Shopping for Your Dog: When to Splurge and When to Save

Dog with toys
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Every year I attend the world’s largest pet-industry trade show, Global Pet Expo. Thousands of pet products are on display in a hall so large that if it weren’t for the aisle numbers hanging from the ceiling, you might need your smartphone’s GPS to keep from getting lost.

While you can find the latest in products for hamsters or snakes — or even chickens — at Global Pet, the majority of products are aimed at people who share their lives with dogs and cats. Cats get a lot of attention at Global Pet, but the real top dog when it comes to the retail pet industry?

Dogs, of course.

We’ve come a long way from a bowl, a collar, a leash and maybe an outdoor dog house, haven’t we? Some of the things we buy for our dogs are so silly that we don’t even try to pretend they’re necessities. But a lot of products really could go either way. How do you know what's necessary and what isn't — and when to splurge and when to save? Are there alternatives to high-end options that are at least as good at a fraction of the cost? My answer: Sometimes yes, sometimes no — it depends on what we're talking about. Here's a quick rundown of basics for your dog and some advice about when you can — and cannot — cut corners.

Food

Many pet owners wonder if their dog needs “organic,” “natural” or even “kosher” food. The answer: probably not. As a veterinarian, the words I look for are “complete and balanced." And then I look for high-quality ingredients, primarily meat with a name, such as “turkey.” And while “natural” is just a marketing term, “organic” is a specific label, legally defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Be sure you understand what you’re buying so you can determine how much more you want to pay for something that may not add anything to the food’s nutritional value.

When people ask me to recommend a food for their dog, I tell them that there has never been a greater variety of outstanding choices. And then I ask questions to see what’s the best fit, both financially and in terms of meeting the health needs of the individual dog. Regular wellness checks, with routine diagnostics, are essential to knowing what your dog’s true health status is and what food is best for him. In the end, the best food for your dog may be the one sold only by your veterinarian, particularly if your pet has any chronic health problems. It’s important to have a discussion with your veterinarian: Whether you shop at a pet supply store, a grocery store or a bargain center, your veterinarian can recommend a product in your price range with high-quality ingredients.

Verdict: Worth spending more for better-quality ingredients. Discuss with your veterinarian.

Apparel

How much bling does a dog need? From colorful collars and cute ID tags to designer sweaters with matching purses (to ride in, not to carry), there is virtually no end to the wardrobe your dog can have. But if you’re tight on funds, this is one area where it pays to pick and choose. What are the necessities? A well-made collar with a snap-together connection, a simple ID tag to go with your pet’s microchip and a comfortable 6-foot leash. As for sweaters and other canine clothing, some dogs actually do benefit, but these items are optional for most pets.

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