Premium Dog Food Comes Naturally


Premium Dog Food Comes Naturally

Inside This Article

Premium Dog Food Comes From Natural Ingredients

Many brands claim to produce “premium dog food” or even “super premium dog food,” but what does that actually mean? We dug in to debunk some myths about “premium” dog food, explore why raw dog food is naturally premium, and look at other popular terms like holistic, natural, and organic. To get the big picture, we gathered some information from experts, including renowned canine nutrition expert Steve Brown and prominent veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker.

What Is Premium Dog Food?

The word premium is defined as “of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind; superior.” But when it comes to picking a pet food, the word itself doesn’t mean much. Though the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) implements industry standards for pet food labeling, it’s actually the FDA that is tasked with regulating ingredient quality.

According to FDA pet food labeling guidelines, “Products labeled as premium or gourmet are not required to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held up to any higher nutritional standards than are any other complete and balanced products.” notes that the word premium has no “legal definition” and that foods with that label “do not have to meet standards that are any different from other foods.” The bottom line: Premium dog food is a myth and a marketing gimmick designed to appeal to owners.

Know the Ingredients When Choosing Dog Food

On a label, certain words can jump out: Premium. Super premium. Holistic. Natural. Organic. But ignore the misleading packaging and direct your attention to what truly matters: the ingredients.

Commercial dog foods are heavily processed and can contain numerous unfavorable, unhealthy, and downright unsafe ingredients. You might encounter meat from rendering plants, agricultural waste declared unfit for human consumption, chemical additives like preservatives and artificial coloring.

Dog Food Ingredients to Watch Out For:

  • Rendered Meat and Poultry: Red flags include generic terms like “meat” (rather than “beef” or “chicken”); meat, poultry, or bone meal; and any any type of animal by-products. These products can come from unsafe sources:
    • Waste left over after slaughterhouses butcher animals for human-grade food
    • Expired supermarket meat
    • Euthanized cats and dogs from shelters or vet clinics
    • Deceased zoo animals
    • Roadkill
    • 3D and 4D meats (dead, dying, disabled, and/or diseased animals)
  • Grains: Wheat, corn, barley, rice, and oats are not nutritionally necessary and serve as fillers. They can cause inflammation, and many dogs are allergic or sensitive to grains. Additionally, these grains are often rejects (such as corncobs and stalks), contaminated grain by-products, and distillers fermentation by-products.
  • Preservatives: Dry food must be shelf stable, so manufacturers add potentially harmful preservatives, including Ethoxyquin, Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). Some moist dog foods contain Propylene Glycol (PG) — basically antifreeze that serves as a moistening agent.
  • Rendered Fat: Because processed dog food isn’t inherently palatable, manufacturers add animal fat to enhance the flavor — often old grease from restaurants. This sprayed-on fat also serves as a binding agent. Unfortunately, if kibble is exposed to moisture, harmful mold and bacteria can grow.
  • Food Coloring: Some manufacturers add artificial dyes to pet food to make it appear meatier and tastier. Unfortunately, unnecessary dyes like Red No. 40, Blue No. 2, and “caramel color” are at worst carcinogenic and at best unnecessary.

Keep Tabs on Dog Food Recalls

Beyond being unhealthy, dog food can be downright dangerous. A massive recall occurred in 2007 after dogs were sickened by food containing a contaminated protein imported from China. In 2012, a recall by Diamond Foods affected a number of brands and spanned at least 39 states after salmonella was found in some batches of dry dog food.

Before you buy, investigate the manufacturer’s history. Do you see long lists of past recalls, news stories covering controversies, or numerous customer complaints? Steer clear. Also consider a company’s actions: An ethical manufacturer will be prompt and proactive rather than secretive and defensive.

Know What Dogs Need for Optimal Health

Beyond quality ingredients, dogs require a complete and balanced diet with the right proportions of protein, fats, and nutrients. According to dog nutrition expert and author Steve Brown, it’s best to focus on three components: high protein, balanced fats, and at least some fresh foods. The “ancestral food” model, Brown reports, “is the healthiest approach to feeding most dogs.” This type of diet is premium dog food in the truest sense.

According to Karen Becker, DVM, there is no such thing as “one best food.” “The more variety you can feed your dogs and cats — and the more species appropriate form you can feed it in — is the very best way that you can nourish your pets for a lifetime,” she asserts. Dr. Becker believes that raw food (which comes frozen) is the best option for dogs.

Why Is Quality Raw Dog Food Naturally Premium?

  • Fresh: Nutrition expert Steve Brown emphasizes the importance of feeding dogs fresh food. As soon as food is produced, the proteins, fats, and vitamins begin to degrade. The best food was produced recently, was properly handled, and appears fresh.
  • Unprocessed: Key nutrients are destroyed through cooking and processing. “We all know that minimally processed whole foods are better for us than highly processed foods,” Steve Brown says. “It should be no surprise that the same holds true for our dogs and cats.”
  • Biologically Appropriate: Dogs have evolved throughout the years by hunting and foraging, and a quality raw diet replicates this model. According to Dr. Karen Becker, “A raw diet is the most biologically and species-appropriate option for your pet.”

