Are pricey pet foods really better? Read these tips on finding the best food to fit your budget. | Entertainment/Life

Picking the right dog or cat food can be a daunting task. With all of the options out there, and in this age of organic and specialty choices — I mean, there is a refrigerated section for dog food now — how is one to know what is best for their pet?

Regardless of which dog food you buy, it is important to know that dry food is essential to a pet’s health and for keeping teeth and gums in good condition.

While those pretty little packages of wet food may look appealing and are often gulped down by pets, they still must have dry, hard food.

So, which food is best, and does expensive mean better? Here are some things to consider:

READ THE INGREDIENTS: The first ingredients should consist of meat (chicken, beef, turkey, salmon). That is usually followed by a long list, including preservatives. Do not let preservatives deter you — we eat them, too, and they are what give the product its shelf life.

However, meat byproducts and corn should not be one of the first three ingredients.

EXTRAS: The more expensive foods usually contain extra oils, including salmon oil, and fatty acids that help a pet’s coat as well as general health.

Those with more than one or two pets, especially large dogs, may not want to shell out the cash to buy large quantities of these expensive foods. However, this type of food can be bought in smaller quantities and mixed with a pet’s regular food to enhance it.

CHANGING FOODS: It is important, however, never to change a pet’s food overnight. Sudden changes in diet can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea. When making a switch to a new food, do it gradually by adding a little of the new food to the current food until the desired mix ratio is met, or until the new food has completely replaced the old.

BASICS, PLUS: Most of the major national brand foods (Purina, Pedigree, etc.) generally give a pet what he needs, and these foods can always be enhanced with salmon oil, probiotics, fatty acids and/or oils — the ingredients that make the expensive foods so pricey.

Even fresh-steamed snap beans, cut-up carrots, pumpkin and frozen or fresh peas all add nutritional value to a packaged dry food. But again, make these changes gradually so the pet’s stomach is eased into these new foods.

SPECIAL CARE: If your pet has special dietary needs, consult with your veterinarian to decide what food is best. Both of my dogs are on prescription diets, one for kidney care and the other because he needs to lose a few pounds.

CHECK THE PACKAGE: Regardless of what kind of food you decide to buy, make sure to check the date on the packaging before buying, and once home, examine the food to make sure no bugs are inside. All it takes is one microscopic hole in the bag and bugs can get in.

STORAGE: If the pet food is stored in a plastic bin, make sure to scrub out that bin at least once a month. Oils are absorbed into the plastic and can gradually spoil whatever goes into the bin.

Traci D. Howerton is the volunteer coordinator for Animal Rescue New Orleans, a nonprofit, volunteer-based, no-kill shelter. For more info on ARNO, visit www.animalrescueneworleans.org.

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