Consumer Reports contains a petfood report with a firm grasp of the obvious. - Tim Phillips

The March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports contains a petfood report with a firm grasp of the obvious. Its conclusion: "When it comes to buying petfood, higher cost doesn't always mean higher quality."

Who can argue with that? It's true of all products and services. But, the article doesn't tell pet owners how to find higher quality petfood options.

Eight experts speak

Consumer Reports asked eight experts in dog and cat nutrition at seven US veterinary schools what consumers get by spending more for petfood. (The publication declined to identify the experts by name.) They were also asked what they served their own pets. Most said they use a variety of common brands sold at pet stores or supermarkets.

The bottom line, says Consumer Reports : It's more important to look for the overall nutrient profile of a particular petfood brand than it is to shop by price or even individual ingredients. However, the publication gives no clue as to what profile to look for.

"Your main goal is to ensure your animal is active and healthy," says Jamie Hirsh, associate health editor at Consumer Reports . "That suggests the food you're buying is doing its job. But it's also important to know you don't have to choose the most expensive food to get what's best for your pet. Look for food labeled complete and balanced,' which indicates it can be the pet's sole nourishment."

Validating adequacy

Hirsh advises pet owners to look for labels stating that the food's nutritional adequacy was validated by animal-feeding tests based on protocols from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a regulatory group. That statement is a step above the other one that AAFCO allows-that a food was formulated to meet the group's nutrient profiles, notes Hirsh. "In addition, make sure the package has contact information for the food's manufacturer, in case you have questions," Hirsh says.

Hirsch adds that consumers should also take into consideration the age of the pet and whether he or she has special needs. For example, cats with kidney or urinary problems might benefit from the moisture in wet food, while animals with dental issues might do better with dry food.

The meaning of labels

For petfood, there's no official definition of natural, human-grade, premium, no fillers or gourmet. Gluten-free foods are generally necessary only for the tiny percentages of pets that are intolerant of that protein. There's some evidence that antioxidants-such as vitamin E-and some omega-3 fatty acids might enhance pets' immunity or help protect against certain diseases, but the experts interviewed by Consumer Reports were split on whether consumers need to look for them.

Expert advice

Fortunately, the expert remarks from the article were sound. Those interviewed by Consumer Reports advised pet owners to be extracareful about feeding homemade diets, to feed age-specific petfoods and consider the costs of feeding wet versus dry products. For details click here .

Be aware

So there you have it. The report may lack substance, but it's good for petfood company people to be aware of it. There will be questions.