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Wed, Nov. 20

You want to economize, but don't skimp on your pet's food

Your reward for good nutrition: healthy coat and body, great attitude! <br>Photo by Heidi Dahms Foster

Your reward for good nutrition: healthy coat and body, great attitude! <br>Photo by Heidi Dahms Foster

If you are used to pampering your pet, hard economic hard times are, well, hard. But there are ways to save money while providing your pet with the nutrition he needs.

The first place that many pet owners might look to economize is pet food. But that's a very bad place to start. You'll remember that old cliché, "garbage in, garbage out," and that applies very well to your pet. Dogs and cats need good food, and a variety of it, to live long, healthy lives.

Depending on your tolerance for experimentation, you can try any number of homemade or raw pet diets, but you'll have to do your research and be committed to it. Because I'm really busy, I've always depended on a good kibble as the basis of my dogs' and cats' diets. When I say "good," I mean premium. Pet foods are getting better and better, but stay away from those that contain dyes, preservatives, and especially by-products, to begin. Just because it says "healthy" on the outside of the bag doesn't mean it's healthy inside. So, just like you do with your own food, read the labels.

You might find that some of the premium foods are too rich for your dog at first, so switch slowly, mixing the old and the new. To make sure that my animals get a variety of nutrition, I alternate between three or four premium brands of kibble, buying a couple at a time and mixing as I feed.

With the kibble as a basic diet, I then change it up a couple of times a week. I have friends who have chickens and ducks, so when I get fresh eggs from them I share them with the dogs, sometimes raw, sometimes cooked. Most dogs will also readily eat cooked green beans and carrots, and some enjoy raw carrots.

I buy raw, meaty marrow bones from the pet or feed store, and I haven't had to have any of the dogs' teeth cleaned since, which, I might add, is astronomically expensive. I prefer the knuckle or marrow bones, because the dogs can't swallow them whole. Just make sure the bone fits the size of your dog. The store owner can help you decide.

Raw diets have become pretty popular in the past few years, especially for dogs with allergies, but a completely raw diet requires some real effort to balance with the proper nutrients. I find it a lot easier to alternate a raw and kibble diet. The internet has many good websites describing raw feeding and homemade diets, and a number of different schools of thought, but I keep it really simple, feeding fresh raw chicken, eggs, chicken liver and lowfat plain yogurt once or twice a week in between kibble days. I'll also add in cooked green beans, carrots, eggs, pumpkin and oatmeal when it's available (not all at once! Remember, we're keeping this simple).

I NEVER feed cooked bones to my dogs. The dogs can handle raw bones, but cooked bones splinter and then you have real trouble.

If you have been feeding the grocery store or big box store variety of food, you'll do a double take when you spot the price on your first bag of premium food. And then I'm telling you to buy fresh bones and meat. But here's the good part. Your pet's body will use more of the ingredients in a premium food, so you will feed less. And, you'll have less waste to scoop!

Do your research on your pets' food. And remember, you must take into account your pet's condition, allergies, size, and activity when feeding. For instance, I would be careful giving certain raw bones to a "gulper," although large meaty bones can often slow them down and satisfy them.

If you plan to switch diets for your pet, be sure to talk it over with your veterinarian. Whatever plan you decide to go with, your pet will benefit all around from better nutrition. And while we know you love your vets and your human doctors, less visits to their offices will certainly help your personal economy!

I would love to hear your comments about your experiences with different dog and cat foods and feeding plans, and some of things your pet enjoys eating.

Be sure to send a photo of your special pet for our photo Gallery of Pets. You can email it to me at I'll be waiting to hear from you!

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