GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Talk about choices. Man's best friend has never had more when it comes to what's for dinner.
"It's a huge market, billions of dollars a year and a ton of competition," Veterinarian Dr. Lisa Lindesmith said when it comes to the topic of dog food.
In 2010 Americans spent more than $48 billion on pet products, that's three times as much money as we spent in bookstores.
To say dog food is big business is stating the obvious. But, what we all really want to know is: do we have to break the bank and buy the most expensive dog food to better a dog's health or is the cheap stuff just as good?
"You can spend a lot, you can spend a little, with a few tools you can learn what to look for in a bag and make a few choices to help you do a great job at feeding your pet," University of Minnesota Veterinary Nutritionist Dr. Julie Churchill says.
Tool number one agreed on by all of our experts is to make sure the dog food you give your pet has the American Association of Feed Control Officials nutritional adequacy statement listed on the dog food bag.
There are two different types.
The first says on the bag that the food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO.
The other says that animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that the food provides complete and balanced nutrition.
These statements are the industry standard but what doesn't make sense is that these statements can be anywhere on the food bag, in any font and any size. Too often it's too hard to even find.
But by law it must be there.
"They are legally bound to have that claim on the bag," Dr. Churchill said.
"If they don't have an AAFCO statement for sure run away," Dr. Lindesmith stated.
After finding that claim determing what is best food is murky.
"There is a lot of middle ground, it really just depends on what you are comfortable with. There are a lot of good healthy foods out there and they don't have to be $80 a bag," Jimmy Mallard, manager of Chuck & Don's Pet Food Outlet in Minneapolis said.
Yes, the price on dog foods varies widely.
A 30-40 pound bag can range anywhere from about $15 to as much as $80 or $90.
Why that is also varies. But one reason is quality of ingredients.
Another one is marketing; fancy packaging and heavy advertising of a dog food can jack up a price.
Tricks of the trade right now are negative claims.
Using phrases like "grain-free" and marketing all protein as better for dogs is common, but it is not a universal truth.
While dogs do need twice as much protein as humans they also need carbohydrates and those are found in grains.
"Dogs are omnivores like we are so they can use plant proteins biochemically in the body just as well as animal proteins. Nothing wrong with grains in food or carbs or anything like that," Dr. Lindesmith said.
This is important to note because many of the higher priced foods fall into this grain-free/heavy protein category and most dogs just don't need that.
In fact many of these foods have a calorie count that is three times higher than that in mainstream foods and overweight dogs are the furthest thing from healthy.
Today, more than 35-percent of dogs are overweight and obesity in a dog cuts at least two years off of their lifespan.
The fact of the matter is the great foods for your dog aren't hard to find.
"You can go to the grocery store and get a great product," Dr. Churchill said.
You just have to do your due diligence.
Check for the AAFCO statement and buy a food made for your dog. If it's a puppy, get puppy food and if it's a big dog that exercises a lot go for a higher calorie count. You should also follow the feed directions on the bag.
But buyer beware, just because it costs a bundle that doesn't mean it does a nutritional bundle.
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