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Zorro, a Llewellin Setter, eats a high-quality food to prevent digestive upset.

When it comes to picking out the proper food for a dog or cat, there is no easy choice. Perusing the shelves of endless brands and flavors of food at the pet store can be overwhelming to someone who isn’t familiar with how to pick the right choice for their pet.

According to Dr. Aaron Bessmer of Elk Creek Animal Hospital, one thing to keep in mind when shopping for pet food is price.

“Basically, when it comes to food, you get what you pay for,” he said. “The cheaper the food, the cheaper the ingredients and, chances are, the shorter the life of the dog or cat.”

This is because cheaper foods are made with fewer quality ingredients than their more expensive counterparts. Unhealthy fillers are also used to make lesser quality foods seem more appetizing.

“One of the most important things you can do for your pet is take care of their nutrition. Dogs will more readily eat the less healthy food because it’s sugar, salt and fat,” he said. “Just like giving a kid a candy bar compared to a balanced meal.”

Advertisements are deceiving, Bessmer added. Well-known doesn’t equal healthy.

“Just because a company advertises a lot doesn’t mean they’re good,” he said. “Actually, most of the cheap brands advertise the most.”

More important than the brand or any claims on the front of the packaging, the ingredients list is a good place to start when choosing a food.

The ingredients in pet food are listed the same way as human food -- from the most prominent ingredients to least. A shorter list with familiar ingredients is often the best bet. And the infamous B-word (by-products) isn’t a bad one, either.

“By-products get a bad rap,” Bessmer said. “In the wild, the first thing an animal eats when they kill something is the by-product, the guts. It’s also got the most nutrients.”

Unless an animal has a specific grain allergy, buying grain-free food is an unnecessary additional expense, Bessmer noted.

“There’s been a big push in the past five or six years for grain-free food, kind of like a diet fad, but animals have done really well on grain,” he said.

Read labels carefully to find both where the food was made and where the ingredients came from.

“It’s best if the ingredients come from the U.S. and the food is made in America,” Bessmer noted. “With Chinese ingredients, there usually isn’t as much care taken with the product as there is in America or Europe.”

As far as new trends in pet food, Bessmer is split.

“Raw is dangerous, mainly for bacterial reasons,” he said. “A make-at-home diet can be good if you know what you’re doing and you know your pet is getting enough nutrients.”

Purchasing food that is proper for the pet’s breed and lifestyle is important for maintaining well-being.

“Most animals after they’ve been spayed or neutered need to be on a light food because their metabolism slows down,” Bessmer said. “If in doubt, always ask your vet what kind of food your pet should be on specifically.”

Dry food is also preferred over canned food due to the way it cleans the teeth. Pets that eat canned food exclusively need to have their teeth brushed frequently.

“Most animals only need dry food,” he said. “Canned is great as a treat. It has its place, but it’s not what I would feed as a primary diet for most healthy animals.”

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