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Grain-Free, Organic and Natural Dog Foods: Defined

Your Guide to Grain-Free, Organic and Natural Dog Foods

All pet owners want to feed their dog a healthy, delicious food that will satisfy and give them the best chance at a long, problem-free life. Dog food manufacturers have devised a number of different dietary options designed to provide the most health benefits possible.

However, the jargon used with these products and recipes is often confusing for owners. Below, you’ll find explanations of some of the common terms used by manufacturers and learn about what foods are good for dogs.

The Difference between Grain-Free, Organic and Natural Dog Foods

Three of the most common terms applied to premium dog foods include grain-free, organic and natural. Although each of these terms means different things, you’ll often see them used in conjunction with each other.


Grain-free foods are made without things like corn, wheat or rice. Instead, these foods provide their carbohydrate content via potatoes, sweet potatoes and similar ingredients.


The “natural” label is somewhat vague when it comes to pet foods, as the AAFCO’s definition allows for the use of several different processing techniques, including rendering and heat-extrusion. However, most foods that carry the natural label should not contain artificial preservatives and this represents the most tangible distinction between those foods bearing the natural label and those that don’t.


The AAFCO – the regulatory body that oversees dog food labelling practices – does not currently have a clear definition for the term organic. Until they develop a suitable definition, they default to the definition used by the USDA’s National Organic Program, which essentially states that organic foods must be made with only natural ingredients, which have not been genetically modified, nor raised with the use of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

Finding a Healthy Food for Dogs

Of course, all dogs are individuals with varying nutritional needs. For example, young puppies and pregnant females have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs do. Healthy adults typically only require a food that provides about 18 to 25 percent of the calories from protein sources, while young pups and expectant or lactating moms require protein levels exceeding this.

Other dogs can suffer from food allergies, which means they’ll require a food that is made without the ingredient to which they’re allergic. Some of the most common allergic triggers for dogs include beef, pork, dairy and chicken, but grains can also cause some dogs to experience an allergic reaction.

Reading Labels

While the names and terms applied to various dog foods can help you sort through options rather quickly, you’ll want to look at the nutritional information and the ingredient list when making your selection.

A few of the most important things to look for include:

A Whole Protein at the Beginning of the Ingredient List

Dogs are omnivores, but they’ve evolved to primarily subsist on meat. Accordingly, you’ll want to stick to dog foods that feature a whole protein – chicken, lamb, beef, pork or any other healthy meat – as the first ingredient listed, rather than a carbohydrate like corn or rice.

Adequate Protein Content for Your Dog’s Life Stage

Every dog food should have a label indicating the relative proportions of protein, carbohydrates and fat in the food. Make sure that you are selecting a food that provides the proper amount of protein for your dog’s life stage and avoid high-fat foods, if directed to do so by your vet.

The Absence of Undesirable Ingredients

Be sure to select a food that doesn’t include any ingredients that will upset your dog’s digestive tract or trigger food allergies. To do so, you’ll need to have identified your dog’s allergic trigger; otherwise, you won’t know what ingredient to avoid.

It’s important to discuss your dog’s nutritional needs with your vet. Your vet can help answer any questions you have and help steer you toward options for your pet. We know you want to keep your pet healthy and happy. Thats why PetHero members enjoy a 25% discount on veterinary services from over 5,000 participating vets nationwide as well as discounts on pet food and prescriptions, so be sure to enroll today! Click here to learn more.