Organic Goes to the Dogs (and Cats)

Veteran pet-food manufacturers and newly launched natural kitchens are adhering to the strict regulations of the U.S. government to meet the growing consumer demand for organic pet food and treats.


The popularity of organic food among consumers is growing as shoppers seek products with basic, naturally grown, chemical-free ingredients. Organic certification by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows food manufacturers to include its organic seal on products that comprise 95 percent or more certified-organic content. Organic food sales in 2013 have been estimated at more than $34 billion, according to the USDA. Many consumers are now carefully reading labels, researching the origins of the ingredients and choosing organic products, which include food and treats for their pets.

With this in mind, here is a look at some of the most prominent manufacturers offering organic pet food and treats:

Natural History
The Natural Planet Organics story began in 1947, when Darrell “Tuffy” Nelson opened Pine Lakes Feed in Perham, Minn. Tuffy’s son Kenny expanded Pine Lakes Feed in 1964 by launching Tuffy’s Dog Food Company, which introduced Natural Planet Organics in 2009, to maintain the commitment to quality that was implemented 62 years prior. From preservatives to packaging, it is this commitment that drives the team to use only ingredients that are sourced naturally.

According to parent company KLN Family Brands’ sales manager Dan Schmitz, Natural Planet Organics uses “…a blend of natural mixed tocopherols found commonly in vegetable oils, seeds and legumes acting as effective antioxidants…,” while lecithin and rosemary extract serve as preservatives. Through its use of Ecoterra packaging, Natural Planet Organics not only provides an eco-friendly alternative, the corn-based bag also eliminates the need for additional preservatives—natural or synthetic. “[The bag] provides a protective barrier unmatched in any poly-lined paper bag. This bag can be heat sealed, unlike ordinary line poly paper bags which must be sewn,” says Schmitz.

While the company is expanding to include select organic and non-GMO ingredients, such as rabbit and duck, organic chicken is Natural Planet Organics’ most popular product. Available in both dog and cat offerings, the organic chicken formula has remained the top product in the company’s line for the past seven years.

Doctor Recommended, Pet Approved
As a physician and breeder of champion Great Danes, Dr. Fred Evanger understood the need for nutritious pet food. In 1935, Evanger built a factory to can pure-meat pet food that met his own stringent standards, in order to provide exceptionally nutritious ingredients and prevent any unwanted health problems. Wheeling, Ill.-based Evanger’s, the only pet food cannery that is family owned and operated in the United States, still understands the need to provide pets with food made from quality ingredients, free of potentially harmful preservatives and unnecessary additives.

Maintaining these high standards while managing the demands of a successful company has not been easy. Evanger’s president Holly Sher says, “There are not many plants that want to become organic, because you must follow the organic protocol, which is a lot of paperwork. It takes a lot of time. Plus, we are not only organic, we are also kosher.”

Using the same supplier as Whole Foods to purchase their fruits and vegetables, Evanger’s has created diets such as Organic Turkey with Potato & Carrots Dinner for dogs, and Organic Turkey & Butternut Squash Dinner for cats.

Government-mandated criteria for organic certification are not the only standards the company must meet. Many of the customer inquiries that Evanger’s receives come from consumers who are curious about the company’s organic offerings. These clients are extremely knowledgeable regarding organic-food standards and are much more informed than the typical retail customer. The payoff, however, has been great for the company. While Sher mentions that growth in the organic sector had not been huge in the past, demand skyrocketed in March 2014.

Organic Guardians
Launched 35 years ago, PetGuard was at the forefront of the organic pet food industry before the recent, larger movement. By launching a company that focused on the natural pet lifestyle, Sharon Sherman established PetGuard as a cornerstone in this specialty market. Based in Florida, the family-owned and -operated company has remained committed to its original objective—ensuring the healthiest, well-balanced lifestyle for pets.

