Are There Natural Dog Foods?

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on July 05, 2023
3 min read

We all want what’s best for our pets. In a world of processed foods, it can be hard to determine what’s healthy for our dogs. Natural alternatives can enrich their diet, but are they worth it? What’s healthiest for your dog?

As humans, we expect the “natural” label to mean "foods that come from nature." For dog food companies, the Association of American Feed Control Officials has modified what it means to be “natural”. 

According to them, the food can be labeled "natural" as long as the raw ingredients from plant, animal, or mined sources aren’t subjected to, or produced by, chemically synthetic processes or blended with synthetic additives. The natural ingredients can, however, be processed in other ways before they're added to the food.

Natural dog foods don't contain man-made ingredients. However, just because it's labeled as natural doesn't guarantee that the ingredients are high-quality

The amount of organic dog food on the market is small. Similarly, the recorded benefits of organic dog food are negligible. If you're not impressed by what's on the shelves, or you want total control of your pup's diet, you may want to try feeding your dog a raw or home-cooked diet.

One way to provide your dog with a natural diet is through raw foods. Raw diets are designed to mimic the nutrients of what your dog would eat in the wild -- raw meats, vegetables, and grains. However, raw diets are not always complete - all raw and homecooked diets must be approved by a veterinary nutritionist to be complete for the dog's needs. There’s no evidence that a raw diet is better than a commercially prepared diet and they can cause serious illness. Ham would not be a recommended snack.

If you do choose to feed your dog a raw diet, make sure to carefully select the ingredients so that harmful pathogens are not transmitted to your dog. Careful preparation and handling of the raw ingredients around your household are necessary for everyone’s health. 

Rather than purchasing processed food off-the-shelf, you can treat your dog like a member of the family by cooking them their meals. While cooking for your dog gives you complete control over the ingredients and their diet, preparing a balanced meal with safe ingredients can be a challenge. Understanding your dog’s dietary requirements, determining what’s safe for them to eat, and finding the time to prepare their meals can be tricky. 

There are plenty of “pet nutrition professionals” online that have published recipes for a homemade diet. These can be unreliable and potentially harmful for your dog. Consult your vet or a service managed by board-certified veterinary nutritionists to get more information about the diet your dog needs.

Completely changing your dog’s diet can be a bit shocking for them and you. Their body might respond negatively. Their digestive tract might not handle the transition well. Instead of changing your dog's diet completely, you might want to introduce natural snacks into their diet to acclimate them.

Certain foods make great natural snacks for your dog, but other natural foods might be toxic. Knowing which to keep on hand for a tasty treat makes a big difference. 

Some healthy snacks for your dog are:

  • A few unsalted cashews
  • Low-fat cheeses (as long as your dog isn’t lactose intolerant)
  • Coconut (none of the fuzzy exterior) or coconut milk
  • Corn kernels off the cob
  • Cooked eggs
  • Cooked sardines or de-boned fish
  • Some honey
  • Raw, unsalted peanut butter
  • Unsalted, unbuttered air-popped popcorn
  • Quinoa
  • De-tailed cooked shrimp
  • Unseasoned turkey
  • Plain yogurt (as long as your dog isn’t lactose intolerant)

Remember, these snacks can’t replace large parts of your dog’s diet. They're just natural treats that accompany their normal diet. 

Some foods are toxic. Make sure your dog avoids the following foods:

  • Almonds
  • Chocolate
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic/onion/chives
  • Ice cream
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Avocado
  • Corn on the cob
  • Grapes/raisins
  • Alcohol
  • grapes/raisins

There are far too many brands of kibble and wet food to say which is better. Most commercial dog foods contain adequate nutrients for the average dog. 

There’s no scientific evidence that natural or organic diets are better than conventional diets using commercial kibble or wet food. But if you're really looking to know what's in your dog's food, an organic or homemade diet might be best. Always make sure to consult your vet regarding your dog’s needs before changing their diet.