You want to feed Beau a healthy, natural diet without breaking the bank. It's great to feed him an "all natural" food, but it's just as important his nutritional needs are met. Understanding how to read the label and calculate cost will ensure he eats well without breaking the bank.
Definition of Natural
If you see "natural" or "all natural" on Beau's food label, it's reasonable to assume he's eating a healthy diet, free of preservatives, additives and synthetic ingredients. To an extent, that's a safe assumption. The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the organization responsible for establishing pet food nutritional standards. It considers a "natural" food to be one without synthetic ingredients, not subjected to a chemically synthetic process and without synthetic additives or processing aids, except those unavoidable in good manufacturing processes. "Natural" can describe a specific ingredient, such as "natural apple flavor;" everything else in the bag can by synthetic, but since the apple flavoring is natural, the word is acceptable on the package.
Natural is Not Organic
If you thought you'd be feeding Beau organic food because of the "all natural" label on the food, think again. There is no regulation for using the term "organic" on pet food, though pet food companies follow the rules defined by the USDA for human food. There is also no regulation for terms such as "holistic," "premium" and "gourmet." "Natural" doesn't reflect the quality or freshness of the ingredients used in the food.
Read the Ingredients
If you've found a reasonably priced "all natural" food, spend a few moments to read the label. Pet MD suggests a high quality dog food has between 20 and 25 percent crude protein. The first ingredient or two should be protein sources such as lamb, chicken, eggs, beef, fish or chicken meal. If the dog food is high in grain fillers, Beau will need a larger serving size to meet his nutritional requirements, which can make a food more expensive over the long run. Feeding instructions provide guidelines for the appropriate serving size.
After you've read the label, get ready to do some basic math. The cheapest food isn't necessarily the cheapest food per serving. To calculate the cost per serving, divide the cost of the food by the weight. If the bag of food is 10 pounds and costs $15, the per pound cost is $1.50. The serving portion is usually based on cups, and it takes about 2 cups of kibble to make 1 pound of food, so the cost of the bag is 75 cents per cup. If Beau is a small dog and only needs half a cup of food per serving, his portion cost is about 37 cents a serving. If he's a big guy and needs 2 1/2 cups per serving, his diet costs $1.88 per serving.
Best Price or Cheapest
"Natural" dog food can vary widely in price, so it's important to read the label to learn what you're getting for your money. Basing a purchasing decision on the price tag can lull you into believing you're getting a good buy. The Dog Food Project conducted a comparison of dog foods; "grocery store," "popular pet store" and "high quality" brands were compared and in the final analysis, feeding a 50 pound dog for a year was cheapest with the high quality food.
- WebMD: Best Dog Food Choices
- PetMD: The Power of Protein
- VetStreet: What is a Natural Pet Food, Really
- Everyday Health: Your Guide to Choosing Healthy Pet Food
- Animal Hospital of North Asheville: Deciphering Pet Food Labels
- AAFCO: Labeling and Labeling Requirements
- The Dog Food Project: Where the Money Goes
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images