PetGuard offers a variety of natural pet food options, which do not include byproducts, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Its organic dog food offerings include canned Organic Vegan Formula and Organic Chicken & Vegetable Formula, Organics Adult Dry Dog Food and Organics LIFEPATH, a dry food suitable for any stage of a canine’s life. PetGuard’s reach also extends into the cat food sector through its canned Organic Chicken & Vegetable Formula and dry Organic Mature Cat Food.

Through some of its organic products, PetGuard is tackling other health issues as well, as Sherman remains aware of different food-related health problems. “Pets and their guardians can be gluten intolerant and represent a growing population,” she says. “Those that suffer with gluten intolerance are professionally advised not to bring gluten into their home, whether it be in food or cosmetics. Now, there is a conscious choice.”

Responding to the growing number of gluten allergies, PetGuard released its USDA-Certified Organic Chicken Jerky, which does not include any grain or gluten. The jerky’s short list of organic ingredients includes chicken, beets, potato flour and sugar. By remaining informed on health issues, Sherman is able to maintain the original goal of ensuring the highest level of pet health for PetGuard customers.

Lovin’ in Organic Home Cookin’
Years ago, as pet parents to three dogs, Daryl and Shawna Abrams were shocked to learn their popular dog food brand contained ingredients that were far from wholesome. Shawna Abrams says that preparing their own food, from organic ingredients, resulted in health benefits beyond any the couple could have imagined, leading them to launch West Hollywood, Calif.-based Party Animal. “From that moment on, we decided we need to make our recipes available for other pet parents who want the same quality for their pets as we do for ours, as we could not find any formulas that met our expectations.”

Simply manufacturing nutritious pet food was not sufficient for the Abrams family. “There are a lot of claims used that don’t have a defined meaning and are mainly used for marketing purposes,” says Abrams. “We wanted our product to be certified organic, giving pet parents peace of mind knowing they can trust our food 100 percent and feel comfortable feeding it to their four-legged children.”

In addition to USDA Organic Certification, Party Animal has received Oregon Tilth certification, an internationally recognized symbol that signifies the manufacturer has met strict production standards, on-site inspections and legally binding contracts for reliable organic standards.

The Party Animal brand offers many products that include natural ingredients, which are both nutritious and serve as natural preservatives. While the brand’s organic Kickin’ Chicken Formula is a customer favorite, Party Animal also includes other protein options, including California Turkey, Luscious Lamb and Darling Duck. These products are combined with nutritious, organic ingredients such as zucchini, cranberries, chia seeds, strawberries, artichoke and coconut oil, which aids mineral absorption and promotes a healthy immune system.

Human-Grade, Naturally Made
Lucy Postins of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego began preparing raw food from natural ingredients for her dog Mosi in 2002, to alleviate the symptoms of his seemingly incurable ear infections and skin irritation. Formerly a canine and equine nutritionist for another pet food manufacturer, Postins was thoroughly educated regarding the benefits of providing pets with a natural, raw diet.

While Mosi’s homemade diet successfully alleviated his health issues, the process was extremely messy. “I started thinking about ways to continue feeding him a fresher, minimally processed whole-food diet in a format that was less messy and simpler to prepare,” says Postins. Through a dehydration process, she was able to remove the moisture—the source of most of the mess—yet retain most of the benefits of natural food. “[Dehydration] leaves behind much more of the natural nutrition, including the delicate phytonutrients, which are actually antioxidants that help support various body systems including immunity. We receive hundreds of unsolicited testimonials every year from customers who have seen amazing improvements in a variety of pet health conditions after starting to feed The Honest Kitchen.”

One new product that is receiving such acclaim is The Honest Kitchen’s Halcyon for dogs, made from duck, vegetables and fruits, and organic ingredients such as oats, buckwheat, flaxseed and coconut.

Not only is Postins intent on maintaining the nutritional value of her quality pet food, she took her ambitions a step further by applying for a Statement of No Objection from the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for use of the term “human grade” on The Honest Kitchen’s product labels. “Because our foods are made in a human-food production facility and not in a pet food plant, they’re held to a much higher standard for safety, cleanliness, and so on, so the finished products are inherently more trustworthy for concerned consumers who want the best for their pets.”

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