I’m sure your furry friend’s health is a top priority in your life. That’s why you choose the best food products to keep them healthy and lively.
You take the time to read everything on the food containers to make sure you don’t give it anything harmful to eat.
The word “organic” pops up once in a while. You consider it practically synonymous with “healthy,” and you are not too wrong: organic food is free of chemicals, genetic modifications, and other things that could cause all kinds of diseases.
As you could imagine, a 100% organic food means that all ingredients in the product, together with the processes used to manufacture it, are all organic.
No pesticides, no fertilizers, no fatteners, no GMOs (genetically modified organisms), no conservatives, no artificial flavors, no nothing.
But then, there’s just the “organic” (USDA label). It is not 100% organic, but it’s still organic. How’s that possible?
Simple: it allows for 5% of non-organic ingredients. That’s to say, in a 18.5-lb bag, there could be around 15 oz of non-organic stuff.
But don’t worry. Those 15 ozs cannot contain anything. There can only be organic-compliant ingredients. Finally, we got to the definition of organic compliant.
What we need to know now is: is it a good thing that the food bag contains 15 oz of non-organic-but-organic-compliant stuff?
The answer is (as always): it depends.
Besides supporting an entire economy of ecological preservation, which includes farmers, manufacturers, packers and distributors, the organic movement ensures a chemical-free diet for your dog. But many natural ingredients cannot be agriculturally produced. Also, remember that food technologists use functional ingredients to design better products – for example, to improve palatability.
But not many non-organic ingredients are allowed to be part of a food product labeled as organic. In the US, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is in charge of regulating allowed and prohibited substances – there’s a list in case you want to check it.
That narrows down the options quite a bit.
Then, we should distinguish the two categories in which organic compliant substances fall: agricultural and non-agricultural.
The agricultural category includes any raw or processed agricultural product, including those derived from livestock. Let’s see some examples: guar gum, gelatin, cornstarch.
The non-agricultural category includes those substances that are not agriculturally obtained.
Examples: bacteria used for dairy products, some minerals, glycerin, and enzymes.
Then, there’s one more subdivision: non-agricultural, organic-compliant ingredients are divided into non-synthetic and synthetic. In this case, non-synthetic is the same as natural: something derived from plants, animals or minerals that is not artificially processed. Examples: agar-agar, the polemic carrageenan and calcium chloride.
Use of any of the non-organic agricultural ingredients is allowed only when there’s not a commercially available organic alternative – in case an organic version of an ingredient is available, it must be used instead of the non-organic one.
Lastly, synthetic ingredients are made through chemical processes, changing a substance extracted from some plant, animal, or mineral – such as: xanthan gum, calcium citrate, ascorbic acid.
So much for the jibber-jabber. I can hear you shouting: Are these organic-compliant items any good for my dog or not?
Well, that depends (sorry). Each one of them should be analyzed individually.
We mentioned carrageenan. Some studies reported negative effects of this ingredient, including toxicity and inflammation, raising concerns about possible diseases in the intestines of dogs and cats.
But – it gets complicated, I know – the kind of carrageenan used in pet foods is not the same as the one used in the studies. Those studies used poligeenan, or degraded carrageenan, that’s not allowed in pet food because it causes cancer.
Kind of. That kind of bacteria is commonly known as probiotics. Probiotics are generally friendly, helping your dog’s digestive system do its job. But when classified as organic compliant, probiotics are considered mostly for human consumption. And the organism of dogs doesn’t work the same as ours.
For instance, we usually get probiotics to aid our digestive system from yogurt. But dogs shouldn’t eat yogurt for many reasons: sugar, pasteurization, flavoring, to name a few.
You may find dry dog food, such as kibble, to contain probiotics. You might even read “probiotic-enhanced” on a dry dog food package. But the bacteria may not survive being stored in a warehouse. Therefore, the best way to provide our pets with the right amount of good bacteria is to feed them a whole raw food diet.
A similar case is that of enzymes. When considering enzymes, the dog’s digestive system generates all that is needed to process food. Only in the case of some illnesses, such as pancreatitis, the dog could need a dietary enzyme supplement. But it will not get that enzyme supplement from some organic food with enzyme organic compliant ingredients.
This one ingredient is used as a gelling agent to give a food product some consistency, texture and uniformity. It’s natural, it’s not related to any diseases or health problems, so we could say that it is harmless. And it makes the food more likeable. Other binders and fillers, such as guar gum, xanthan gum, gluten, and so on, could cause gas and diarrhea, and in high doses have been associated with gastrointestinal inflammation. Agar-agar, in contrast, is used in very small quantities so it can hardly do any harm.
You may find such ingredients in organic food for humans. But for dogs, they must be avoided. Adding them is just adding empty calories. Besides doing bad for dogs’ health, sugars could make them hyperactive.
Also added minerals, such as sodium (salt), are not needed in general. But salt is a natural preservative, so when comparing with synthetic preservatives, sodium may be an acceptable option.
This element can actually be a by-product of diesel fuel. Sure, there is vegetable glycerin, which is plant-based, but you can hardly detect the difference by reading an ingredient list. Dogs could get a heavy diarrhea from eating food with any kind of glycerin. It is usually used to make treats soft. Remember: you may like soft, but your dog enjoys chewing bones. So try to think like him when choosing food or treats.
If a pet food package says it contains vitamin C, it probably contains ascorbic acid, the naturally occurring form of this vitamin. In high concentrations, this ingredient is not efficiently absorbed by your dog’s organism and it is possible that it causes diarrhea.
Dogs can produce vitamin C by themselves. That’s why it is unnecessary, in general, to add this vitamin to a dog’s diet. But many dog food makers could add ascorbic acid as an organic compliant ingredient mostly because of its preservative action, and not for its nutritive value.
Throughout this tour of organic-compliant ingredients, we have seen that most of them are unnecessary for the health of the dog. But some are harmless and contribute to a longer-lasting or even more animal-friendly food products. That’s why considering each case individually, there may be organic foods that contain organic compliant ingredients, that are even preferable to 100% organic foods.