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I am all for natural care for the body, mind, and spirit. Unfortunately the word “natural,” especially when applied to all things related to pet diet and health, has become a bit of a meaningless buzzword. We have natural pet foods with natural ingredients like natural flavors. There are also natural supplements, natural shampoos, and even natural pet magazines. It leads one to wonder what it really means to be natural.

The word natural can be defined as something relating to or derived from nature. This word is often thought of as the opposite of “synthetic.” Something is synthetic if it has been removed from nature and chemically manipulated by man. So we consider grain which is grown in Mother Nature’s soil to be natural while plastic is synthetic.

Of course, who eats corn on the cob without first cooking it or subjecting it to some other, more extreme processing? Since we’ve changed the corn from its natural state, is it still natural? And what of plastic? It is made from petroleum products which come from dead dinosaurs. What could be more natural than that?

So there seems to be a spectrum of naturalness. While we would all agree that an ear of corn is natural and a plastic cup is synthetic, where do we draw the line between the two? Is corn always natural no matter how it has been processed?

The naturalness of corn ranges from an ear of corn, to ground corn, to corn flakes, to high fructose corn syrup, to “corn plastic” used in biodegradable packaging. I would suggest that somewhere in that progression, the corn has ceased to be natural.

The same thing can be said for natural pet foods. Sure, grain, potatoes, or any source of starch could be considered to be natural ingredients. They may even be organic. But, after the high-heat processing their naturalness has been corrupted. Even more importantly, it is extremely unnatural for dogs or cats to eat large amounts of starch in any form. As far as I’m concerned, calling any processed kibble “natural” is very misleading.

The natural ingredients in natural pet foods often include natural flavors. Chemicals used as natural flavors are produced more naturally than are artificial flavors. However, the processing of the raw materials into the flavor chemicals results in unnatural end products that often resemble MSG in character. If the natural flavors are so natural why doesn’t the label just come right out and say exactly what they are?

When it comes to caring for our pets, there is a range of naturalness. My professional opinion is that most pets thrive on a balanced, raw diet. But, I know that not everyone can pull that off for various reasons. Just do the best you can.

Also, remember that just because it says “natural” does not necessarily mean it is good for you or your pet. Poison ivy is natural but that doesn’t mean you should rub it all over your body.

Have you ever been fooled by a “natural” claim?

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