Dogs have come a long way from being just animals that happen to share living space with humans. The canine-human relationship has evolved over time, and, these days, dogs are considered a member of the family and are treated with the absolute best money can afford. It’s no wonder many dog parents swear by holistic dog foods.
But what exactly are holistic dog foods?
Are the same as natural or organic dog food? Is there a difference? If there is, what’s the difference? And how can you tell holistic dog foods from natural dog foods?
Well, it’s actually not so difficult. You just need to pay close attention to what we will be talking about today.
But hey, here’s something you can take to the bank: holistic dog foods are complete, balanced, and healthy dog foods.
The next question might be whether it is good for your dog. Well, that’s an entirely different story. You’ve definitely been a dog parent long enough to understand that dogs are unique. There’s no general formula that works for all dogs. There isn’t even any that works for all dogs of the same breed. And if you’ve not been a dog parent long enough, well, now you know.
So, as usual, after presenting the facts of holistic dog foods, we will help you decide whether it’s absolutely necessary to make that switch to holistic dog food or not. Who knows? Your dog’s current diet might just be okay for him.
There’s a lot to talk about, people. So, let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
What Are Holistic Dog Foods?
There are no standardized definitions for holistic dog foods. Unlike organic and natural which have defined terms from the AAFCO (or in the case of organic, borrowed definitions from the human definition), holistic is quite undefined by any authority.
However, according to caninejournal.com, holistic dog foods refer to those dog foods that are complete and balanced.
So, holistic dog foods are formulated to provide your dog with the highest quality of nutrition. Also, they are formulated to tend to their overall well being as well.
Now, not all holistic dog foods are the same. They vary according to the purpose they were intended to serve. So, you could find some holistic dog foods that are specially made for providing lots of fatty acids. Others might be designed to provide increased levels of proteins that can be easily digested in a dog’s gut.
The ingredients contained in a holistic dog food would usually be determined by the purpose of the food. As you know, different factors determine the nutritional needs of dogs. It could be their breed, age, stage of life, health conditions, etc.
And now that we know what holistic dog foods are, maybe it’s time we found out what holistic dog foods aren’t.
Holistic Dog Foods Are Different From Grain-Free Dog Foods
That a dog food is tagged holistic doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be grain-free. Grain-free dog food and holistic dog foods are completely different. You could check out our article on grain-free dog food for a more comprehensive guide on what grain-free dog foods are.
In that article, one of the things you’d learn is that grains aren’t totally bad for your pooch. They can actually be quite helpful if you give it to them in small quantities. The only situation where this rule doesn’t apply is when you’re dealing with a dog with allergies.
By the way, if you have a pooch with food allergies on your hands, then you need to read our article on feeding dogs with allergies. It will give you detailed steps on how to handle the situation with finesse.
So, back to grain-free dog foods and holistic dog foods.
Remember that we said earlier that holistic dog foods vary according to the purpose they serve. So, yeah, some holistic dog foods might come as grain-free. But that’s not to say that all grain-free dog foods are holistic dog foods.
In summary, you could say that not all grain-free dog foods are holistic dog foods, and not all holistic dog foods are grain-free dog foods.
So, that’s settled. On to the next point on what holistic dog foods aren’t.
Holistic Dog Foods Are Different From Natural Dog Foods
Yes. Even though you often see the words “holistic” and “natural” used side by side on many holistic dog food labels, they do not actually mean the same thing.
So, shall we proceed to the differences now?
First stop, natural dog foods.
What Are Natural Dog Foods?
In the world of pet nutrition, it’s the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that defines the terms. So, yeah, they do have a definition for natural. We covered this comprehensively in our guide on organic dog food. You might want to read that up because we’re going to be very brief here for the purpose of this article.
The AAFCO defines a natural food as…
A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.
Any dog food referred to as “natural” must be meet the definition of the AAFCO. Bear in mind that the AAFCO makes some exceptions for some unavoidable additions of synthetic additives. For instance, a dog food might be completely natural but may also contain vitamins or minerals. The AAFCO considers this okay but demands that the manufacturers include the statement “Plus Vitamins and Minerals” on their packaging.
Mind you, you cannot call a dog food natural if it only contains some natural ingredients. It must come with all natural ingredients. The exceptions being only what we’ve discussed above.
How Natural Dog Foods Are Different From Holistic Dog Foods
Like we said, the AAFCO does not have a standardized definition of the word. Holistic is actually more of a marketing term than a scientific jargon. It is supposed to refer to something that caters to your pet’s entire health.
The term does not take the ingredients used into cognizance. That is, the definition does not embrace the source of constituent ingredients whether they are natural or not. The focus when the word “holistic” is used is the overall health of the dog.
