As a pet owner, you've likely found yourself wondering, "what is holistic dog food" on numerous occasions, particularly when browsing dog food at your local pet store.
The truth is, the answer to this seemingly simple question is far from straightforward. And you thought that choosing the best dog food for your pooch would be simple!
What Is Holistic Dog Food?
Unlike other pet food labels (such as natural or grain-free), the term "holistic" is problematic in that it doesn't have a legal, or indeed even uniform, definition.
Consequently, when you see a pet food brand use this vague term, it doesn't necessarily mean anything. However, there are certain accepted ideas as to what holistic dog food should be.
So, what is holistic dog food?
In an ideal world, holistic food is food that is balanced and nutritious, not to mention minimally processed. Holistic dog food should support and improve your pet's overall well-being.
What's in a Holistic Pet's Bowl?
Besides discovering the answer to "what is holistic dog food," you probably want to know why you should be feeding your pet food that is deemed holistic and balanced.
Many dog owners turn to holistic pet food after their four-legged best friend runs into medical problems. Holistic food is supposed to fix the root of a specific health problem instead of merely getting rid of poor health symptoms.
For example, if your dog's coat is very dry and brittle, you might be tempted to purchase a shampoo that promises silky smooth fur. But while the shampoo might fix the problem outwardly, there could be an underlying issue causing dry fur.
Your pet could be missing a vitally important nutrient, or it might be allergic to an ingredient in the kibble you're feeding it.
The main ingredient in most commercial dog food is protein. But the quality of the protein varies. Just because a label says that the dog food in question consists primarily of beef or chicken, that doesn't necessarily mean that the quality of the meat is good.
A lot of the time, dog food contains something that is known as "byproduct" or "meal." A chicken byproduct, for example, is made up of bones, skin, beak, neck, intestines, and other waste material.
Meals, on the other hand, don't identify the source of the meat. Often, meat meals contain road kill, diseased livestock, and dead zoo animals.
In contrast, holistic dog food is generally made up of organic protein sources and limited ingredients. So, one way of answering "what is holistic dog food?" is this: dog food that contains high-quality meat and no traces of fillers such as soy or rice.
Protein alone is not enough when it comes to keeping your dog healthy. Calcium, which most dogs get from bones, is also a staple of a holistic dog food diet.
A diet that is rich in calcium will not only keep your dog's bones and joints strong and healthy but will also ensure that your pet's digestive tract works as it should too. Most holistic dog food brands add calcium to the food via actual bone (such as ground chicken bone) or supplements.
Real bones, such as marrow bones, are also beneficial.
Chewing bones has additional benefits, like:
- Removing tartar from your pet's teeth
- Suppression of common behavioral problems
- Maintaining solid stools
However, for safety sake, make sure that you choose appropriate bones and supervise bone chewing.
Ground eggshells and oyster shells are also good sources of calcium. Whatever you do, stay away from processed imitation bones.
Remember that it's possible to over-supplement calcium which can create problems in growing pups.
As unpleasant as it sounds, keeping an eye on your dog's stool can help you gauge your pooch's digestive health. Stools that are too watery usually indicate that your dog isn't getting enough calcium or that their diet is much too high in fat.
Plenty of veggies
A holistic dog food diet wouldn't be complete without plenty of vegetables. The below vegetables are especially advantageous for your pup's health:
- Brussel sprouts
- Green beans
- Peas (except for canned peas)
Don't be surprised if you come across dog brands that include fruits in their food. Fruits provide vitamins, fiber, flavor, and variety.
Does holistic equal grain-free?
Ask a typical pet owner, "what is holistic dog food?" and they're likely to mention grain-free food.
But holistic dog food isn't necessarily grain-free. While many people assume that all grains are bad for their pets, that's not actually the case.
In limited quantities, grains are beneficial, not overly harmful. However, dogs with grain allergies are an exception and should follow a grain-free diet. We should also note that grain-free diets might lead to increased risk of heart disease.
Is Holistic Dog Food Another Term for Raw Food?
Raw food is possibly the oldest form of pet food. It's what ancient dogs consumed before they became a man's best friend.
