As health-conscious humans, we're constantly sifting through the research about whether organic food is better. And as pet parents, we always want to put the best in our pups' bowls. But does organic matter as much for dogs, or is it just another marketing ploy? After doing a lot of digging, I discovered that it's often not all it's cracked up to be for pups. Here's what you need to know before buying:
"Organic" dog food is not well regulated
One of the biggest issues with buying your pup organic is that, unlike for human food, there aren't great standards in place: the USDA has yet to define "organic" as it applies to pet foods, so the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets the standards for the National Organic Program (NOP), and the individual states are supposed to regulate them
An "organic dog food" label can be misleading
Technically, the NOP mandates that if companies want the coveted organic seal on the food, at least 95 percent of the food must be organic by weight. Labels can say they're "made with organic ingredients" if at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic. Here's where it gets tricky: pet food companies can say they're organic even when their food doesn't contain organic ingredients because no agency requires proof of the pet food health claims.
It may be "organic," but still not healthy
Unfortunately, being "organic" does not guarantee that food is good for your pup: Even if what you buy does contain organic ingredients, they may have been heavily processed in order to make the food shelf stable (thus stripping them of their nutritional value.) Plus, according to Greg Aldrich, PhD, research associate professor and pet food program coordinator at Kansas State University, it's difficult to secure the raw ingredients to produce a truly organic pet food within the framework of the AAFCO guidelines. So the food may be organic, but not nutritionally complete.
You may be paying more unnecessarily
The word "organic" is often used to increase the seeming value of the food (and to charge you more!). But because the commercial dog food category is still lacking in strict regulations, there are some organic brands that are using chemicals and preservatives in their food. Others will slap on an organic label without being completely honest about their ingredients. So you might be paying more for food that isn't worth it.
Organic ingredients aren't necessarily better for dogs
"There is no documented positive, nutritional, health, or safety benefits to organic," Aldrich says. There have been studies about the pros and cons of grains, raw food, and specific ingredients, but research on organic ingredients in a dog's diet is surprisingly lacking. So we really don't know — they could be healthier for pups or they could be the same. What we do know? The most important thing is that your dog eat a healthy diet made with real, high-quality ingredients that are nutritionally balanced. Think about it: Would you rather eat organic gummi bears or a fresh salad with ingredients that aren't all organic? Exactly.