Sit. Fetch. Eat Organic.

Recent growth in natural and organic food sales in the pet industry parallels a rising rate of these sales for humans.

No one knows why for sure, but everyone seems to agree: eventually, pets and their owners start to look alike. There is no formalproof to this phenomenon, pet-owner look-alike contests notwithstanding. However, as natural products marketers, we are seeing a similar phenomenon emerge in the pet food category: Pets and their owners are eating more alike.

I may not be as cute as my 2-year-old Bichon Frise, Chessa, but I do share some of her dietary selections: Organic foods? Check. Raw foods? Check. (Does sushi count?) Grain-free? Well, my body feels better when I limit my gluten.

It’s often held that our pets are a reflection of our inner selves, so the choices I make on Chessa’s behalf are really a reflection of how I see myself. Turns out, my family is not alone in consciously rearing our canine companion. When opting for natural and organic products at the checkout line, consumers across North America are making values-based choices for their entire family, pets included. Organic and natural pet products provide conscientious pet owners the opportunity to give their companions the highest quality nourishment and raise healthy and happy pets.

Recent growth in natural and organic food sales in the pet industry parallels a rising rate of these sales for humans. In 2011 alone, natural and organic accounted for 7% of the $19.53 billion in pet food sales, totaling $1.37 billion. By most accounts, this growth is expected to continue in the coming years.

When browsing the aisles of their markets and pet stores, shoppers like me are looking for key labels such as “Organic” and “Human Grade” as markers of food that they will feel confident serving to their pets. But with so many illegitimate claims and misrepresentations, it’s easy to get swayed by emotion when making pet nutrition purchases. As you may know, USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) currently lacks the legal authority to regulate “organic” label claims on pet food, except when pet food operations voluntarily choose to meet organic food standards, gain NOP certification and use the USDA Organic seal.

Whether motivated by a need for assurance of safety, or caught up in the anthropomorphizing of pets, consumers aren’t the only ones who feel our companions deserve equal gastronomic consideration. Owners of pet food companies like EvermorePetcureanNummy Tum Tum and Claudia’s Canine Cuisine feel so strongly about proving product integrity that they themselves eat their products. With ingredients like pheasant, pumpkin, quinoa, duck and butternut squash, I’d even consider trying it on a dare.

The evidence of a growing trend toward natural and USDA certified organic for pets leads me to believe that organic pet food producers like Karma OrganicWenaewePetGuardCastor & Pollux and Newman’s Own are in a unique position to thrive in the current market, but they have to overcome confusion due to lack of regulatory oversight.

The pet industry in the past years has proven itself to be recession-proof. Even when consumers will cut their own personal expenses, it does not affect their willingness to buy the best product for their pets. In 2010, 62% of pet owners report spending less in general, however only 36% are cutting back in spending for their pets. Despite a plateau in growth of general organic sales, the natural and organic market for pet products is steadily expanding.

The managing editor of PetfoodIndustry.com, Jessica Taylor, said that when she began at the online magazine four years ago, pet food industry trends lagged human trends by at least one year. Now the industry is six months behind or less. The gap between human and pet trends is closing, with the appearance of raw food diets, vitamin water, supplements and eco-friendly products — all for pets – coming close on the heels of their human counterpart. As we look at human trends that have developed over the last year, we have to imagine the pet version will be close behind.

iPaw, anyone?