A raw food diet consists of mostly uncooked meals that might include animal flesh, organ meat, bones, sea creatures, vegetables, cooked grains, and eggs. Not surprisingly, a raw food diet is yet another possible answer to the question "what is holistic dog food?"
There are many variations to the raw food diet. However, most people follow one of two approaches: Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet, also known as BARF, or the "prey model" diet.
Ian Billinghurst, a veterinary surgeon, created the former. A typical BARF diet calls for 60 to 80 percent raw meat and bones such as rabbit halves or poultry necks, and 20 to 40 percent vegetables, fruit, meat, dairy foods, eggs, and supplements.
The prey diet emulates what proponents believe to be a dog's natural diet in the wild. Followers of this diet feed their pets 80 percent muscle meat, 10 percent organ meat, and 10 percent bone.
It's more than just meat
What is holistic dog food? As we mentioned earlier, it's food that is balanced.
And yet, raw food diets are often criticized because dog owners tend to feed their pets only one type of meat when they should be rotating between different protein sources and occasional whole animal parts.
Besides, it's all too easy to focus solely (or mostly) on meat. Indeed, some individuals in the raw feeding community believe that because wild canines pass over the stomach contents of their prey, giving dogs vegetables is inappropriate.
However, green leafy vegetables allow you to control the protein and fat content of your pet's diet and provide it with natural vitamins and minerals.
Don't overlook supplements either. Incorporate probiotics, soothing herbs, omega fatty acids, and other whole food supplements into your pet's raw food diet.
While preparing raw food at home is relatively straightforward, pet owners who lack confidence or are limited by time constraints can purchase packaged raw food as well as frozen or air-dried raw foods from most pet stores across the country.
When most pet owners first learn of the raw food diet, they have one question on their minds: Are raw food diets dangerous?
As it turns out, they can be. Bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli often contaminate raw meat. And it's not just animals who are at risk. Contaminated meat can also affect humans who handle it.
However, it's highly unlikely that you (or your pet) will fall ill if you follow good handling practices, including:
- Frequent hand washing
- Buying meat from a reputable source
- Using thawed food within a couple of days
Keep in mind that raw food diets are not suitable for dogs with compromised immune systems.
Finally, don't freak out if your dog develops gastrointestinal issues when you first introduce it to a raw food diet, especially if it has a sensitive intestinal tract. This problem is rarely permanent.
Furthermore, most pet owners find that they can solve such unpleasant issues as diarrhea by introducing raw foods slowly into their dog's current diet. Alternatively, you can cook the food (except for whole bones) or add digestive enzymes to it.
It's Less Expensive than You Think
Now that we've answered "what is holistic dog food," let's talk money. Holistic dog food is usually of higher quality than non-holistic dog food, and the cost reflects that. It's not uncommon to see human-grade ingredients (i.e., ingredients that are suitable for human consumption) in holistic dog food.
Consequently, you'll pay more for holistic dog food. But you'll also probably pay less in medications for food-related illnesses. Your veterinary bill is likely to decrease too.
Besides, dogs that consume higher quality food often lead happier and longer lives, something that no amount of money can buy.
Holistic Dog Food: Genuine Benefit or Marketing Gimmick?
There's no way of telling if most commercial dog food brands that label themselves as holistic offer balanced nutrition, even if it says so on the bag (or the can).
Too often, dog food brands that label themselves as holistic contain things that aren't good for our pets. Remember that there aren't any regulations governing companies that use this label.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that feeding your best friend holistic food is pointless. A holistic dog food diet might lead to more energy and fewer allergies, as well as better intestinal and heart health.
Focus on brands that pride themselves on using wholesome natural ingredients and avoid companies that have no qualms about including artificial additives, toxic preservatives, and useless by-products in their mixes.
You can also take it a step further and introduce your pet to a raw food diet. If you've got some time to spare, you might even want to consider prepping your pooch's meals yourself. Consult your veterinarian before you go down this route, however.
What are your thoughts on holistic dog food? Do you have any tips on helping a pet make the transition? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!