Organic, Free-Range and Humane Dog and Cat Food Options (Updated 2015)
The demand for convenient, efficient, and cost-effective ways to cultivate agriculture for the modern world has led to unethical food production methods at the expense of human health, the environment, and animal welfare.
Although words such as ‘free-range’ and ‘organic’ may sound enticing, some companies may adhere to minimal welfare standards given the USDA’s vague requirements for the label. For instance, the criteria for 'free-range chicken' is 'access to the outdoors', but it doesn't specify length and it doesn’t mean that chickens aren’t debeaked.
I have listed most of the farms that the meats are derived from in this article. Some suppliers are better than others, but all that are listed appear reasonable at minimum.
These methods have unfortunately become mainstream and conventional. The meat industry in particular not only allows animals to be raised with methods that are not humane, the resulting meat product is also sometimes higher in bad fats when the animals are not fed the diet that they have evolved to consume for the sake of cheap production.
The conditions of today’s meat production factories are prompting many people to switch from conventional grocery store-brand meats to brands that claim higher standards and advertise their products with words such as ‘free-range’, 'grass-fed’, 'humanely raised' and ‘antibiotic-free’’.
Sometimes these words can be misleading, but overall, they are an encouraging progression in the industry that seems in dire need of improvement. Always check the farms that a brand gets meat from to see if they meet reasonable standards and aren't using the terms while cutting corners.
There is now a demand for more ethical and sustainable agriculture, and pet foods are among the products that you should consider upgrading to promote healthier pets and humane treatment of livestock. There are a few commercially available choices to select from and the options are growing. I will continue to update them. (January 23, 2015)
Some meats tend to be raised more humanely or naturally than others. Chicken, pigs, turkeys, and cattle are more likely to be treated in the poor factory farming methods than animals such as sheep, bison, and deer because these animals do poorly in confined environments.
New descriptions in the market
- Vegetarian-fed (pigs)
- Grass-fed (cows)
- Hormone, Steroid, and GMO free
- Cage Free
Why higher quality foods for pets?
While the expense of free-range foods for pets may be off-putting, supporting ethical food production is an enormous benefit. Purchasing free-range brands of pet foods are a vote for standards in the food industry overall, even if it is only a slight improvement such as removing battery cages and other forms of mistreatment.
Supporting such efforts will continue to open the market for similar products in the future, and perhaps they will be more affordable as well, providing for a healthier environment for pets, people, and livestock.
Feeding Raw Food Diets?
Raw meats such as fish, chicken, turkey, bison, venison, rabbit, and even kangaroo (reported to contain high levels of beneficial conjugated linoleic acid) are sometimes purchased for pets at local farmers markets or even ordered online. Some websites that sell meat for people may offer pet food selections. One advantage to these diets is that you know exactly what’s in it and where it comes from, but is this the healthiest, evidence-based choice? Originally I had advocated raw feeding in my articles, but I must report that I've reversed my opinion 180°. I will not go into the details on this article, but in short, the raw feeding model is based on the failed logic that nature provides optimal nutrition. Click on the link below for more information. If you still want to buy these meats, it's best to consult a certified canine nutritionist and cook the meats to ward off bacteria (again, in most circumstances dogs will not be affected but why take the risk?)
- Nutrition | The SkeptVet
Animals that aren't factory farmed
The following animals cannot be raised with battery farming methods, therefore, any pet food you buy that only contains these meats are more ethical.
- Deer (venison)
Frozen Prepared Meals and Raw Meats
Many dealers that provide meat for people also sell cuts for your pets. This section lists some dealers that offer these selections. I do not advocate raw diets (at all) or homemade diets without consulting a nutritionist, but if you want to use whole meats, pick up some meat from animals that have been properly raised for yourself and your pet from some of these dealers:
Hearst Ranch- Hearst Ranch Pet Food
Offers non-inexpensive grass-fed pasture raised meat along with its line of offerings for people. The animals are free roaming and allowed to forge naturally. This diet can be ordered at www.bestfriendsdelivery.com.
US Wellness Meats
This is a dealer of humanely-raised meats in which the animals are allowed to forge and live the picturesque farm existence. The cows are exclusively fed grass their entire lives (not finished on corn). Their website has a pet section, yet any of the meat selections make acceptable feeds for dogs and cats as long as bones are not present. They offer organ meats, ground beef, and bones, which I do not recommend. This site can be economical if you order in bulk, and there is only a processing fee of $7.00. A minimum of $75.00 must be ordered.
K9 Natural Frozen Raw Nibblets Dog Food
Made from “grass-fed, ranch raised meat from New Zealand”, this food also contains no grains or starches. The food has low protein content, but contains only high quality meats and vegetables, including organ meat. This food contains other varied ingredients such as mussels, which are claimed to provide a natural source of glucosamine. Frozen food may be ordered online or can sometimes be offered in smaller specialty pet shops.
The Raw Advantage
Meats come from select suppliers (Turkey - Diestel Turkey Ranch, Chicken - Petaluma Poultry Processors or Nature's Premier Organic Company, Beef - Western Grasslands Beef (DBA Panorama Meats, Inc.) and Duck - Maple Farms). The food is ground raw meat in chunk or ‘chub’ form.
