PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There are more than 3,000 dog foods in the United States and it is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Shiny packaging, celebrity endorsements and words like natural, fresh, and holistic are on packages and often much larger than the ingredient list on the back.

Dr. Mike Hutchinson, of Animal General Hospital in Cranberry, said the price you pay is all over the map, too.

“Is the highest priced food the best? No. Is the cheapest food the worst? No. Usually the cheapest foods have the cheapest forms of protein in it,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

So what is best for your pet? KDKA-TV’s Rick Dayton asked Dr. Hutchinson to shop for food.

He said the first thing he looks for is to guarantee that your pet food is Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved.

AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

“At least it tells me they are going to get a minimum amount of nutrition that a dog is supposed to have in that food,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

Next, you need to determine how much protein is in the food.

Protein is the most expensive ingredient, but all pets need it. Dr. Hutchinson prefers animal protein to the alternatives.

As he reads the ingredients on a bag of Purina Pro Plan Adult formula, he observed, “The first ingredient is chicken. Then, we go to brewer’s rice, whole grain wheat, poultry byproduct meal, natural source of glucosamine, corn, gluten meal, animal fat. They start with chicken. That’s a very good source of protein, so this probably is a good food,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

On the back of every bag of dry food, you’ll find a percentage of protein in the ingredient list. However, that number doesn’t tell the whole story.

Food makers add moisture during the cooking process. You’ll also find that number on the bag. Generally speaking, if you eliminate the moisture content, you’ll get a more accurate reading of the protein content.

So what’s left? Things like carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals — essential items pets must have every day.

The third major thing to consider is not on the bag. You won’t find it in the store. It is in your backyard. How well is your dog digesting the food you buy?

“When you go out and buy a general pet food and they (your dog) are going out and going four times a day, three times a day, that’s not a very efficient food,” Hutchinson said. “I would look for something that maybe two bowel movements a day would be more normal in a dog.”

Because pet food has become such a lucrative industry, some manufacturers are using gimmicks to sell more food.

“The most expensive thing in all of this food is the marketing. They are putting everything on the package to try to attract us to it,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

Some manufacturers are now making breed specific foods. Dr. Mike says don’t bite, because the food inside is much more important that the words on the package.

So what is the bottom line? What does the vet with more than a half dozen animals at home feed to his pets?

“I’m probably going to go for mid-range food. You don’t have to buy the most expensive. That doesn’t mean anything,” Dr. Hutchinson said.

He also said there needs to be much more to a food than fancy packaging and a good advertising campaign.

“That may just mean they put the most money into the marketing into the bag,” Dr. Hutchinson said.


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