Many of today’s pet parents have adopted the “clean eating” lifestyle and now want the same simple, wholesome nutrition for their canine and feline companions. Is it possible for your dog or cat to eat a “clean diet?” It depends on your definition of clean eating.

What is clean eating?

Clean eating is a deceptively simple concept that means different things to different people — no official definition exists. Most people agree that a clean diet, at its simplest, is about eating “real” foods that are close to their natural forms or in their least-processed state.

According to Mayo Clinic’s wellness dietitian Emily Brown, RDN, LD, clean eating is about choosing whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats, and limiting highly processed snack foods, sweets and other packaged foods that have a long list of ingredients. She also notes that some processing — such as cooking, pasteurization and freezing — can be a good thing for some foods, either for safety reasons or to preserve nutrients during storage.

For some people, clean eating also involves choosing prepackaged food products with short or simple lists of recognizable ingredients with names that are easily pronounced. Others emphasize eating organic, non-GMO (genetically modified organism) foods with no additives or preservatives.

Adapting human clean-eating practices to pet foods

Is it possible to translate the human clean eating philosophy and practice to pet foods?

Yes — and no.

Animal and veterinary nutritionists are working to formulate pet foods based on simple recipes of whole or minimally processed ingredients that meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. They’re succeeding — and meeting pet parents’ demand for cleaner pet foods — by designing limited-ingredient diets made from simple recipes. These pet food formulas are made with only a few ingredients — as few as three to as many as nine or 10, plus vitamins and minerals — and tend to be centered around a high-quality animal protein source. Many clean pet food packages also carry “free from” or “no” claims, such as “No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives” and “No rendered meats or by-product meals.”

The human clean eating concept doesn’t translate word-for-word to commercially produced complete and balanced pet foods. That’s because pet food labels must comply with state and federal pet food regulations that require supplemental vitamins and minerals to be listed by their AAFCO-approved names, which can sound like chemicals. However, more dog and cat food makers are clarifying those ingredients by adding the commonly recognized names of those ingredients that provide essential vitamins and minerals.

Letting the food label guide your pet food choices

If you’re like most pet parents, you look first at the ingredients list when choosing a pet food. While checking the ingredients list is helpful if your dog or cat has a food allergy or intolerance, the ingredients list actually tells very little about the nutritional adequacy — whether the food contains all the essential nutrients in the right proportions — of a pet food. So don’t forget to look for the nutritional adequacy statement (aka the AAFCO statement), which is usually found in small print on the back or side of a pet food package. It’s the only way to know for certain that a particular food will meet all of your best furry friend’s requirements for essential nutrients.


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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.