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Is it Time to Go Organic for Your Dog’s Food?

We tell you how to keep out chemicals and other additives -- plus how to read organic and "natural" labels.

Diana Laverdure- Dunetz  |  Feb 12th 2016


Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February/March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

I have a confession to make. I eat a lot of kale. I own a “Kale University” T-shirt. I have even made kale brownies. (For the record, 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, a nonprofit 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 of today’s foods contain toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and chemical additives that have been linked to serious health issues in both people and animals. To minimize this toxic assault, I feed my family, including my four-legged son, Chase, as many organic foods as possible. Let’s take a look at why “going organic” might make sense for your canine companion.

Natural versus organic

Many people confuse “natural” foods and “organic” foods, believing the 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, the word “natural” on a label might have more to do with marketing than with the purity of the ingredients.

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

By law, USDA organic products cannot contain the following:

  • 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

The benefits of feeding your dog organic foods are less about what he will get and more about what he won’t get — toxic chemicals that have been linked to serious health issues, including neurological diseases, developmental disorders, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and cancer. I believe that food should nourish the body, not pile on more chemicals and increase the toxic burden.

Deciphering organic labels

Dog eating a carrot by Shutterstock.

Dog eating a carrot by Shutterstock.

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

  • 100-percent organic: All ingredients in the product must be certified organic.
  • USDA organic: 95 percent or more of the product’s ingredients must be certified organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients: The product must contain a minimum of 70 percent certified organic ingredients.
  • Ingredients panel listing: Products containing less than 70 percent 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 percent or more certified organic ingredients are allowed to display the USDA Organic seal on the label.

Pet foods displaying the seal are regulated by the USDA’s national Organic Program and must meet the same standards as human organic foods. The 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 might lack any certification.

Organic on a budget

If you want to incorporate more organic foods into your dog’s diet but are put off by the higher cost, try my favorite organic money-saving tips:

  • Prioritize your purchases. Not all produce is heavily sprayed with pesticides, so going 100 percent 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 likeminded organic consumers.
  • Support your local farmers’ market for sustainable agricultural products that, on average, are less expensive than retail stores. To locate a farmers’ 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.
  • Subscribe to an online organic delivery service, such as the Green PolkaDot Box, which offers USDA Certified Organic commercial dog food as well as organic meat and wild-caught fish at discounted prices.

Feeding your dog organic food might require additional effort or financial investment up front, but a healthy dog requires fewer expensive veterinary trips and medications. Incorporating organic food into 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 15-year-old “super senior.”

Read more on food by Diana Laverdure-Dunetz:

About the author: Diana Laverdure-Dunetz, M.S., the Pet Food Diva, is an award-winning dog health writer, pet nutrition consultant, and healthy pet food advocate. She is the author (with W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M.) of the new book Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health and is currently writing her dissertation toward her master’s degree in animal science. Her weekly blog posts at petfooddiva.com discuss creating optimum health in our companion animals based on the principles of nutrigenomics, the science of how diet affects gene expression, and cellular health. Connect with her on the Pet Food Diva Facebook page and on Twitter at @PetFoodDiva