The Risks of Feeding Low-Quality Dog Food

Poor-quality pet food can contribute to health and behavioral issues, which lead to decreased quality of life and increased veterinary bills. Here are some problems linked to poor nutrition:

  • Obesity
  • IBD
  • Bloat
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bladder Stones
  • Food Allergies
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty Training

Learn How to Read the Labels

According to Karen Becker, DVM, “There’s nothing to stop manufacturers from producing and selling pet food that doesn’t meet the nutritional guidelines AAFCO has established.” To increase your odds of getting high-quality food, you need to properly decipher labels.
Ignore the appealing name, description, and photos, and focus on one part: the government-regulated portion. FDA guidelines stipulate that dog food ingredients must be listed “in order of predominance by weight.” Be sure the first ingredient is a single species of meat (for instance, “beef”). Look for the AAFCO certification to ensure the dog food meets guidelines for trace mineral and vitamin content.

Dog Food Label Glossary

  • Premium or Super Premium: These words have no legal definition, and “premium” or “super premium” labeled foods are not held to higher standards.
  • Gourmet: “Gourmet” dog food is not required by the FDA to contain any special ingredients nor is it held to higher nutritional standards.
  • Natural: AAFCO notes that the term natural refers to “a feed or feed ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources” — in other words, most typical ingredients. The FDA notes that the term “natural “does not have an official definition.” In addition, dog food labels can still tout food containing synthetic ingredients as “natural” if the label discloses the inclusion of these ingredients.
  • Holistic: This term is not defined and its use on pet food packaging not regulated by the FDA.
  • Organic: Dog food that’s certified organic must display the USDA Organic Seal and contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, according to AAFCO.

What Factors Should You Consider When Comparing Dog Food?

As you seek the best premium dog food for your pet, here’s what you should take into account:

  • Life Stage: Growing puppies have different dietary needs from senior dogs beginning to slow down. Puppy foods generally contain more protein, fat, and certain minerals and amino acids. Certain foods, such as complete and balanced raw meals, are suitable for all life stages.
  • Breed: Your dog doesn’t need breed-specific meals; instead, focus on your pet’s activity level and size. For instance, large breed pups require less calcium and phosphorous to cut the risk of orthopedic disease such as hip dysplasia.
  • Medical Needs: Dogs with certain medical conditions can greatly benefit from therapeutic diets. For instance, dogs with kidney disease can benefit from reduced phosphorous, and dogs with liver problems benefit from reduced dietary protein and copper.
  • Taste and Texture: Like humans, dogs have certain preferences. They may dislike a certain flavor or get bored easily and crave variety.
  • Price: Choose a pet food within your budget. Keep in mind that more expensive food does not necessarily translate into higher quality.
  • Availability: Some types of pet food are found in supermarkets or pet stores. Others are available through your vet’s office or a home delivery service.
  • Owner Preference: Consider the convenience factor. Some pet owners prefer easy-to-store foods, some enjoy preparing their own food, and others like food delivered to their home.
  • Reputable Brand: Look for a food with ingredients that are clearly listed and defined. Labeling guidelines also require a guaranteed analysis section that spells out nutrient content, including those for protein, fat, fiber, and moisture.
  • Past Recalls: Before you choose a brand, research its past. Explore what occurred, how the company responded, and whether dog owners were satisfied with the results.
  • Manufacturing Process: Be sure the brand you choose actually produces its own food. Companies may outsource food production to save costs, but it’s best when a company-owned facility serves as the manufacturer.
  • Trends and Buzzwords: Beware of pet food trends like humanization (chicken pie!) and dietary buzzwords (gourmet or paleo). Also watch for trendy ingredients like “ancient grains” or “plant-based protein” — both signify trouble, as dogs don’t require grains, and meat-based protein is biologically appropriate.

Checklist: What to Look for in an Ideal Premium Dog Food

  • First ingredient is meat
  • High-quality ingredients, including quality meat-based protein source
  • Proper ratio of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
  • Poultry is cage-free and hormone-free
  • Contains antioxidants
  • No grain, corn, soy, wheat, gluten, or flour
  • No beet pulp
  • No sugar or corn syrup
  • No by-products
  • No preservatives
  • Good history of strong customer satisfaction and no recalls
  • Brand adheres to proper quality control standards
  • Ingredients sourced from countries with stringent regulations
  • Good manufacturing processes (GMPs), standard operating procedures (SOPs), and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)
  • Label provides complete and accurate info on nutrition and mineral content

Choose a High-Quality Dog Food That Is Naturally Premium

At Darwin’s, premium dog food is a natural side effect of using high-quality ingredients from trusted sources. The ingredients list features cage-free poultry, free-range grass-fed beef, and vegetables. You will never find by-products, meat meals, grains, preservatives, fillers, steroids, antibiotics, or hormones. Every meal is complete and balanced and exceeds the AAFCO guidelines for canine nutrition. Call 877-738-6325 today to speak with a menu consultant who can help you determine the right premium dog food.

kim hildenbrand


Kim Hildenbrand is a writer and editor who loves pets.

She spent her childhood rescuing worms from puddles, playing with her hamsters, and hanging out with her boisterous Labrador retriever. She now spends her days writing and drinking endless cups of coffee with her rescue dog Daisy (a cairn terrier mix) by her side.

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