Is Holistic Pet Food Just Marketing Hype?4 min read

It doesn’t seem that long ago that 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!

So what do manufacturers mean by ‘Holistic’ or indeed ‘Natural’ and are there any regulations governing these products?

It’s difficult to know where to begin, other than looking 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) ‘

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.

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.’

It would seem then that by ‘Holistic’ we’re talking about a food that is made with good quality, easily digested, hypo-allergenic 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 discernible difference between the use of the words ‘natural’ or ‘holistic’. The key point here I feel is the emphasis on well being, and the choice of ingredients is crucial; a food made with cheap cereal and animal by-products is unlikely to have the same health benefits as one made from higher quality single source meat and cereal components.

The simple fact is that there appears to be no rules and regulations, as far as I am aware 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 consistent nutritional balance of these essential nutrients. Some however do 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.’

At the end of the day, it is up to the consumer to make the choice of pet food that best fits in with their lifestyle and food ethic. Marketing managers are very good at targeting trends in the food industry and applying those to the pet food market!



by John Birch

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