Ask A Vet: What Does Organic Mean For Cat Food?

| Published on August 11, 2015

We see cats every day. We ask lots of questions of their owners so we can advise them accurately. One of those questions always is: “What do you feed him/her?” Some owners can tell me exactly what they feed and how they chose it, but many of them say that they feed “that expensive organic pet food” that was recommended to them by the breeder or someone at the pet store. I feed my cat the cat food that I carry at Applebrook, so I have not been pet food shopping in a long time. I decided to go and see what this experience was like for my pet parents.

I entered the large chain animal retailer with the intent of exploring the pet food options and perhaps look at some of the foods that people have told me they have chosen. It is true that the choices are overwhelming. A normal person would HAVE to have some kind of influence or advice to sort through the options. There are small bags, large bags, cans and tubes. Today I was on the mission to figure out what “that expensive organic pet food” was however, so I tried to focus.

Above one shelf hung a large blackboard that said “Organic” with a brief description of what the definition is. It said: Organic- made according to USDA organic standards with no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones. I would agree that this is a fair definition of what organic in this instance means.

However, what shocked me was that absolutely none of the foods I saw in this store had the USDA certified organic label on them. None of them even claimed to be organic on the label. This large blackboard with the word implied that they were organic, but it did not denote the presence of any certified products at all!

It is possible that I overlooked one, but certainly all the brand names that I hear from my new pet parents were there and I saw them all. None were labeled organic at all. I saw terms like natural and holistic, but no organic. So why did the blackboard imply that they are? I don’t really know. But I can surmise that my clients see boards, banners and TV commercials and assume that what they are feeding is held to special standards. They think that they have chosen the best of the best.

When I got home, I contacted Rebecca Thompson at the USDA and she was extremely helpful to me. She provided a link to a presentation on the matter by Emily Rosen (also USDA) who provided a presentation on the topic of organics to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). In her presentation (Aug 2013) she discusses the rigorous standards required by the USDA to allow the organic label on human food, but says that the pet food regulations are not specifically regulated. (Gasp!) She mentions that standards are being drafted for pet food regulations and I have contacted her to see if there are any changes I need to know about since that time. I have not heard back from her yet.

I guess it doesn’t matter at the moment because even the foods below the ORGANIC board at one of our local pet stores do not have actual label claims. They are not breaking the law in any way. But I really want my clients and pet lovers everywhere to know what they are paying for. If you pay a lot for pet food, make sure that you know why.

At this time, unless you see a USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC seal, it probably isn’t organic.



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vet thumbnailAbout The Author: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian and practice owner at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN.  She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to articles for Prevention magazine (April 2015) and Woman’s Day (Feb 2014 and June 2015). Her radio segment Chattanooga Pet Talk airs each week on all the local iHeart Media affiliates.

She has a social media presence on TwitterFacebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication.  She has written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website,

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