TOP #49: Clean Eating for Dogs – Is It Worth It?

Almost everyone is familiar with the term “clean eating,” which means consuming wholesome foods that are as close to their natural state (little to no processing) as possible. But can dogs also go on a “clean diet,” how would that work for them, and is it even worth it?

We do in fact starting to see the beginning of the clean eating trend reaching the pet food industry. Many owners are now looking for natural and organic ingredients in their dog’s pet food brands. I’ve recently discussed this subject with Arren Beach, brand manager at NUTRO. I was interested in their thoughts since they’ve just released their new line of food that closely resembles “clean eating,” so we exchanged some emails and I’ve made a solo podcast episode out of our conversation. If you’re curious to know more about picking quality ingredients and foods, and how to do so, tune in!

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

  • TOP episode link: 049 – Clean Eating for Pets: What It Is and Is It Worth It?
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Clean Eating for Dogs – Is It Worth It?
(raw podcast transcript)

Have you guys heard about clean eating? It’s a term of kind of thrown around, I don’t know if anybody really has a good understanding of what it means as far as when somebody says ‘oh I’m trying to eat clean,’ or ‘oh I’m not that new clean eating kick,’ but the definition of clean eating really is, it’s a very simple concept almost deceptively so. It just means that you’re eating whole real foods that are minimally processed or not processed at all if possible, not refined, not handled, basically they are as close to their natural form as possible.

So you’re not eating chicken meal, you’re eating real one hundred percent chicken meat and that’s really what clean eating is all about. If you’ve been doing research on pet food, if you’ve been looking for a new type of food for your dog or cat or you just kind of keep up with what’s going on in the pet industry, you’ll know that a lot of the trends that we’re seeing with human foods are now becoming more and more popular in the pet industry and this is true for clean eating as well.

Pet parents and I am one of them are beginning to focus more on what’s in their dog’s food? We’ve realized through a very lengthy list of recalls on pet products especially food and treats in recent years that we can’t just trust what’s on the label, we can’t trust all major manufacturers of pet products to be honest about the ingredients that they are using, where they are sourced. There is a lot of loopholes that can be found in the pet industry as far as labeling foods go and pet parents are starting to realize that. As I said I’m one of those pet owners, obviously doing the work that I do, I get to stay on top of the research and the latest things that are going on in the pet industry and so this new clean eating fad for humans has reached over into the pet industry and I was actually able to speak with Arren Beach who is the brand manager for NUTRO.

NUTRO is quickly becoming a very popular name in the pet food industry and most of you I’m sure have heard about them. So I wanted to speak with Arren about clean eating, some new products from NUTRO that are helping us to feed our pets clean foods. What it all means and you know the trends that we’re going to be seeing, how things might be changing in the pet industry because of this. So we had a really great conversation unfortunately, Arren wasn’t able to be here in person. We emailed back and forth but I asked you know to start out many pet owners purchase their food based solely on price, maybe brand recognition, a combination of the two, this is concerning to me.

Quite often when I talk to people about pet food this is something that comes up and they say ‘well we can’t afford the higher end stuff,’ or ‘I buy this type of food,’ and they’ll say the brand name and it’s a very well-known brand name, it’s on TV, in commercials, it’s in magazine adds, you know we see it all over the place and unfortunately I’m aware that this brand may have had a recent recall or multiple recalls in the past and I bring this up and people don’t realize, they just assume that if a brand is highly recognized it must be reputable which isn’t unfortunately always the case for us as consumers. That can’t be something that we just rely on and of course we’re all in a budget and I completely understand that.

My rule of thumb for pet owners that I always tell them is that you want to buy the highest quality food that you can afford for your pet. This is actually going to pay off in the long run for a number of reasons, one of the biggest ones is because your dog is going to be healthier if he’s eating a higher quality diet. He’s going to have better nutrition, he’s going to be healthier and that’s going to cut down on your overall health expenses, whether its supplements that you were adding to inadequate food or its veterinary care for issues, maybe skin issues from a lower quality food or gas or intestinal issues.

Maybe it’s something that you know you’re using a really poor quality food and there is a questionable ingredients in there that maybe are linked to diseases such as cancer and you know getting him away from that food is going to reduce his risk of that. Thus saving you money in the long run, so really price isn’t something that we should be focused on and Arren actually explained that many factors go into a decision of what the best food is or your pet and there is a variety of options available for pet owners.

Just because your veterinarian recommends this type of a diet doesn’t mean that there’s only going to be one option, whether your dog needs something like glutton free, whether you want to feed a paleo diet or a raw diet or make sure that your dog is into the clean eating trend, you know there’s multiple options out there and so Arren explained that some pet owners perceive products at a lower price point as lower quality but the reality is the consumers very widely on their own feeding philosophies, shopping preferences and budgets.

