When it comes to buying pet food, higher cost doesn't always mean higher quality, according to the March issue of Consumer Reports. A higher price could indicate better ingredients and better quality control during and after manufacturing, but it could also just mean prettier packaging, more marketing, or a fancy name. And despite food safety concerns that resulted from a recall of pet food tainted with melamine in 2007, Consumer Reports urges caution for consumers who are considering making their own pet food, a growing trend.
The full report is available in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.
Consumer Reports asked eight experts in dog and cat nutrition at seven top veterinary schools what consumers get by spending more for pet food. They were also asked what they served their own pets: Most of the experts said they use a variety of common brands sold at pet stores or supermarkets.
A recent survey by the Associated Press found that although Americans may be spending less on themselves, they're not scrimping on their pets. According to the survey, just one in seven pet owners said they had curtailed spending on their pet during the past year, even as they cut back on other expenses.
Thirty-seven percent of U.S. households have dogs, and 32 percent have cats. But because of multi-cat households, felines outnumber canines: As of 2007, there were almost 82 million cats and 72 million dogs.
The bottom line, says Consumer Reports: It's more important to look for the overall nutrient profile of a particular pet food brand than it is to shop by price or even individual ingredients. "As a pet owner, your main goal is to ensure that your animal is active and healthy," says Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor at Consumer Reports. "That suggests that the food you're buying is doing its job. But it's also important to know that you don't have to choose the most expensive food to get what's best for your pet. Look for food labeled 'complete and balanced,' which indicates it can be the pet's sole nourishment."
Hirsh advises pet owners to look for labels stating that the food's nutritional adequacy was 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 says.
Consumers should also take into consideration the age of their pet and whether he or she has special needs. For example, cats with kidney or urinary problems might benefit from the moisture in wet food, while animals with dental issues might do better with dry food.
What Pet-Food Labels Really Mean
For pet food, there's no official definition of organic, human-grade, premium, no fillers, or gourmet. Gluten-free foods are generally necessary only for the tiny percentages of pets that are intolerant of that protein. There's some evidence that antioxidants – such as vitamin E – and some omega-3 fatty acids might enhance pets' immunity or help protect against certain diseases, but the experts interviewed by Consumer Reports were split on whether consumers need to look for them.
Consumer Reports recommends that consumers educate themselves about pet food labeling, which is mostly defined by AAFCO, which sets standards for pet food manufacturing. Here are some examples:
What Consumers Can Do
The experts also offered this advice to pet owners:
About This Article
© Consumers Union 2009. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.