Inside Natura: Part One

What makes a pet food good?

How do you pick a pet food? I’m genuinely curious. The number of choices out there is dizzying, isn’t it?

It’s one of the biggest challenges of being a pet owner, standing in those aisles, peeking up and down at the bags and trying to figure out based on the information we have at hand what is going to be the best choices for our pets.

But where do we get our information? From our own research. From the guy in the pet store. From the vet. From the company who makes the food. We worry about biases and how much we can trust those sources.

I have said many times that there is no one best pet food, and I mean that. What matters is what is best for your pet, and that may not be the same as what is best for mine. And despite how well we may be armed with some information, there are going to be behind the scenes bits of information that we just don’t have access to.

There’s the label, and then there’s everything else

Owners are getting awfully good at reading pet labels, which is a good thing. That is a vital place to start and a good gauge  in assessing whether a food might be a good fit for our pet. Everyone wants to know that the ingredients in that bag are ones they feel provide good nutrition.

This is a generic pet food label- brand unknown

But there is so much more that goes on that we may or may not be privy to. As the Diamond debacle has shown us, a company can provide the best ingredients out there, but if they’ve sourced their production to a factory who’s falling asleep on the job, all their hard work is down the drain in a big messy recall nightmare. If a company is not proactive in tracing problems with their food or is not responsive to the veterinary community who is often the first group of people to realize there is a nutrition issue, it doesn’t matter how great the label looks or the ingredients sound.

These are things that matter to me:

1. Quality ingredients selected based on knowledge and scientific rationale as to their health benefits as opposed to simply things that sound trendy.

2. Expert Formulators: Who’s coming up with the recipes? What training do they have? Are they making decisions and updates based on the newest findings in the literature?

3. Good manufacturing practice, including high level quality control and an ability to trace problems quickly.

4. Results: Are new diets being fed to dogs and cats before going to market or are they just based on formulations? Are those feeding trials being carried out in an ethical manner that exceeds the bare minimums of the Animal Welfare Act?

5. Conscience. Do you have a corporate philosophy that states unequivocally that the health of the pet is your main purpose in making this food? How does this translate into practice?

Some of these things, clearly, are easier to figure out than others. I’m constantly being reminded of how little access consumers have to the pet food manufacturing process, which is why I am so thrilled that some companies are really working on this concept of transparency and sharing the process with the consumer in ways they never have before.

A preview of the Natura tour

I’ve been hinting at wanting to see the Natura plant for over a year now, as I’ve used several of their brands on a regular basis. Natura makes Innova, Evo, California Natural, Karma, HealthWise, and Mother Nature. I felt very fortunate to have been invited to their first blogger tour this week and I was really, really hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed by what I saw.

I have lots to share over several posts, but I did go through the tour with those five personal benchmarks in mind. In summary:

I was so happy with the tour, the people at Natura, and what they are doing there. I’ve always been pleased with the results I’ve had with the products (I rotate, and I’ll talk about that too), and this process has only made me more confident in using it and recommending it to others.

I watched people who had been with the company for years get a little choked up as they talked about their fears after the acquisition by Procter and Gamble, and what that has meant for them; stood next to the bins of carrots and apples as they headed into the first of many quality control steps; examined vats of meat and asked questions that I really thought might get me tossed out, but didn’t. Nothing was off limits to ask.

So stay tuned for the rest of the story and answers to some of the questions I was sent by you. I think you’ll be pleased.

Disclosure: Natura covered my expenses in order to come tour the plant. They have not provided me product or other compensation, and gave me no guidelines as to what I could and couldn’t write about.

Filed: Behind the Paw, Blog, Cats, Dogs, Health Tagged: , , , ,
  • Deborah Mendez

    Staying tuned!

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      Excellent!

  • Anonymous

    I can’t wait either! I’m constantly baffled by the multitude of choices and price ranges!

    • http://www.pawcurious.com Dr. V

      I hear you. It’s very confusing. I hope this will help you figure out what to be looking for!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1021929583 Lisa Cronin

    I am glad to hear the folks who work for Natura are relieved. I wanted to feed Evo to the pup as that’s what he ate when he was wee before I adopted him, but all the so-called “natural” stores here dropped Natura like a hot rock when they were purchased by Proctor & Gamble. Everything I read post-merger said that Evo was not changing is formula or its suppliers but still somehow they were a “sell-out” and there was no Evo to be found short of special ordering it online. I went with Blue Wilderness formula, as it was close to the Evo brand in nutrients, but I am still kind of annoyed at that knee-jerk “now it’s not good enough for my healthy pet store but I can’t articulate why” mentality.

  • Kate

    Can’t wait to read the rest! We’ve been a Science Diet family for as long as we’ve had fuzzy freeloaders. Would like to see if this might be a good change.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1107338225 Jessi Jaffe

    We’re a Science Diet household these days as it’s the only thing that doesn’t give the Big Guy diarrhea, but I’m *always* interested in hearing about the companies that make food. In the struggle to balance “the best” foods with his sensitive stomach, we went through Solid Gold, Iams (non-Rx), Wellness, Blue Buffalo (which was good for almost a year until his stomach rebelled for no known reason!), and clients that come to our office are always asking questions about what foods as “good” for their pet.

    Sometimes it feels like walking a minefield just to find the right food for any particular animal…