Natural foods which often come at a higher price point are tailored to the desires of consumers who wish to feed customized nutrition that more closely mirrors their own eating values or fits the unique nutritional needs of their pet. Yes we can say it’s usually perceived that products at a lower price point are of a lower quality. Nine times out of ten that’s true, if they’re using lower quality ingredients its costing them less to make the food and they pass those savings on to consumers. It’s certainly, you can’t say it’s the case one hundred percent of the time but most certainly it usually is.

Like Arren said you know natural foods often come at a higher price point but they also offer a value for pet owners that is unmatched by lower quality products. Often times lower quality products include less than ideal ingredients, they use fillers, different artificial preservatives, coloring, and split rings. Things that over time you know aren’t good for your dog’s body and will take their toll on his health. Some of these ingredients cause things like obesity and diabetes. As I mentioned some products use chemicals that have been linked as carcinogens to be cancer causing agents.

So it’s really important that you do the research and you take the time to find a quality food for your dog and as I said you know my rule of thumb, the thing I always tell everybody is find the highest quality product that you can afford. You don’t have to go out and spend you know five or six hundred dollars a month feeding your dog this fresh food that’s delivered to your door, that’s made with top quality ingredients, of course that would be awesome if somebody can afford it but if you can’t afford that, by all means find a commercial kibble but make sure that its made with quality ingredients.

Now I spoke a little bit about clean eating earlier and I asked Arren what clean eating for pets’ means and the response is that in 2007 the NUTRO brand introduced NUTRO feed clean. This philosophy, this new philosophy that they had and the brands goal is to deliver high quality products that meet nutrition needs of pets while also delivering recipes that are simple, purposeful, trustworthy, recipes that are made with real recognizable ingredients with a purpose.  They are not just throwing stuff in there to make it look good, these ingredients all have a reason or being in there. In the NUTRO brand they are trying to set a new standard and pioneer these healthy recipes for pets by exclusively sourcing non GMO ingredients as close to their need of form as possible and as I mentioned earlier that’s what clean eating really is all about.

You’re not processing the foods and you know making them less nutritional, you are sticking to as close to their native form as possible and NUTRO, this new feed clean philosophy they are focusing on the clean eating which also means never adding any artificial perseverates, flavors, coloring, the recipes don’t use ingredients like chicken by product meal, corn, wheat, soy protein, a lot of those are fillers that are less quality products will use. The NUTRO brand believe in making a nutrient rich food, they want every ingredient to serve a purpose and make a high quality protein, a foundation of each recipe and we’re seeing that as a trend in the pet industry right now.

A lot of brands will advertise chicken is the first ingredient, beef is the first ingredient, real dark venison is the first ingredient and that is becoming more popular but again you know recipes that use this are not the bottom of the barrel, so if you’re just looking these on a cheap price you might not be noticing this. If you take a glance up to the shelf above and you look at some of even you know not the highest quality products but those middle ground products, they’re starting to realize that this kind of stuff is really important and you know so making sure that a high quality protein is the foundation of the recipe, it’s certainly important for you to look for as a consumer, as a pet owner, it’s something like I said NUTRO is focusing on at these new recipes, so I was impressed with that.

Arren also said that the brand is aiming to establish a trustworthy relationship with pet parents by protecting the integrity of the food at every stage of the process. So that means sourcing from trusted farmers and suppliers, preparing only in trusted high quality facilities and testing for quality and safety rigorously throughout the production process. Now again this is something that really stands out to me because we have seen in recent years this slew of different recalls from so many brands and yes some of them are you know brands that serve raw diets, that you know prepare  commercially available raw diets and so you know some pet owners will say ‘well the food’s raw, so there is more of a chance of you know trouble and bacteria and things like that,’ and some pet parents will say, ‘well you know the recalls all come from those really super cheap brands that are kind of bottom of the barrel,’ that’s not true either. There have been recalls from brands on every level of the pet food spectrum.

There have been recalls for so many reasons, some of which have obviously been you know, bacteria, disease causing issues but some of them have also been the quality of the food, the quality of the ingredients used. So you really need to be careful of that, don’t just research the food that you are thinking about buying but research the company as well. What is their recall history look like? Are they sourcing from trusted suppliers? Are they preparing in high quality facilities? Are they testing throughout production? These are things that NUTRO is offering, that should in my opinion be the standard in the pet industry but unfortunately right now the regulations in the pet industry are not nearly what they are in the human food industry and so these things aren’t the norm for every single company, these things aren’t standard in the industry.

