Pet Talk: Creative ways to save on pet food, snacks

September 1, 2010

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

Occasionally, money can get a little tight from time to time, no matter whom you are or what your situation. For those of us who own pets, we want to still make sure they are not neglected and remain in good care during these times.

This poses the question: Are pricier products worth the extra dough?

As consumers, we want to make sure we always get the best bang for our buck, even when shopping for our pets. Whether it be food, toys or training supplies, which ingredients/materials are most important when trying to go with a more cost-conscious or generic brand?

“If you are referring to any general product, I would have to look at quality versus monetary value,” said Dr. M.A. Crist, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“For any pet owner, it is an individual decision to feed kibble, canned diets, semi-moist, all-natural or homemade food, and I recommend input from your veterinarian,” said Crist.

Numerous different ingredients are required for a puppy, kitten, dog or cat’s wholesome health, and it is important these are provided for them so they continue to grow and thrive.

“If one is unsure of what to feed, then it is best to remain with the big commercial name-brand manufacturers because most of these companies have used feeding trials to test their foods,” explains Crist.

The best foods are usually tested in actual feeding trials and not by nutritional analysis alone. Crist explains that one can look for the words “complete and balanced nutrition” on the product, which is a statement that explains the food has been tested “for all life stages” of the feline and canine.

If you are a dog owner, chances are you have figured out by now that your pup most likely prefers the deliciousness that canned food has to offer. However, dry kibble is usually the less expensive choice, as well as being easier to handle.

It can also be a good idea to try to buy in bulk and search for any possible coupons or sales that are going on.

“It is very important that a feline’s diet contains taurine because research has linked taurine deficiency in cats to fatal heart disease,” said Crist.

Crist explained that commercial name-brand companies do usually provide higher quality grade ingredients, but it is still important to read the label and make sure it reads “complete for all life stages” and has the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which helps to govern quality control.

When looking for cheaper alternatives, when you are low on cash, or when you are simply too lazy at the moment to go and pick up some food for your pet, some people are tempted to share their food with their animals in place of pet food.

“It is important to go easy with ‘people food,’ and one has to be mindful that these cannot replace the balanced diet of the cat or dog,” said Crist.

Foods made for cats are formulated to contain the vitamins, minerals and amino acids a cat needs for good health, which is why it is important to feed them cat food. But if one is looking for an occasional delicacy for their cat, Crist recommends trying small bits of cheese or cooked tuna, chicken, fish or liver.

“Carrots are a snack that sometimes we humans enjoy that can be fed to a dog, along with broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and zucchini,” said Crist.

If you have a picky or more pampered pooch and would like to try out some homemade recipes, petdiets.com and balanceit.com are two websites that have some great ideas.

“I do have a quick recipe that I use to make quick-and-easy cookies for some of my canine patients,” Crist said. “They are fun, very easy and dogs love them!”

Dog cookie recipe

3 (2 1/2 ounces each) jars of baby food; either beef or chicken

1/4 cup to 1/2 cup wheat germ or cream of wheat

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well. Roll into small balls, and place on well-greased cookie sheet. Flatten slightly with a fork or flatten and cut with a small cookie cutter. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes until brown. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate to keep fresh or freeze.

“A quick kitty recipe that I have used that has been passed around is this kitty recipe. It is very ‘fishy,’ but cats like them.”

Kitty snack recipe

7 ounces mashed sardines

1/4 cup dry non-fat milk

1/2 cup wheat germ

Combine all ingredients and roll into small balls. Place on greased cookie sheet and flatten with a fork. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes until brown. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate to keep fresh or freeze.

Going green for your pet is another possible alternative when looking to save a few bucks.

“Catnip makes a fine low-calorie feline treat that most cats will love,” said Crist.

Both catnip and “cat grass,” which is essentially a cereal grass similar to wheat or oats, are easy to grow in a sunny window or purchased from a store either dry or fresh.

“Always be sure that the plant you are offering your furry feline is safe for them, but do not be alarmed if your cat regurgitates the kitty grass that can be bought in-stores; some will do this, and it is nothing to be alarmed by,” said Crist.

If your cat is, in fact, regurgitating the kitty grass, the catnip should suffice.

If any questions arise about the safety of a plant, refer to the ASPCA’s website for more information or follow this link http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants/.

If it is believed the feline or any other animal might have eaten a dangerous plant, call your veterinarian immediately, or contact the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

Another good tip for dog owners might be to cut down on the number of unnecessary treats given throughout the day. Instead, try ice cubes or bones that will last longer than a treat. This will help save you money, as well as help any canines who are a little overweight.

So, if you find yourself in a period where you are pinching pennies, remember there are always alternatives and options that can help keep you and your pet healthy and happy.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

From the Sept. 1-7, 2010 issue

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