Feeding Bo doesn't need to break the Obamas' bank

Consumer Reports News: April 16, 2009 10:57 AM

Since they first moved into the White House, we've waited in anticipation for the arrival of the First Dog. Now that Bo is settling in, the Obamas should keep in mind that food fit for a presidential dog doesn't have to break the bank, but they shouldn't cut corners either. A December 2008 survey found that just one in seven pet owners said they had cut spending on their pet during the past year, even as they cut other expenses.

We recently asked eight experts for pet food nutrition advice and came up with some helpful tips for the First Dog, and for your pet too:

Pricey doesn't mean better. Avoid buying pet food because of the high price, pretty packaging, or fancy name. Pets can thrive on inexpensive food or become ill from pricey food. If your dog is active and healthy, you've chosen the right food.

Homemade food can cut costs, but be sure it meets your pet's nutritional needs. Dogs and cats each require about 40 different nutrients in very specific proportions. If you're making your own pet food, take a  look at balanceit.com or petdiets.com for more on homemade food and your pet's health. And if you have a little extra money to spend, consider finding an animal nutritionist through the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Wet or dry? Our experts say there's no nutritional difference, but the costs vary. Wet foods contain about 75 percent water, so you'll need to buy more to get the same calories as in dry food. The experts we spoke to said the decision usually comes down to price, convenience, the pet's preference, and any health issues.

Don't buy into claims. For pet food, there's no official definition of organic, human-grade, premium, no fillers, or gourmet. So, no need to spend more for these claims, unless there's a real health concern. Gluten-free foods are generally necessary only for the tiny percentage of pets that are intolerant of that protein. And 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 were split on whether you need to look for them.

Ginger Skinner

Read more from our interview with vets, find out what the labels mean on pet food, and watch our video (above) for more ways to save on pet food.

Image: whitehouse.gov

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