So you have to be careful about that and I think it’s something that pet owners aren’t really educated about and it’s something that pet owners aren’t really aware of. It’s not something we think about, you think about you know for example, you look at the packaging, you look at the ingredients that are used and you just think you know as long as they’re using trusted ingredients it must be good for my dog right? But not always, you have to look at the company’s reputation as well and see how they’re making their food and in what ingredients they’re using. If they’re using a high quality protein that’s great but where is that protein coming from? Is it coming from a country like China that’s had some serious issues with ingredients that they’ve been sending, exporting to other countries? So there’s a lot more to it than you know just thinking about the ingredients or the price or finding a brand that is well known and you know getting back to the clean eating, I asked Arren how the trend was changing the pet food industry and I was really impressed with the response.

NUTRO is a brand owned by Mars Pack Care and Arren explained that Mars Pack Care is constantly thinking about how to re-imagine its portfolio to ensure that it’s meeting the changing consumer needs. Now Mars is obviously, most people have heard about them, I’m sure you have. One of the biggest manufacturers of pet food in the market but they also manufacture a ton of products for humans as well and Arren explained that the goal for them have always been and continues to be to deliver high quality products that meet the nutritional needs of pets.

The sweet spot that they found which I was talking about in the introduction for this podcast, is that they are beginning combining those popular human trends like I said that we’re seeing with an insight about the pet food category to help develop new products. So as we see these trends in human food because we’re all so concerned with the foods that we’re eating and the foods that we’re feeding our human family members, now they’re looking at combining those, reaching that information into the pet food industry, you know looking at what is needed for pets and you know are these diets going to be good and how can we use these trends in the human pet food industry to also create a better, healthier product for pets and one of the biggest human trends currently that’s making its way into the pet food as I mentioned is the clean eating movement.

Now non GMO is becoming a purchase driver for consumers, they want non GMO products. If you don’t know what GMOs are, they’re genetically modified organisms. So it’s genetically modified ingredients and non GMO would obviously mean that there are no GMO’s in these products and that is becoming a driver for consumers who want more than just natural, they want clean. We don’t just want something that says natural you know we’re using natural ingredients like proteins sources, vitamins and minerals naturally come from fruits and vegetables. That’s all great but how was the fruit or vegetable grown? How was the chicken raised? Is it pumped full of hormones? Are the fruits and vegetables genetically modified? If pet owners and not just for our pets but for ourselves, we don’t want just natural.

We’ve realized now that for a while there is this blanket on ingredients called natural and it made us all think that everything was super healthy and now that we’ve pulled off that blanket and we see that there’s a lot of things under that label of natural that aren’t necessary healthy, like genetically modified organisms in our food. So we don’t just want natural, we want clean and we want this for our pets too. So this is why NUTRO developed their feed clean recipes and the NUTRO brand is just one example of how Mars Pack Care is evolving their offerings and they believe that they’re offering pet parents more choices when it comes to selecting the best food for their dog or their cat and this can be found… like I said it’s not huge yet but it’s coming.

There are other brands out there and it’s definitely something you know I see that Mars is kind of taking the initiative on this, they’re working towards that clean eating and they want pet owners to have this option and I think we’re going to see more of that coming in the pet industry. Getting away from genetically modified organisms, getting away from just a blanket label of natural on foods but specifying that these are clean products, these are not refined, and they’re not processed to the point where the nutrients in the foods are being lost. This is the trends that’s coming and it’s a trend that I’m very excited for, it’s a trend that I watch and I’m trying to keep up with, finding brands you know like NUTRO with their feed clean recipes, seeing more products like that come out on the market is really exciting for me. It makes me really happy and excited to see where the pet food industry is going to go in the next few years with this.

I did ask Arren what we as pet owners should be looking for when we’re shopping for food for our pet and you know this is such a hard thing because every pet is different. Whether you have a dog or a cat, not all dogs are the same, not all cats are the same, and not all breeds are the same. Even ages you take adult food for adults dogs or adult cats, there so many different recipes out there and Arren said that choosing the right food isn’t as challenging as you would think, it just takes some time and research, learn about the different options that are out there, learn how to read the labels.

Ultimately consumers should align their feeding preferences with their price point and you’re going to find some high quality product that fits your pet’s needs and I really agree with that. Like I said you know my rule of thumb earlier, aligning that price point, you want the highest quality that you can afford and it is about taking the time, it is about doing the research, learn about your dog, have a conversation with your vet, look for a canine or a feline nutritionist if there is one in your area, you know this is especially important if your dog has some health concerns or your cat has some health concerns that you want to address through diet. But you know learn how to read labels, there’s information out there, there is an article on our sister website, there is a couple of great articles, they’re about learning to read labels. The information is out there, it definitely takes time, it definitely takes research and effort on your part but it can be done.

So we just wanted to thank Arren Beach, NUTRO brand manager for consulting with me, unfortunately like I said we couldn’t get in touch live but it was great to email and get those responses and it certainly helped me gain a little bit of insight about this clean eating trend. Like I said I’m looking forward to watching it, I’m going to keep you guys updated on it of course.

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