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dog-webRISMEDIA, March 12, 2009-(MCT)-No one wants to cut back on spending for their pet- and only one out of seven of us does, according to an Associated Press survey conducted in December. But a recent Consumer Reports article suggests that expensive pet food is not necessarily more nutritional.

“I think it’s safe to say that not all inexpensive brands are bad, but there are some that pet owners should stay away from,” says Iveta Becvarova, a veterinary nutritionist with the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

Here are her tips for finding a nutritional food at the best price:

Stick to the correct life stage. Both dog and cat foods will be labeled for life stage. Puppies and pregnant animals need extra calories and fat for growth. Becvarova warns pet owners to stay away from food labeled “for all life stages,” because those blends often include too many calories for a healthy adult dog or cat. “Obesity is such a problem for animals now. Normal adult dogs really don’t need the same nutrient and calorie intake as puppies,” she says.

Look for wording about feeding trials. Every pet food package will have an American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement. This regulatory group tells consumers how the food is formulated. The statement on preferred foods will include wording about feeding trials, which means that the food has been tested on animals for digestibility and nutritional balance.

The order of ingredients matters. Labels are required to list the ingredients in weight order. The first ingredient is the one that constitutes the most weight in the formula. Becvarova says the first or second ingredient should be a protein source- water will always be first for canned foods. Quality protein sources include whole meats and chicken byproduct meal. Organ meats, such as liver, are also good. Pet owners should stay away from foods that list meat and bone meal and meat meal tankage as main ingredients.

Be careful when making your own pet food. Homemade pet food is a growing trend, but Consumer Reports experts and Becvarova warn that it’s difficult to plan a balanced diet. “There are 40 specific nutrients that your dog needs in order to have a balanced diet. Making your own food is very elaborate. It takes time, and the food is harder to store because there are no preservatives,” Becvarova says.

If you would like to make your own dog or cat food, you should work with your veterinarian and a nutritionist to set up a balanced plan. Becvarova warns that simply consulting Internet and magazine sources can be dangerous because most of the recipes do not contain all of the nutrients the animal needs. The veterinary school at Virginia Tech will work with local veterinarians to plan balanced homemade meals. To participate, ask your veterinarian to call the school at 540-231-4621. Nutritionists at the school will need to speak to the veterinarian directly to discuss the animal’s medical history and current conditions.

© 2009, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.