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What is a holistic pet food
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Not so long ago there were only one or two pet foods on the shelves that labelled themselves as 'Holistic'... now there are many, and even one that implies there are holistic pets!

Is that a good thing?  Do the manufacturers know what  they mean by using the terms 'Holistic' or indeed 'Natural' as part of their marketing strategy?

The first stop is maybe to look at the dictionary definition of 'Holistic'

'...dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part'

'...Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.'

'...relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts (holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body) ' 

How do we relate the definitions of Holistic to a pet food?

It probably depends who you are talking to!

Let's look at how Pet Food brands attempt to explain what they mean by holistic.

Nutro have a holistic food, but omit to define what they mean, other than stating that the food is 'A unique formula promoting better overall well being'

The Natural Dog Food Company offer what they say is ' THE FIRST CERTIFIED HOLISTIC DOG FOOD OF ITS TYPE' but don't define 'Holistic' other than by associating it with all natural ingredients - the food 'embraces the principles of Natural Feeding' . Natural feeding, they define as 'intending to mirror the diet of the un-domesticated dog, which is meat, carbohydrate and vegetables, all of which are obtained from its prey and by scavenging.

Eagle Pack Foods, we are told 'pioneered holistic nutrition in the 1980's, by engineering a way to make a meat meal based food, removing soy from the formulas and meat meals to replace corn as the first ingredient' 

Burns Pet Nutrition talk about 'a holistic approach to health and nutrition' and their founder John Burns links his approach to Holistic Medicine, stating that 'The objective of Holistic Medicine is to follow a lifestyle which provides the conditions for the body to maintain a healthy, stable condition. The most important and simplest way of promoting that process is through the choice of food.'

Land of Holistic Pets would seem to broadly agree with this, and 'believe that a good dog diet is one that when fed in the correct proportions, it helps the body and mind function in a normal healthy way.' They also use this phrase in their description of their philosophy, 'Do no harm' which could be construed as a negative, compared with 'Do some good!' 

Looking at the range of 'Holistic' foods available both in the UK and US it would seem then that by 'Holistic' we're actually talking about a food that is made with good quality, easily digested and natural ingredients and has a positive effect on general wellbeing, although individual companies might argue their own particular emphasis. There would seem to be no discernable difference between the use of the words 'natural' or 'holistic' other than arguing whether mineral and vitamins should not be from an artificial source, and there does not seem to be a necessity for organic ingredients to be used.

There are few rules and regulations as to how these foods are marketed, and this is maybe why there seems confusion even among manufacturers as to what they mean by 'Holistic'

AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) has suggested a pet food definition for 'natural' as 'of or pertaining to a product wholly comprising ingredients completely devoid of artificial or manmade substances including, but not limited to, synthetic flavors, colors, preservatives, vitamins, minerals, or other additives, whether added directly to the product or incidentally as a component of another ingredient.'

It has to be said that most so-called Holistic products in the UK use commercial and manufactured vitamin and mineral mixes to ensure that the food contains a consistant nutritional balance of these essential nutrients. Some contain natural sources of vitamins and minerals, which would seem to be where AAFCO would like natural products to be.

There are, however some who warn against this, based on inconsistencies in the natural alternatives. Burns pet Nutrition state 'Natural ingredients, by definition, are very unlikely to contain consistent quantities of these nutrients (e.g. due to seasons, weather, soil type, etc) therefore, supplementation with exact quantities is necessary in order to avoid chronic deficiencies or toxicities...For example, seaweed can contain high levels of magnesium which interferes with the uptake of zinc and copper from the diet. Also, in order to meet the minimum levels of less prevalent nutrients such selenium; you would need to add high quantities of seaweed, which could in turn lead to toxic levels of other nutrients, such as iodine.'

The choice as ever is up to the consumer, should they wish to feed a pet food that matches their own lifestyle choice. 

By John Birch
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.


Biography: A food technologist with a decade of experience retailing and marketing pet food within the UK.

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