Just because the bag says "natural" does not mean the ingredients are!
A healthy canine diet should consist of natural ingredients including healthy, lean proteins and few if any grains. Human-grade ingredients are best as they would not contain toxins and molds when grains are present. Fruit and vegetables should also be included and the food should never be chemically preserved.
Ingredients Can Be the Culprit
Allergies and skin and coat problems are the most common health issues our pets face today … but it doesn’t have to be that way. Improve your dog’s quality of life and give them a fighting chance against allergies! Know your ingredients!
Pet food labeling is regulated at two levels. The federal regulations, enforced by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), establish standards applicable for all animal feeds: proper identification of product, net quantity statement, manufacturer's name and address, and proper listing of ingredients. Some states also enforce their own labeling regulations. Many states have adopted the model pet food regulations established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These regulations are more specific in nature, covering aspects of labeling such as the product name, the guaranteed analysis, the nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and calorie statements.
I think it is important for owners to understand the definition of common terms used by pet food manufacturers and about the dog in general.
Carnivore - one that derives its energy and nutrient
requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue -
"a meat eater". (Cats, Eagle, Shark, Wolf, etc.)
Omnivore - Omnivores often are opportunistic, general feeders which lack carnivore or herbivore specializations for acquiring or processing food, but which nevertheless consume both animal protein and vegetation. (Great Apes, Coyote, Bear - Humans)
Herbivore - an animal anatomically and physiologically adapted to eating plant material as the main component of it's diet. (Cow, Deer, Giraffe, Rabbit, etc.)
Digestive enzymes that help break down macronutrients in food:
1. Protease, to break down protein.
2. Lipase, to digest fat.
3. Amylase, to process carbohydrates.
Organic - produced using organic farming methods.
Currently the United States requires producers to obtain special
certification in order to market food as organic
Holistic - There is no legal definition of this term under laws devoted to pet foods. Any manufacturer can claims their formulas are “holistic” regardless of ingredients chosen.
Natural - according to AAFCO "consisting of only natural ingredients without chemicals."
Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) - an association of state and federal officials that help develop the guidelines for animal feeds and pet food in regards to the production, labeling, and selling of these products. AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way.
Some Basic Dog Food Label Definitions
Whole Chicken (or other meat) - clean combination of
flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from parts of
whole carcasses of chickens thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and
Chicken Meal (or other meat) - Chicken meal is ground up chicken meat that has been carefully dried to a moisture level of10%. The protein content is65%and the fat level is12%. Regular chicken contains about 70% water with 18% protein and 5% fat.
Chicken By-products - Chicken by-product meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.
Tocopherols - Natural preservatives usually made from anti-oxidants — like vitamins C or E.
"Animal" Digest - digest is produced by the chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis (the chemical breakdown of a compound due to reaction with water) of clean animal tissue that has not undergone decomposition. The animal tissue may not include hair, horns, teeth, hooves, and feathers, with the exclusion of trace amounts that are unavoidable even after acceptable processing method.
Recent molecular evidence shows that dogs are descended from the gray wolf and were domesticated approximately 130,000 years ago. However, the gray wolf as he is today, had yet to evolve and was more likely a much smaller version. The gray wolf was, and still is, a carnivore.
Although genetic research has proven that ten canine genes play key roles in starch digestion and fat metabolism, a dog still shows unmistakable evidence that its body is optimized for eating meat. Meat-eating animals exhibit a higher concentration of stomach acid. This allows faster digestion of animal protein. And the stronger acid kills the disease-causing bacteria abundant in decaying meat.
Dog's do not produce salivary amylase - Amylase is an enzyme present in the saliva of humans and some other mammals, where it begins the chemical process of digestion. Dogs do produce amylase but this enzyme is produced further down the digestive tract — specifically in the small intestine. Because dogs do not produce salivary amylase, carbohydrate digestion can be decidedly more difficult.
I think we can all safely say that our dogs are either carnivores with opportunistic omnivore leanings or opportunistic omnivores with a strong carnivorous predisposition.
Ideally a pet food should contain a high-quality protein as it's first ingredient - perhaps even the first several ingredients. Even if you do not feed a raw diet, there are several organic, holistic and natural dog foods on the market that can fit the bill. Adding supplements can benefit any diet as, you can see from the definitions I have provided, not every diet is necessarily considered "complete". Also, the modern dog is exposed to many more environmental challenges than their ancestors were, and of course today's domesticated dog has been been bred to meet the specific needs of today's owner. Sporting dogs, competition dogs and even lap dogs can have very different nutritional support requirements. Poorly bred dogs often need very specific additions to their diets including enzymatic support when they may have poor digestive enzyme production.