So, holistic dog food might be natural or it might not be. It might be organic or it might not be. Those factors don’t matter. All that matters is that a holistic dog food must be designed to meet a dog’s overall health needs. Get it now?
Holistic Dog Foods Are Different From Organic Dog Foods
There isn’t any standard definition for the term “organic” as it relates to dog food by the authorities. So, what is used as a standard for measuring organic dog food is actually borrowed from the human definition.
Organic dog foods must contain natural ingredients that were grown without the introduction of anything synthetic. If animals are used, then that animal must have been allowed to wander the outdoors.
So, for a dog food to be organic, the ingredients must be devoid of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics… anything synthetic, in short.
So, just like we saw in our comparison with natural dog foods, holistic dog foods are different. You can find holistic dog foods that are organic but that does not mean that all organic dog foods are holistic, the defining terms for each food is different.
And like we found out in the previous sub… Not all organic dog foods are holistic dog foods. And not all holistic dog foods are organic dog foods.
The Problem With The Term “Holistic”
Now, here’s the challenge with the term “holistic”. It does not have a standardized definition from the AAFCO or any other authority for that matter. This means that it could mean whatever the manufacturer wants it to mean. There’s no standard to measure any holistic dog food against to see if it truly lives up to its title.
The constant overuse of the term “holistic” has left many dog parents confused. Well, if you’re going to win at this game, then, it’s important that you understand how to read labels. Not just reading, you have to learn to understand what those labels are saying as well.
Also, don’t be shy to consult your vet or even call the manufacturer if there’s an ingredient on the label that you don’t understand.
Ingredients in Holistic Dog Foods
Alright, we already mentioned to you that holistic dog foods vary according to their purpose. So, you should expect that they would contain ingredients unique to their purpose as well.
- Protein source: Chicken, fish, or pork.
- Grains: Wholesome ones to provide energy.
- Probiotics and prebiotics: These will help your dog’s gut to easily absorb the nutrients he’s receiving.
- Digestive enzymes: These help to metabolize (break down) food.
- Natural fiber: Moves the food along in the gut for easy elimination.
- Herbs: To manage inflammation. This is particularly important for seniors.
- Vitamins and minerals: Keeps the heart, bones and other vital organs strong and healthy.
- Antioxidants: Boosts the immune system; prevents diabetes, cancer, and other debilitating diseases.
Benefits Of Holistic Dog Foods
Naturally, holistic dog foods are more expensive than the regular dog kibble. If you’re considering making this switch, you’re probably questioning the wisdom of your decision. It’s the wise thing to do, and that’s why we have presented you with some of the benefits of feeding your dog holistic dog foods.
1. Healthier Coat
The healthier your dog’s coat, the shinier it would be, naturally. Also, a healthier coat means that they won’t shed so often. Well, except the rule is different for their breed.
Fish oil is particularly important in maintaining the health of your pooch’s health. As you’ve probably guessed, holistic dog foods contain fish oil for the very purpose of keeping your dog’s coat all shiny and bouncy.
Even if your dog’s breed requires that he sheds every other time, a good holistic dog food can help to regulate that such that it’s less frequent. Holistic dog foods contain less fillers and more supplements, so they are perfect for that dog that sheds a lot.
2. Healthier Skin
Good oils contained in balanced dog foods keep your dog’s skin moisturized and hydrated. Dogs with dry or flaky skin are probably on a poor diet. Getting such a dog quality holistic dog food can help to reverse the condition and restore healthy skin.
If your pooch is having skin allergies, then be sure to look out for vitamin E and fish oil in your holistic dog food of choice.
3. Sharper Vision
Because holistic dog foods contain antioxidants, they are fantastic for your dog’s eyes. As animals (and humans) age, our organs begin to weaken little by little. It’s no different for dogs. Your senior will definitely not be seeing as acutely as he was a few years back.
And it’s not just seniors. There are some breeds that are naturally predisposed to sight trouble. Holistic dog foods contain supplements that help to manage such situations.
4. Healthier Heart
Holistic dog food brands are very particular about the type of proteins they include in their food. For this reason, you find that they tend to include leaner proteins. When fed leaner proteins, you can expect your dog to have fewer weight-related health issues.
In fact, replacing fatty proteins with lean proteins helps to protect the health of your dog’s heart.
5. Improved Intestinal Health
Holistic foods contain probiotics like we saw earlier. Probiotics are fantastic for your dog’s intestines. They help the native bacteria in the gut to thrive, and these healthy bacteria help your dog to digest food properly.
If your dog is frequently coming down with diarrhea or other stomach upsets from regular kibble, then it might be time to reconsider. Try switching to holistic dog foods. It might be more expensive but so are vet visits and antibiotics.
