Natural or Organic or Botanical: What Dog Product Labels Mean

beagle dog foodNatural, organic, or botanical: They all sound like seemingly harmless words that imply something is good for our dogs, but are they really? Fidose of Reality gets to the heart of the matter and digs up the  truth on dog product labels.

The tragic outbreak of contaminated pet foods several years ago may have been the tipping point that spawned an entirely new revolution of pet products to the marketplace labeled “organic” and “natural.” With the lives of our canine family members at hand, we did a little sleuthing. Here’s what we found out about difference between the two, what advances have occurred since this outbreak, and how dog products, in general, have changed.

Organic Vs. Natural

Organic and natural are, by no means, interchangeable words. In terms of food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, food grown and processed according to the USDA’s organic standards may be labeled as such. For people, organic food means less pesticide residue than their conventional sister counterpart, restricted use of food additives, and less pollution in growing it.

What about organic pet products not including food? According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 11.77 billion dollars was spent in 2011 by pet owners on supplies and over-the-counter medicines, representing a 7.6 percent increase over 2010. Within this domain are both organic and natural dog products.

In order to qualify as organic and receive the official USDA Organic Seal, grooming products must have 100 percent organic soap in them. Soap, however, will dry a dog’s coat and leave a flaky residue behind in skin and fur. In addition, soap may wash off topical flea applications. More fittingly, a hypoallergenic shampoo for dogs is less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Read labels closely and ensure there are no fragrances or artificial colors that may tip the pH balance and cause allergic reactions.

US Certified Organic dog food means that the food has gone through a third-party certification process and proves that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic.  Break the term organic down and you get “origin,” and in the case of dog food, that means the farm or field. What is organic about something our dogs eat has to do with what happens where it originates.


Natural Labeling

What about natural? According to the FDA, food that is labeled natural must be free of synthetic preservatives, be minimally processed, and be free of things like colors, growth hormones, antibiotics, stabilizers and/or emulsifiers. As it applies to things like household cleaners, natural is as it implies: no chemicals, allergy friendly, and non-toxic.

During a visit to the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Florida, the pet industry’s largest trade show and home to over 800 companies worldwide for a full two days, the number of natural and organic products ready to launch were in abundant supply. Abandoning chemicals does not mean neglecting cleanliness, as chemical-free products keep Fido safe and reduce any chance of chemical reaction.

As it applies to pet food, natural is simply a word. If you see the word natural on a bag of dog food or on a treat box, it can mean any host of things. There are no standards or regulations in place when it comes to using the word “natural” on pet products.


Botanicals deal with botany, aka plants, and they occur in nature. If a product contains anything containing botanical like licorice root, angelica root, fenugreek, marigold flowers, sweet fennel, peppermint leaf, chamomile, dandelion, summer savory, it can be labeled as botanical. This does not necessarily mean totally healthy for your dog, but it generally means something “botanical” in nature is involved.


More Dog Food Truths

While at the BlogPaws Conference in 2012, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Daniel Aja speak to the audience. I listened to an hour of the most informative details about dog food and product labeling to date, and I invite you, dog parents, to check out the information in the dog food truth post.

What are you feeding your dog and do you read labels?

Here are a few folks I am sure give a peek to pet food labels, as this is a Wordless Wednesday blog hop:

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  1. This is great info! I’ve always wondered the details of these (we’re raw feeders, but sometimes circumstances – e.g., travel – warrant periodic food changes).

  2. Thanks for the great post. I like to read the and look at research he has done on dog foods. He also lists recalls which is a nice convenience. Personally, I’ve experienced too many issues with different foods. My Maltese sister Roxy, died from the Iams recall poisoning a few years back, and I almost died a couple of years ago from the Blue Buffalo recall, and then the Natural Balance dog food also made me ill – came to learn my batch for that one was recalled too! We then went to cooking at home, but after reading up the dog food advisor – we came to Organix by Castor and Pollux which is around 5 star rated with no recalls (knock on wood). People often try to tell me to eat raw – but as a therapy dog – that is a big no-no. It is a strict rule because dogs that eat raw foods can cause problems for people with low immune systems (cancer patients, the elderly, sick, hospice, and children). So, we are required to have non-raw food diets. However, each dog is different, and what works for one dog may not work for another. What works for me are foods that are wheat free (due to my allergies). WOOF!

    1. You are so right. I did not know that about raw foods and therapy dogs. Very interesting and thanks for that info!

  3. It is all so confusing. We eat Hills and Pro Plan, that is what our friend that is a vet recommended. We are considering that new Hills Ideal Balance. There is just so much out there and it is so complicated.

    1. Thanks for stopping by on your birthday, Emma. Dex is loving the new Hill’s Ideal Balance Duck and Pumpkin treats we got the other day.

  4. I love that there seem to be more choices these days when choosing pet foods based on minimal processing and how the ingredients are grown. I think people are becoming more aware and proactive with what they are feeding their pets.

  5. What’s interesting is that now that the humans have finally learned to read labels and understand what everything means, and how to purchase and eat better, they now have to do it for their pets. Love Dolly

    1. That is so true, Dolly. I know I flip packages around all the time. I want to know what is in something; not just the fluffy dog running through a field on the front 😉

  6. Great post. “Natural” seems to just be a marketing term these days to get folks to think it’s good for them. Unfortunately, another dog blogger sent me a disturbing link the other day saying the “certified organic” is not as great as it used to be either. Ugh. It’s hard to know what to do – so I definitely read the fine print of what’s in everything and I check where stuff comes from! Nothing from China!

  7. Thanks for the great post Carol. Natural is one term in particular that is used by marketers to influence the buyer’s behavior! We also tell folks to watch out for the “chicken flavored” type of gotcha. And ingredient splitting tricks to make it harder to determine primary ingredients to name but two.

  8. great post on explainin all the differences, this should definetly clear up any confusion people have about their dog food. Beause we all know those dog food companies, depending on who can be quite the tricksters!

  9. Enlightening, as a dog food producer I see how confused people can get about labelling.
    We try to be as clear as possible, but putting too much information can also be a problem, it’s good that you are able to break it down for people.

  10. This a good post. However, it merely explains or differentiates organic from natural dog food. But it does not give us a clear information about which is good for our dogs. I don’t trust labels because they can be misleading and can endanger our dogs’ lives.

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