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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Food

Higher price no guarantee of pet food's quality

et parents who feed their dogs and cats more expensive food could be wasting their money because research indicates higher price is no assurance of better quality.

Pet food that costs more may contain better ingredients, but more expensive also could mean prettier packaging, more marketing and a fancy name, according to Consumer Reports magazine.

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"It's ... important to know that you don't have to choose the most expensive food to get what's best for your pet," Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor at Consumer Reports, states in a media release. "Look for food labeled 'complete and balanced,' which indicates it can be the pet's sole nourishment."

In its March issue, Consumer Reports reveals the results of a survey it conducted with eight experts in dog and cat nutrition at seven top veterinary schools. The experts were asked what consumers get by spending more for pet food and what they served their own pets. Most of the experts said they use a variety of common brands sold at pet stores or supermarkets.

Hirsh advises pet owners to look for labels stating that the food's nutritional adequacy has been validated by animal-feeding tests based on protocols from the American Association of Feed Control Officials, a regulatory group. That statement is a step above the other one that AAFCO allows - that a food was formulated to meet the group's nutrient profiles.

"In addition, make sure the package has contact information for the food's manufacturer in case you have questions," Hirsh said.

A pet's special needs should be considered when choosing food, Consumer Reports states. For example, pets with kidney or urinary problems might benefit from the moisture in wet food while animals with dental issues might do better with dry food.

Age is also an important consideration, Consumer Reports states. Age-specific food is important for puppies, kittens and pregnant pets, who have especially stringent nutritional needs. Foods labeled either "for growth" or "for all life stages" meet those needs. Foods "for maintenance" are for healthy adult animals only, but "senior" is a marketing term as opposed to a nutritional term.

Pet parents also should consider the price and benefits of wet versus dry food, Consumer Reports advises. Dry and wet foods have no nutritional difference, but wet food costs more. It contains about 75 percent water, so a pet needs to eat more of it to get the same calories as in dry food.


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