6. Less Poop
One of the first things you might notice when you switch to holistic dog foods for your pet is less poop. Here’s why… most regular dog kibble come packed with fillers, and fillers are terrible things.
Most of these fillers are carbs that are so difficult for your dog’s gut to process and digest. As you know, poop constitutes everything in your dog’s meal that wasn’t digested. So, yeah, you get the picture? All the fillers end up as waste. So, your dog keeps pooping to pass them all out.
Holistic dog foods usually come with few fillers. So, there’s little waste material. Almost everything in the food is completely digested by your dog. So, you’d find that dogs eat well and poop less – say twice a day at the most.
Sound good, doesn’t it?
7. Healthier Poop
Aside the quantity of the poop, the quality of your dog’s poop is another matter that deserves attention. Low-quality dog food will definitely cause your dog to have diarrhea or even get constipated. The poop might even be passed out poorly formed or might smell so terribly it makes you want to throw up while cleaning up after him.
Now, low-quality kibble isn’t the only culprit. Sometimes, it might be an infection. However, if other factors have been eliminated, then holistic dog foods can help reverse this situation.
8. Higher Energy levels
Healthier foods give more energy for several reasons. If your dog is on a low-quality diet, his body will need to expend more energy trying to break down the food. Low-quality kibble is actually more difficult to break down for the body.
So, your dog spends the energy he would have used for normal bodily functions breaking down low-quality dog chow. This ultimately translates to less energy for the activities of the day in your dog.
If it’s a high-quality dog food like holistic dog foods, the nutrients are a lot easier to obtain. So, breaking down the food is a lot easier and demands less energy.
9. Fewer Allergies
Some dogs (not all) thrive better on holistic dog foods than any other type of dog food, especially dogs that are grain sensitive.
Most times, dogs with a sensitivity to grain might present any of the following symptoms
- Dry and itchy skin.
- Hot spots.
- Excessive licking of affected spots.
- Chewing of the fur/skin/feet.
- Hair loss.
- Scaly and flaky skin.
Should I Switch My Dog To Holistic Dog Foods?
We mentioned in the last sub that not all dogs would do well with a holistic dog food. Some might. Some won’t.
However, you’re sure to notice a significant difference in the health of your dog if he’s been feeding on low-quality kibble in the past. Many dog parents now swear by holistic dog foods because they have tried them and found them to be very effective. We even have a story from one of such parents but we’ll get to that later.
Let us mention here that holistic dog foods aren’t magic potions. Like all good things, they take time to work. So, after changing to a holistic diet, improvements might take a while to show. Sometimes, it might take several weeks.
Remember, the body has to first of all flush out all the bad kibble so the holistic dog food can get to work. This “flushing out” could take several weeks. Now, after the flushing out, the nutrients would now have to get to optimal levels before we can begin to notice some progress.
So, let’s get to that story that we promised you…
A Dog Parent’s Story About Switching To Holistic Dog Food
And so the story goes…
So, the name of this dog is Oakley and he was quite the picky eater. He didn’t like dry food except it was mixed with real meat and chicken broth. Don’t look at us, we told you he was picky.
Now, one day, the owner decides to try holistic. So, she gave served Oakley the holistic dog food and, as usual, she went to get the chicken ready. However, when she got back to Oakley, she was in for a surprise.
Oakley had finished his meal even before the broth was ready!
Well, for one, holistic dog foods smell very strongly like real food. So, Oakley immediately perceived that “real food” scent and immediately went for it.
Now, another thing is that dogs get filled faster and stay filled with holistic dog foods. Why? Holistic dog foods contain nutrients sourced from real ingredients instead of fillers.
So, although holistic dog foods appear expensive at first blush, they are actually more economical at the end of the day. You get it? Because you’d only have to feed very little fewer times a day and your dog will stay filled, satisfied, and nourished.
How to Select The Best Holistic Dog Foods
So, you’ve decided to go with holistic dog foods, there are some factors you must consider when settling with any brand. If you’re going to survive at all in the world of dog food, then you must learn to turn the art of reading labels into a skill.
As a rule, dog food ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Also, the first seven ingredients are usually the main ingredients. So, in this section, ensure that you look out for wholesome stuff. If you find unnamed meat, or partial grains, then avoid.
Also, meat meal might sound like a great ingredient but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, they might have been obtained from 3 or 4-D animals, Dr. Dym advises.
Things To Avoid In Holistic Dog Foods
The use of antibiotics by man and animals has been bothering medical practitioners worldwide especially because of “superbugs”. Superbugs are “unkillable” germs that have attained such status by building resistance to the antibiotics that are supposed to kill them. They build this resistance by being continuously exposed to antibiotics.
