Does My Dog Need Organic Food?

As a dog owner, you do whatever you can to keep your pup happy and healthy. This includes spending plenty of time with him, taking him on long walks, throwing around the ball with him, and keeping him up to date on his shots and medical appointments.

Close-Up Of Dog Eating Food In Bowl At Home
credit: Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

But when it comes to how you feed your dog, you aren't sure whether or not you should be purchasing organic dog food instead of the regular kind.

When deciding on dog food, make sure you research what organic actually is and if it could be beneficial to your dog. Here are some tips to get started.

What does “certified organic” mean?

When you've shopped for your own food, you may have seen the USDA's green organic label on your groceries. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service oversees the "Certified Organic" program, and the farmers who participate have to go through a vigorous process for their foods to be labeled this way.

In order for food to be truly organic, it must be non-GMO, which means that no genetically modified seeds are used. Waste handling, soil quality, and pest and weed control need to be done through traditional farming methods that "promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity," says the USDA.

The land must also be organic for three years, which means that a farmer cannot simply decide to switch to organic food production overnight. These farms can use pesticides, but only ones that are on an approved list.

When dealing with dairy, meat, and eggs, animals have to have been raised on an organic farm, meaning they eat organic food, and all beef, chicken, and pork needs to be hormone-free. If an organic chicken or pig gets sick, they must only be given approved antibiotics. Other standards include being raised outside and being allowed to spend time grazing in the pasture.

Two brown-white dogs are eating food from bowl. Feeding pets.
credit: undefined undefined/iStock/GettyImages

Are there health benefits to organic food?

Organic and natural do not mean the same thing, so there is a difference between natural dog food and organic dog food. Organic dog food will follow those organic standards, while natural dog food is free from artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors. When looking at any ingredient list, you'll be able to see if a dog food is truly natural or not.

There is a myth that organic automatically means healthier. The truth is, the jury is out on whether or not there are health benefits to organic food. For example, organic farmers still use pesticides. While these pesticides are from more naturally derived sources, there are health risks involved when you or your dog eats them. Just because something is labeled organic, it doesn't mean it's "healthy."

Organic food may be fresher, and there is less of a risk of mad cow disease spreading amongst the cattle because of the strict standards for feeding. If you are trying to live a more sustainable life, organic dog food is a better choice because the farming practices are more beneficial to the environment.

The bottom line on organic dog food

While buying organic may be good for the environment and help support farmers who are raising animals in a more humane way, it is not necessary to feed your pup organic dog food.

If you're looking to have more control over what your dog eats, there's always the option of making your own dog food. However, if you cannot afford to make home-cooked meals, or you simply don't have the time, you can also look into high-quality dog foods. Seek out dog foods that include meat, grains, vegetables, and fruits on the ingredient list. The label should also say "(Dog food name) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles." This strict standard ensures that the food is part of a complete, balanced diet for a pup.

Dog eating food from its bowl indoors.
credit: Photoboyko/iStock/GettyImages

Also, you should buy food according to a dog's stage in life and their size. Get puppy food for a puppy, adult food for an adult, and senior food for an older dog. Buy smaller kibbles for a tinier dog and bigger kibbles for a larger dog.

As always, consult with your vet before changing your dog's diet, whether you're choosing to feed him home-cooked meals or not. Inquire about the different brands of dog food, because some dogs have more sensitive stomachs or health issues, and how often you should be feeding your dog. Making sure your dog has access to fresh water and exercises for at least 30 minutes a day will keep him healthy, too.