot of their hard earned money, who just might disagree with you also.

      You also might find some dissent among organizations like the American College of Veterinary Nutrition or the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition whose membership is made up of degreed, Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists who worked hard and assumed a lot of debt earning their degrees in veterinary nutrition. And, it’s not even smart to mention USDA, FDA and other regulators. They’re just in the pockets of the big, evil corporations, right?

      Of course all that doesn’t matter anyway because, as you “in the know” folks realize, it’s all a bunch of baloney because all you have to do is feed your dog chicken lips and cow throats.

      Actually, people do feed those items that you praise so highly. In America, they’re classified as by-products and are used in cheaper, lower end foods. They’re also sold as treats with such exotic names as moo tubes (trachea), lamb puffs (lung), bully sticks (penis), and snozzles (nose leather). You can also find chicken feet, duck feet and turkey feet sold as treats. And, by the way, the pet food companies don’t get to define ingredients. That’s the domain of The Association of American Feed Control Officials. We have to comply with their definitions.

      I thought this was uncharacteristic; way out of line with your usual authoritative hubs. It was a rant, actually, that wasn’t backed up by facts. Just wild accusations such as you see on some social media and blog sites. Personally, I think that’s unbecoming to a man of science such as yourself, whose writings have always been from a professional perspective.

      Between the USDA, FDA, NIH and CDC, I get from 1 to 3 dozen emails a day…some are press releases, some are informative articles, but a lot of them are recall notices. Every day, I see recalls for human products, even from such reliable retailers as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Yet, so far this year, there have been only a handful of recalls for pet products.

      It might interest you and your readers to know that, regarding chicken sold in grocery stores, USDA has a salmonella tolerance of 9.8% for whole raw broilers, and 15.4% for raw chicken parts before a recall is triggered. Yet just one positive test for salmonella in raw dog food causes a recall, and panic and apoplexy throughout Pet Owner Nation.

      Dogs are living longer than ever before, partly because of advances in our knowledge of animal nutrition and the formulations of quality dog food available commercially. Large uncaring corporations are an easy target and some folks love to pile on. The reality check is that Americans are enjoying a huge variety of products and services…and jobs…many of which are provided by large corporations.

      This one was big on wild claims, Doc, but short on facts. Like the companies you rail against, even learned professionals leave themselves open for criticism on occasion, and I think this is one of them. We’ve all learned a lot from you over the years, and I value our cyber-friendship, so I trust that this will be viewed as just an expected and friendly disagreement.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Dressage Husband--yes, it can happen, but it is unlikely. I have even heard some authors claim that chicken feet can cause a problem, but both my large and small dogs eat these bones without any problems at all; eating bones is how they consume their calcium.

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      @Dr Mark,

      I was wondering if the sharp bone splinters may damage the gut or throat wall during digestion or whether dogs have adapted to such a degree that this is not really all that likely?

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Badder 2 years ago from USA

      I used to make all the food for our dogs, but stopped. I think I'll start again now that I hear they use the grain sweepings from the floors.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 2 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      Dressage Husband: the canned foods are about the same, but have more water added to them. I am not sure what you mean about damaging their guts. Do you mean impaction? There is a small chance of this, but if dogs are fed bones like necks and legs it is not going to happen. The main problem with a natural diet is that people consider them too much work--grabbing a bag of dog food from the store is a lot easier. It is akin to always eating TV dinners, however, and not the best option for your dog. Thanks for the questions.

      Nell, they sound like fortunate dogs! As you have seen, it is not necessary to earn a veterinary degree to feed your dogs!!!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi our dogs always had cooked meat, my mum insisted on it! lambs liver, hearts etc, never the pulp in tins! interesting stuff, thanks!

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      The only thing you did not cover here is the canned meat dog foods. Are these as bad as the pelleted feeds?

      Do you run the risk if damaging their guts if you feed meat on the bone? Are there any other concerns with the Natural diet?