Aside the issue of superbugs, it is also known that antibiotics actually kill off the good bacteria. and when good bacteria are killed off, we leave our dogs at the risk of skin and digestive isues.
2. Artificial Preservatives
Artificial preservatives are known to have carcinogenic properties, at least to humans. It’s therefore not far-fetched that they could bode the same dangers for our canine friends. Here are some of the preservatives to be avoided in holistic dog foods and dog foods in general.
- Sodium nitrate.
Well, there isn’t enough research to know the gravity of the heavy intake of artificial preservatives in dogs. But then again, it’s best to just err on the side of caution and avoid them altogether.
Dyes are usually added to human food to make them more appealing. Why they are included in dog foods is really the million-dollar question.
Dyes do not make the food more appealing to your dog. They only make it more appealing to you. It’s a marketing tactic and a dangerous one at that.
In humans, these dyes cause severe health issues. No one knows if it’s the same for dogs. But if they don’t have any real function in the food for your dog, isn’t it better to just eliminate them from their diet altogether?
It’s common practice to feed birds, and cattle hormones to get them to grow to commercially viable sizes. So, inadvertently, these hormones show up in food products obtained from such animals. So, foods like eggs, and dairy products would usually contain hormones.
Are these hormones good for your pooch? Of course not. Your dog’s body already produces all the hormones that it needs. Introducing extra ones just upsets the balance. Oftentimes, these hormones could lead to weight problems, premature puberty, and several reproductive issues.
Pesticides – chemical or biological – are not good for your dog. If a plant that has been treated with pesticides makes its way into your dog’s diet, it could present adverse symptoms. Dogs might develop diarrhea, anxiety, confusion, and sometimes, a bit of nausea.
Fillers are usually added to increase the weight of the dog food. They usually contain fiber, but the bad kind of fiber. Dogs do need fiber, no doubt, but a better source of fiber would be veggies and whole grains.
Dr. Dym advises that dog parents avoid dog foods that contain wheat mill run, hulls, pulps, ad rice bran. And if they can’t be avoided, at least, they shouldn’t make the list of the main ingredients.
Aside carb products, Dr. Dym also warns against getting dog foods with plant-based protein boosters. Examples of these boosters include: corn, corn gluten, soybean meal, and corn germ meal. They are supposed to stand in for more wholesome meat proteins. So, they are best avoided.
Things To Look Out For In Holistic Dog Foods
It should be balanced so that your dog gets everything he needs for his total wellbeing. Make sure that the ingredients contained are suited for their purpose. Holistic dog foods vary according to their purpose. So for their purpose, ensure that the constituent ingredients are correct.
Read the label to ensure that it doesn’t contain any of the ingredients we previously warned about. Make sure you know how the ingredients are sourced as well. If you’re sure about how the brand you’re patronizing sources its ingredients, you’d be more at rest. So, ensure you get that information.
3. Whole Foods
As a health-conscious person, you surely make it a point to eat whole foods, foods that are complete. These foods are usually more nutritious, and the same way whole foods are great for you is the same way they are great for your pet.
Ideally, whole foods should include whole meats (of course), and then, it should also contain fruits and veggies. Preferably, these fruits and veggies should have undergone only very little processing.
Also, organic fruits and veggies will never fail you.
4. Fatty Acids, Vitamins and Minerals
These nutrients are essential to your dog’s health just as they are essential to yours. Most times, minerals are absorbed from the ground by plants and then taken up by herbivores. When humans and animals consume these plants or the herbivores, they take in these minerals. However, these minerals are very difficult to absorb in the gut.
It’s better to get chelated minerals.
What are chelated minerals?
WebMD defines them as minerals that have been combined with amino acids to form complexes. Minerals are chelated to make them easier to absorb in your dog’s gut. So, an ideal holistic dog food shouldn’t just contain minerals but chelated minerals.
And lastly, dogs are genetically wired to eat prey. So, on a good day, farm animals don’t really have all the nutrients they need in the right balance. That’s why holistic dog foods contain fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants in proportions similar to how it’s found in a normal prey diet.
We promised you a thorough guide on holistic dog foods. We did a pretty good job delivering on that promise, don’t you think? But before we go, a quick reminder…
Not all dogs would do well on holistic dog food. But especially for dogs with allergies, holistic dog foods might work. In all, see your vet first before making any decision.
Finally, “holistic” as a term isn’t defined by any authority. So, there’s no way to know what’s truly holistic. However, if you stick to our pointers on how to choose the best holistic dog food, then you’ll be alright.
Till next time, feed your dog right.