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Cats and dogs are part of the family, so it’s only natural that we would want the best for them. And as more pet owners are growing interested in the link between diet and health, it’s no surprise that natural pet foods – and transparency about ingredients – have become a hot topic.

Wondering what makes natural foods different from conventional pet foods? Here’s all you need to know.

Whole ingredients

On the surface, the nutritional profile of an all-natural food versus a commercial pet food may not seem very different. Both foods may be labelled as ‘balanced’ or ‘complete’. However, the type of ingredients used can vary greatly. While natural foods typically contain whole ingredients like meat, vegetables, fruit and plant extracts, standard pet foods may draw on less costly alternatives such as fillers, animal by-products and sugars (all nutritionally void ingredients).

Fruit, vegetables and whole unprocessed grains are important components of your cat or dog’s diet as they provide lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Good-quality protein

Both cats and dogs thrive on meaty diets, so a meal with a high amount of good-quality protein is always a good place to start. But what does ‘good-quality protein’ mean exactly? Whenever your budget allows, your pet should derive their protein from animal sources, preferably whole meat or fish: like chicken, lamb, turkey, duck, cod or salmon. This is mainly for two reasons: animal-based protein contains all the amino acids that your pet needs for healthy muscles and tissue. Additionally, animal protein is more digestible than meat meal or grains.

A complete pet food containing 30% protein or more is ideal (remember the ingredients on food labels are listed in order of weight, so the main ones always come first). And when possible, we would suggest avoiding foods that contain meat by-products (the part of the animal that wouldn’t be consumed by humans) as well as meats of unspecified source – terms like ‘meat meal’, ‘bone meal’ or ‘meat and animal derivatives’.

Free from chemicals

Natural pet foods consciously avoid using processed and artificial ingredients like chemicals, flavours, colours and preservatives – only adding vitamins and minerals.

On the other hand, traditional pet foods are often made with cheaper bulking ingredients like wheat and corn while containing little meat or plants. This is one of the reasons why their recipes rely heavily on additives (for flavour) as well as artificial preservatives (for freshness). As an example, BHT, BHA and corn syrup are all cheaper antioxidants than rosemary or sage – two natural preservatives that are actually good for your pet’s health. Details like these help to explain why natural pet foods are slightly more expensive.

But perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid chemicals in pet food is the potential adverse effect they could have on your pet’s health, causing anything from behavioural issues to illness.

A healthier choice

There is a recurring theme in the reviews for natural pet foods: many pet owners are delighted after a change of diet solved their furry friend’s digestive disorders and/or skin issues. Others comment on how pets look forward to their meals and fussy cats no longer turn up their nose at their food.

As we mentioned above, whole meat is easier to metabolise. Many natural foods also avoid common allergens (like beef, wheat, soy and dairy), meaning your cat or dog is likely to experience fewer tummy upsets. Adding natural prebiotics like chicory and burdock root to a pet food also helps with digestion.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether pets should eat grains or not. Many pets can digest grains well. That said, there are different qualities of grains, with whole grains (like rice or oats) being the most nutritious. You may also want to check the ratio of grains used in your pet’s food, as good-quality foods tend to use a higher ratio of meat to grains.

If your pet is prone to allergies, itchiness or digestive issues, there is a chance they may be sensitive to the proteins in grains, in which case it can be a good idea to feed them a grain-free diet. Grain-free foods replace grains with easily digestible plant ingredients like sweet potato and peas.

Looking for the perfect natural food for your pet? Then make sure you check out our range of all-natural foods. We offer plenty of options, including popular brands like Canine Choice, James Wellbeloved, Lily’s Kitchen and Forthglade.