Rad Cat Raw Diet
Description from the website:
"We use the highest quality muscle and organ meats in all of our natural, holistic pet foods and treats. Our meats are US-sourced, USDA-inspected, hormone and antibiotic free, free-range or pasture-raised. We use the same meats found at your finest natural food stores. All of our muscle and organ meats are ground partially frozen at the time of processing to ensure only the freshest quality."
Can be purchased from other online dealers if you are not in the area (Oregon) of their retail stores.
Freeze Dried/ Dehydrated Foods
Freeze-dried foods are said to be the healthiest processed option outside of raw food. There are a few brands of freeze-dried food that contain free-range meats and other healthy ingredients as well.
The Honest Kitchen
The Honest Kitchen’s ‘Force’ brand of dog food and ‘Prowl’ cat food contain USDA ‘free-range’ human-grade chicken. The supplier of The Honest Kitchen’s chicken is Petaluma Poultry, which has received a ‘Step Three’ in the Whole Foods Gap Rating for humanely raised meats, which is a reasonable and better alternative to conventional farming methods. Both are grain free but do contain sweet potatoes. The food has a consistency of dry dirt which you should add water to, and it has a vegetable-ly scent to it. This food also makes a good additive to pelleted or raw food diets. The Honest Kitchen offers other freeze-dried foods with turkey, chicken, beef and fish.
Addiction Pet Foods (Brushtail)
A raw dehydrated option containing the wild-caught brushtail (Trichosurus vulpecula) in which the website states that this prominent marsupial decimates forests, making it an environmentally friendly choice. This is also an option for pets with allergies.
Stella and Chewy's Freeze-dried Dinners
Product description: Raw, farm-raised, cage-free chicken, Raw, naturally raised, cage-free poultry, Raw, grass-fed venison, Raw, farm-raised rabbit, Raw, naturally raised beef, Raw, naturally raised, cage-free poultry, Raw, naturally raised lamb, Raw, wild Alaskan salmon & raw, naturally raised beef .
*The venison variety is most likely to have truly humanely-processed meat ingredients.
Preparing Force with Dry Orijen
Orijen and Acana Production
Dry Food Options
Blue Buffalo Adult Free Range Lamb & Brown Rice
This food contains New Zealand free-range lamb and is free of hormones, antibiotic and steroids. Lamb is generally raised with superior standards in New Zealand. This food is not grain free. Blue Buffalo brands can be easily found in chain pet stores.
Addition Dry Pet Foods
Meats are obtained from healthy game animals such as salmon, venison, kangaroo, lamb and brushtail. This food is grain-free with oats or potatoes, and contains supplemental additives. This brand also is suitable for dogs and cats with allergies to certain meats.
Wysong ‘s Nurture with Free Range Pheasant
This food is recommended for both dogs and cats. It is a pelleted food that is also combined with shreds of TNT™cold-processed (this processing method does not use heat, making the food essentially raw with the same benefits) free-range pheasant. It is high in protein, and the first four ingredients are animal-based. However, this food also contains chicken that is not said to be free-range. Wysong is a company that acknowledges that dry food is not an optimum diet for pets. It strives to provide the best nutrition in kibble form and has developed processing techniques to preserve the nutritious value of raw food. Wysong is not as common in popular chains, but some brands can be found in more specialized stores, or ordered online where bulk orders would be the most financially sound (be sure to look up the most useful coupon codes).
*Orijen and Acana (my favorite)
A leader in free-range meats and/or wild caught fish in a dry food, plus other healthy plant-based ingredients with minimal potato content (the food is grain free). The ingredients are varied, each containing many different protein sources (up to 6 red/white meats and 3 different types of eggs in regional red). I would just like to caution potential buyers that some people have found some brands of this food to be ‘too rich' (especially the brand ‘regional red’ which is very high in protein) and have reported symptoms such as diarrhea. My senior dog did fine with Orijen’s ‘6 fish’ but has experienced issues with the impressive ingredients of regional red. It would be best to experiment with smaller quantities first, and if problems arise, try diluting the foods with other brands. Acana is better for less active or older dogs. This brand is not inexpensive, but deals can be found online.
Consider adding canned food to your pet’s diet if they are only receiving dry food to add much needed moisture content. Be advised that canned food commonly has low protein values and should not constitute most of your pet’s meals.
Newman’s Own Organics (Canned Organic Beef Formula)
This food uses free-range beef that is described as “each free-range, grass-fed animal is maintained in an area equivalent of two soccer fields” from Uruguay, as well as being USDA organic. This food does contain soy, brown rice, and barley.
Only Natural Pet All Meat Bites
The specialty online site Only Natural Pet Store sells freeze-dried treats consisting only of meat cuts that are labeled free-range chicken, certified Wagyu, free-range whole kobe Beef, or free range grass-fed bison.
The Only Natural Pet Store’s site also sells free-range ‘Bully Sticks’ from grass-fed Brazilian cattle, and many other true free-range-derived chews for dogs.
Many other brands offer free-range or derived from game meat treats due to their economic feasibility.
There are also smaller producers of raw diets for pets that may be found in your local town or online. Give them, and your local farmers markets a try for more humane and healthy alternatives to conventional pet foods.