Not so long ago there were only one or two pet foods on the shelves that called themselves as 'Holistic'... now there are many, and even one that implies there are holistic pets!
Is that a good thing? What do they mean by 'Holistic' or indeed 'Natural' and are there any regulations governing the claims/ingredients used in these products?
The first stop is maybe to look at the dictionary definition of 'Holistic'
'...dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part'
'...Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.'
'...relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts (holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body) '
It probably depends who you are talking to!
First and foremost, and let's not get too excited about this, a food in itself CANNOT be holistic, because the term makes no sense in that context. Holistic in its broadest terms means looking at the whole rather then parts, and diet is just a part of the way that we and our pets live.
In other words for a food to be considered holistic, we would have to use it as part of a holistic approach to the way we look after our pets. This would encompass the conditions under which the pet lives and sleeps (its degree of comfort and lack of stress) and also the exercise of its mind and body (how well it is stimulated physically and mentally)
So, it is perfectly possible to have a holistic approach to pet ownership, and that is to be encouraged - but forget all the hype about holistic foods, that's just marketing.
As part of a 'holistic approach' to pet ownership it is fairly certain that the quality of the diet being fed would be addressed, and the emphasis be mainly on feeding a natural food, be that a raw food diet, or one that has been processed (either moist or dry)
Generally speaking, a natural diet free of the kinds of ingredients that might cause intolerance or allergy is going to promote good health, and therefore one would be looking for a food that was based around one or two (maximum) protein and cereal types, with no added colours, artificial flavours or preservatives. There are many foods on the market now which meet this criterion.
There are no rules and regulations, as far as I am aware, as to how these foods are marketed, and this is maybe why there seems confusion even among manufacturers as to what they mean by 'Holistic'.
AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) has suggested a pet food definition for 'natural' as 'of or pertaining to a product wholly comprising ingredients completely devoid of artificial or manmade substances including, but not limited to, synthetic flavors, colors, preservatives, vitamins, minerals, or other additives, whether added directly to the product or incidentally as a component of another ingredient.'
It has to be said that most so-called Holistic products in the UK use commercial and manufactured vitamin and mineral mixes to ensure that the food contains a consistant nutritional balance of these essential nutrients. Some contain natural sources of vitamins and minerals, which would seem to be where AAFCO would like natural products to be.
There are, however some who warn against this, based on inconsistencies in the natural alternatives. Burns pet Nutrition state 'Natural ingredients, by definition, are very unlikely to contain consistent quantities of these nutrients (e.g. due to seasons, weather, soil type, etc) therefore, supplementation with exact quantities is necessary in order to avoid chronic deficiencies or toxicities...For example, seaweed can contain high levels of magnesium which interferes with the uptake of zinc and copper from the diet. Also, in order to meet the minimum levels of less prevalent nutrients such selenium; you would need to add high quantities of seaweed, which could in turn lead to toxic levels of other nutrients, such as iodine.'