Written By: Dr. Sarah J. Wooten, DVM
Orijen foods emphasize whole prey ingredients and biologically appropriate foods, incorporating richly nourishing meats, organs and cartilage in ratios that bring Orijen ever closer to Mother Nature. Orijen is made by Champion foods in Alberta, Canada, and the company has won awards for the food as Pet Food of the Year from the Glycemic Research Institute in Washington, DC. The company has also been named Manufacturer of the Year/Western Canada, and won a Growing Alberta Leadership Award.They are very proud that they have their own kitchens and don’t sell their food to other companies, and this pride is reflected in the high price of the products. There are 5 dry adult formulas available, and 2 dry puppy formulas. There are also 3 freeze dried formulas. We will review the adult dry dog and one freeze dried diet.
The website states that they ‘focus on ingredients that are sustainably raised within our region by people we know and trust, approved ‘fit for for human consumption’, and delivered our kitchens authentically fresh each dog. No other dog food can match Orijen’s fresh ingredients.’
This labeling can be confusing, as there really is no FDA regulation or enforcement on the terms ‘human-grade’ or ‘fit for human consumption’ in the United States. The term “Made with Human-Grade Ingredients” does not mean that a finished product is actually, legally, human grade either. An ingredient (let’s say, a carrot) may start off being fit for human consumption, but once that carrot has been shipped to a pet food plant and processed in accordance with regulations for feed-grade products, the ‘human-grade’ term can no longer legally be used. By definition, that carrot is now feed-grade.
In addition, even IF Orijen has the freshest ingredients, that doesn’t mean it is the freshest dog food. Pet food can legally be sold up to two years after manufacturing. How do you know how long the bag of food you purchased was sitting on the shelf in the pet supply store? Sitting in a distribution center? Sitting in a hot tractor trailer waiting to be off-loaded into a pet store? These are the intangibles that savvy dog owners need to ask themselves when choosing a food for their dog.
Side Note: Life’s Abundance is the only pet food company I know of that controls their product from manufacturing to consumer as it is made in small batches and shipped direct to consumers.
Back to Orijen.
Orijen states, “EVOLVED AS CARNIVORES, ALL DOGS ARE BIOLOGICALLY ADAPTED TO THRIVE ON A VARIED DIET OF FRESH WHOLE MEATS, WITH SMALL AMOUNTS OF FRESH FRUITS, BERRIES AND GRASSES.”
THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE. Where do they get this stuff from? Genetic studies reveal that dogs were domesticated 11,000-16,000 years ago, and have lived scrounging around on scraps discarded by humans ever since. And since we know that proteins and fats were difficult to come by for our ancestors, dogs evolved gastrointestinal tracts that are highly efficient at digesting and utilizing grains.
What happens when you take an animal that has biologically adapted itself to survive in a unique and symbiotic relationship with humans and you suddenly start feeding it something it has not evolved to eat?
You get problems. In clinic, we are seeing higher numbers of pets fed high protein and grain free diets with abnormal gut flora, higher pH of urine and increased numbers of struvite crystals in the urine. The funny thing is, when the pets are taken off these diets and switched back to standard high quality maintenance diet, the problems disappear.
On the Orijen website FAQ section, Orijen addresses questions about urinary health with this answer:
“Due to the high meat content and low magnesium content, ORIJEN is naturally acidic and helps promote a healthy bladder.
It is important that pets that are prone to urinary tract infections or developing urinary crystals are allowed all the fresh water they can drink to help flush the urinary tract and dilute the urine. As ORIJEN is much higher in protein and highly nutrient dense, more water intake may be needed to facilitate digestion. ORIJEN foods have a pH between 5.5 and 6, which is naturally mildly acidic and well suited to the maintenance of healthy bladder function in both cats and dogs.”
An acidic, concentrated urine can predispose dogs to developing calcium oxalate crystals and urinary stones. These stones can not be dissolved by diet: they must be surgically removed.As a veterinarian, I strongly caution all pet owners to research what they are feeding their pets and not believe the marketing hype.
Here is the ingredient list for the freeze dried adult dog formula:
Chicken (ground with bone)*, turkey (ground with bone)*, whole herring*, chicken liver*, chicken heart*, whole eggs*, spinach greens*, pea fiber, turkey liver*, turkey heart*, whole flounder*, ground sunflower seeds, pumpkin*, Butternut Squash*, Imperator carrots*, cranberries*, blackberries*, blueberries*, Red Delicious apples*, Bartlett pears*, Red Heart plums*, Tilton apricots*, brown kelp*, mixed tocopherols, chicory root, dandelion root, summer savory, peppermint leaf*, ginger root*.
The protein appears to be mostly animal-product based, but there are also sunflower seeds. Carbohydrate sources are squash, pumpkin, fruits and veggies.
I am not sure what ingredient is the prebiotic. If it is pea fiber that is an insoluble fiber that can have laxative effects, as a veterinarian, I don’t believe it is a good prebiotic. We are seeing a lot of problems in clinic of dogs on foods with pea fiber that are having intestinal problems such as soft stool or excessive gas.
The whole food sources and chelated forms for vitamins and minerals are good.
Again, the high level of protein and meat concerns me. Many dogs on high protein diets are having urinary problems as mentioned above.
The formula states that it has omega-3 fatty acids, but I ask what is the quality control for ensuring these fragile molecules are delivered to the pet in a bioavailable and undamaged manner? For those of you who are familiar, omega 3 molecules are very fragile, and are oxidized in the presence of light, heat, or oxygen. They actually transform from beneficial cis-fats to trans-fats.
That means if the bag of Orijen that you have purchased (for a lot of money) sat in a hot tractor trailer or warehouse before going into the pet store where you purchased it, or has sat open in your house, then the omega 3 molecules have long since oxidized and are no longer providing any benefit to your dog.
When protecting these fragile ingredients, storage, packaging and climate controlled delivery is necessary to ensure your dog is getting the nutrition he or she needs.
In addition, the ratio of Omega 6:3 is very low. I would like to see a higher amount of omega 3 FA included in the food.
You can only glean so much information from an ingredient label. There are other important questions to ask yourself when choosing a food to feed your dog:
- How are the ingredients cooked? For Orijen, this is unknown. You want to look for a food that is slow cooked at a lower temperature to preserve the integrity of the ingredients.
- Where are the ingredients sourced from? As we all learned from the deadly pet food recalls due to melamine contamination in 2007, where the ingredients come from matters. Yes, , but where do the ingredients come from? This is unknown.
- Are the rollers cleaned in between batches? If your pet has a grain sensitivity, how do you know whether Taste of the Wild is manufactured on equipment that has been cleaned? Many different types of pet food is made in one manufacturing plant, and if a food that utilizes corn or wheat has been run on the rollers then Taste of the Wild can have trace amounts of these grains in the food.
While Orijen may better than many foods out there, there are other foods available that can give similar or superior nutrition and better peace of mind for less cost.
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