How to Choose the Best Natural Pet Food
The more fresh and less processed the food, the better. As with human food, the more pet food is processed, the more nutrients are lost.
Dogs and cats are natural carnivores, so it is important that the main source of protein in their diet is meat. Grains are not a complete source of protein, so they should never be the primary ingredient in your pet's food.
Dogs can thrive on grain-in diets, and some cats tolerate them, but it's important to choose diets with less process, ancient grains. Diets with primarily higher grain and carbohydrate content can lead to weight gain and other potential health problems.
Vegetables & Fruits
Vegetables and fruits contain beneficial vitamins and antioxidants and should be included in the diet as well, to a greater extent for dogs than for cats. Cats are almost exclusively carnivores (obligate carnivores), so this portion should be smaller for them.
Variety & Rotation
It's a good idea to feed your pet different types of food, either through rotation or mixing them together. Try different proteins to help protect your pet from developing food sensitivities.
Feeding your pet the same dry food all the time would be like you eating only corn flakes, sure you could survive, but it wouldn't be very healthful or enjoyable. Every meal does not need to be perfectly balanced. Feeding a variety of healthy meals will create balance over the course of the week.
Toppers are a great way to add some variety to your pet's diet. Bone broth and shredded meat are great ways to support your pet's hydration, while freeze-dried bites and nibs can help you include some beneficial raw ingredients into kibble or wet food.
What Supplements to Add to Your Pet's Food
Most of pet foods are labeled "complete and balanced" by AAFCO, meaning they meet certain guidelines for macro and micro-nutrients. But these are considered the bare minimum for your pet's health. It is always a good idea to also add some natural supplements and vitamins for dogs and natural supplements and vitamins for cats to your pet's food as well.
Fish oil is an excellent source of Omega 3 fatty acids that help support a healthy skin & coat and help maintain brain, heart, joint, and eye health. Fish oil is naturally high in EPA and DHA, two Omega 3 fatty acids that are not present in seed derived oils. When choosing a fish oil, opt for wild-caught versions from Marine Stewardship Council certified fisheries.
Digestive Enzymes & Probiotics
Digestive enzymes and probiotics for dogs and for cats will support your pet's GI tract and help maintain nutrient absorption and immune health. Digestive enzymes help support breaking down food, whereas probiotics help support healthy gut bacteria. These can be found combined in the same formula, or offered to your pet as a separate enzyme and probiotic. Make sure you find a dosage form that is suitable for your pet, whether that's a powder or soft chew.
A multivitamin supplement containing key nutrients, especially micro-nutrients is important to include for your pet. Look for ones with vitamins and minerals, as well as other features like joint supporting compounds and whole food ingredients.
These are a lot like your daily vitamins, only they can be more important since a pet's diet tends to be less fresh and varied than yours. Look for an age appropriate multivitamin, as your pet's adult needs are different from their senior needs, and look for the best format for your pet, whether that's a powder, soft chew, or chewable tablet.
What is the Best Food Type?
With these things in mind, below we've compiled a list summarizing the best natural pet foods with their nutritional value and health benefits. Your budget and convenience are important factors to consider. And, most importantly, your pet's preferences, sensitivities, and palate. You could feed the best food on the planet, but if your pet doesn't enjoy it, they probably won't eat it.
If possible, taking advantage of pet food auto delivery subscription services is a great way to save on your pet's food, letting you improve their diet without raising the price.
Raw food for dogs and for cats comes frozen and you keep it in your freezer and thaw it before feeding. Diets are made of mostly freshly ground meat and bones, and many brands contain fruits and vegetables and sometimes grains as well. Commercial raw food is usually certified "complete and balanced" by AAFCO.
Raw marrow bones and chicken or turkey necks are a great way to clean teeth, provide natural calcium and phosphorus, and add variety to a dog's diet.
Premix and Homemade Food
Available as a dehydrated mix, these recipes limit the guesswork for complete and balanced homemade meals; all you do is add water and the meat of your choice to make a complete meal.
Dehydrated & Freeze Dried
Dehydrated dog food and freeze dried dog food are a simple and convenient way to feed raw food. Simply add water to prepare and wait for the allotted time. Dehydrated diets can usually be soaked days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. If you're feeding dry dog food or wet dog food, freeze dried toppers are a great way to include some raw benefits (like digestive enzymes and meat protein) to your dog's diet.
There are fewer dehydrated cat food recipes, but freeze dried cat food is very popular with pet parents and cats alike. Simply add water for a freshly prepared raw meal. For cats that like a softer texture, you can add more water and let it reconstitute longer.
Natural wet food for dogs and for cats (available in a can or a pouch) is great for adding variety into your pet's diet, and has the added benefit of improving hydration. If you rely primarily on dry kibble, try mixing in some wet food toppers or feeding a complete and balanced wet food in the morning and dry in the evening (or vice-versa).
The most important thing to remember with dry food is hydration. No matter what diet you're feeding, but especially dry food, it's important to learn how to keep your dog and cat hydrated.
Dry food for dogs (also called kibble) is usually most common to pet parents. Convenient and usually less expensive than other formats, dry foods are not all created equally. When feeding dry food, look for high quality ingredients (no corn, soy or wheat) and make sure the "first five ingredients" feature high quality meat (no unspecified "meat meal" or "byproduct"). If you rely primarily on dry food, be sure to supplement appropriately and rotate proteins to support against food sensitives. Always add water or a hydration booster to your dogs dry food.
Dry food for cats can be part of a healthy diet, but since cats are used to getting more of their hydration from diet, make sure you're using a healthy wet topper or alternating between dry food and wet food for meals.