Organic, Free-Range, and Humane Dog and Cat Food Options
What Does the Label Say?
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 the length of time spent outdoors and it doesn’t mean that chickens aren’t debeaked.
Misrepresentation on Food Labels
These methods have, unfortunately, become mainstream and conventional. The meat industry, in particular, not only allows animals to be raised inhumanely, but 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 the humane treatment of livestock. There are a few commercially available choices to select from and the options are growing.
Why Buy 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—such as removing battery cages and other forms of mistreatment—even if it is only a slight improvement.
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.
New Descriptions in the Market
- Vegetarian-fed (pigs)
- Grass-fed (cows)
- Hormone, steroid, and GMO-free
Which Meats Are Raised More Humanely?
Some meats tend to be raised more humanely or naturally than others. Chicken, pigs, turkeys, and cattle are more likely to be raised using poor factory farming methods than animals such as sheep, bison, and deer because these animals do poorly in confined environments.
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)
What About 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 most evidence-based choice?
Originally, I was an advocate of raw-feeding, but I have since reversed my opinion. In short, the raw-feeding model is based on the failed logic that nature provides optimal nutrition. If you still want to buy these meats, it's best to consult a certified canine nutritionist and cook the meats to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.
1. 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 for 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 the dealers listed below.
I have listed most of the farms that the meats from these providers are derived from. Some suppliers are better than others, but all that are listed appear reasonable at minimum.
Hearst Ranch Pet Food
Hearst Ranch offers grass-fed, pasture-raised meat along with its line of offerings for people. Their animals are free-roaming and allowed to forage naturally.
US Wellness Meats
US Wellness Meats is a dealer of humanely-raised meats in which the animals are allowed to forage and live in the open space of a farm. 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; there is a small processing fee and a minimum amount must be met in order to place an order.
K9 Natural Frozen Raw Nibblets Dog Food
Made from “grass-fed, ranch raised meat from New Zealand,” this food does not contain grains or starch. Although it has low protein content, it contains only high-quality meats and vegetables, including organ meat. This food also contains other varied ingredients such as mussels, which are claimed to provide a natural source of glucosamine. Frozen food may be ordered online and is sometimes offered in smaller specialty pet shops.
Raw Advantage meats come from select suppliers. The food is ground raw and in chunk or "chub" form:
- the turkey comes from Diestel Turkey Ranch
- the chicken comes from Petaluma Poultry Processors or Nature's Premier Organic Company
- the beef comes from Western Grasslands Beef (DBA Panorama Meats, Inc.)
- the duck comes from Maple Farms
Rad Cat Raw Diet
As described on the Rad Cat Raw Diet 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.
Rad Cat Raw Diet can be purchased from other online dealers if you are not located near one of their retail stores in Oregon.
2. Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated Food
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 dog food and cat food contains USDA free-range human-grade chicken. Both are grain-free but do contain sweet potatoes. The supplier of The Honest Kitchen’s chicken is Petaluma Poultry, which has received a "Step 3" in the Whole Foods Gap Rating for humanely raised meats, offering a reasonable and better alternative to conventional farming methods.
The food has the consistency of dry dirt, smells of vegetables, and requires the addition of water. 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)
This is a raw, dehydrated option containing the wild-caught brushtail (Trichosurus vulpecula). The website states that this prominent marsupial decimates forests, making it an environmentally-friendly choice. This is also a good option for pets with allergies.
Stella and Chewy's Freeze-Dried Dinners
Of the Stella and Chewy's Freeze-Dried Dinners, the venison variety is most likely to have truly humanely processed meat ingredients. The product description is as follows:
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.
3. Dry Food
Blue Buffalo Adult Free-Range Lamb and Brown Rice
This food contains New Zealand free-range lamb and is free of hormones, antibiotics, and steroids. Lamb is generally raised with superior standards in New Zealand. This food is not grain-free, however. Blue Buffalo brands can be easily found in chain pet stores.
Addition Dry Pet Foods
Addition Dry Pet Foods uses meats that 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 is also 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, free-range pheasant (this processing method does not use heat, making the food essentially raw with the same benefits). 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)
Champion Petfoods is the leader in free-range meats and/or wild-caught fish. Their products ORIJEN and ACANA are my favorite. These dry foods come with other healthy plant-based ingredients and minimal potato content (the food is grain-free). The ingredients are varied and both products contain many different protein sources (for example, up to six red/white meats and three different types of eggs in "Regional Red").
I would like to caution potential buyers that some people have found varieties of this food to be "too rich" (especially Regional Red, which is very high in protein) and have reported symptoms such as diarrhea in their pets.
My senior dog did fine with ORIJEN's "6 Fish" but 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.
ORIJEN and ACANA Food Production
4. "Certified Humane" Food
is a brand that emphasizes the humane treatment of livestock and has achieved a certified-humane label which is uncommon for pet food supplies. Their sound animal care standards include habitat enrichment, space (stalls, cages, and crates are forbidden), and clean resting areas. The produce is "[m]ade with 100% Certified Humane meats, Ocean Wise recommended wild-caught fish and locally grown, non-GMO fruits & veggies." Open Farm
Open Farm food comes highly recommended and Dog Food Advisor states the following about the product:
Open Farm is a grain-free plant-based dry dog food using a notable amount of whitefish meal as its main source of animal protein, thus earning the brand 4.5 stars.
5. Canned Food
Consider adding canned food to your pet’s diet if they are only receiving dry food. This will 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)
uses free-range beef. According to the label, “[E]ach free-range, grass-fed animal is maintained in an area equivalent of two soccer fields.” The meat is from Uruguay and is USDA organic. This food does contain soy, brown rice, and barley. Newman's Own Organics
Only Natural Pet All Meat Bites
The specialty online site Only Natural Pet 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 site also sells free-range bully sticks from grass-fed Brazilian cattle and many other true free-range-derived chews for dogs. Other brands also offer free-range or game-sourced meat treats due to their economic feasibility.
Consider Shopping Locally and Supporting Small Farms
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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Are Arcana and Orijen dry dog foods both organic and human grade for dogs and cats?
They are dry and human-grade. I don't think they are organic, but that label is meaningless.Helpful 2