There are hundreds of different dog food products on the market. You can choose from dry kibble, wet food, fresh dog food and even raw food diets. Each type of food has dozens of brands to choose from, and the more expensive brands can be up to 3 times as costly as the cheapest varieties! Is expensive dog food worth it?
What's the reason one dog food brand can cost three times more than the other? Is the higher price tag really worth it? You almost need a college degree to wade through all the dog food options and find the best food brand for your money. While anyone can slap a “premium” or “best” sticker on their dog food, it is what’s inside that counts.
Over the last decade, there's been a lot of research done on commercial pet foods and how they affect our dogs, why they cost as much as they do, and which ones are the safest for our canine companions. However, many dog owners still struggle to find what exactly is best for their pets and how best to feed them based on nutritional requirements.
Is Expensive Dog Food Worth It?
Unfortunately, the pet food industry is still fairly young and highly unregulated. According to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), any dog food manufacturer can put the words “premium” or “complete” on their dog food container, and it means nothing.
In other words, it doesn’t have to be true. “Natural” is as good as “Premium” and as good as “This Food is Bad for Your Dog” labels. They have no value.
The only terms regulated by the FDA, Food and Drug Administration (Pet Food Labels as per FDA) and USDA, United States Department of Agriculture (Organic pet food labels as per USDA) are the “Organic” dog food labels. This is good news for pet owners because they can be sure that organic dog food brands are actually made with 100% organic ingredients.
Ultimately, if you are buying prepackaged commercial dog food, you need to know how to read the labels. I'm going to go over the basics of a label, but if you want more in-depth information, read this article on dog food label reading.
The first thing you need to look at is the ingredient list. You want the food to have a variety of red meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and grains. The ingredients are listed in order of their content percentage in the recipe. The protein source should ALWAYS be the first ingredient in the list.
2. Artificial Ingredients
Dogs can have allergies just like people. You want to avoid foods that have artificial flavors and colors added. It may look and smell better to you, but that doesn’t make it better for your pet.
The fewer preservatives, and other artificial ingredients, the fewer things to be allergic or sensitive to. You want the food to be as natural as possible, within your budget.
Dog food labels contain the percent of nutrients in a serving. For example, one dog food may contain 30% protein in a serving while another contains only 20% protein in a serving.
By reading and comparing labels you can see how much bang you are getting for your buck. Cheaper may not be a better value in the long run, and more expensive may not be better food.
Another important thing to remember is more is not always better. A dog can only benefit from a certain amount of protein, fat, vitamins, etc, and any more than that can actually cause health problems.
Your Dog's Nutritional Needs
If you're wondering is expensive dog food worth it, you to understand your dog’s nutritional needs and calorie requirements. A dog’s needs are not that different from human nutritional requirements. They include:
- Protein – 22% to 35% per serving – There are many diseases and disorders that can be caused by a lack of protein. Some signs that your dog is not getting enough protein are dry/brittle fur, lethargy from anemia, poor muscle mass, growth issues, and frequent illness from a weekend immune system.
- Healthy Fats – 10% to 40% per serving – You want to make sure he gets a food high in healthy fats. If your dog is not getting enough healthy fats, he can have a dull coat, dry/red eyes, dry/itchy skin, or joint problems.
- Carbohydrates – 5% to 15% per serving – Dogs need carbs for energy. The more active your dog is, the more energy he needs, thus the more carbs he needs. Vice versa, if your dog is lazy and sleeps a lot, the fewer carbs his body requires.
- Vitamins and Minerals – The amounts of vitamins and minerals that a dog needs vary. Most dog nutritionists agree, if a dog is eating a well-balanced food, then he is getting the vitamins and minerals he needs.
If you're interested in finding out exactly where your dog falls in this nutritional range, I recommend you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist.
How To Save Even More Money
A dog owner has to remember that better food means fewer illness. That means savings on vet bills. Also, while your dog gets better nutrition with a variety of foods in a serving, he does not need different foods every day. In fact, it is best to feed your dog the same thing every day.
Changes in diet can lead to diarrhea and vomiting. If you need to change foods, slowly mix in the new food with the old food so that the amount of old food decreases every day for a few days until it is no longer being fed at all. For this reason, it is best to find a dog food that has all the nutrition your pet needs in one package.
You can talk to your vet about what food is best for your dog, but remember, they will probably recommend food they sell in their office. Veterinarians make money from these items, so they'll likely try to push it on you.
You might be able to find dog food with the same ingredients for a better price at another retailer. You might even be able to find the exact same thing at another retailer for a lower price. So, while it is important to talk to your vet about your pup's specific nutritional needs, do not feel pressured to buy the food for sale in their office.
Don’t forget, owning a dog costs a lot, and when you have to stick to a budget you need to make sure you are checking for savings. Is expensive dog food worth it? Most often, yes. But you can find some savings to make it worth it.
You can get coupons on manufacturer websites and couponing sites that make better quality foods close to the same price as lesser quality foods. Also, many chain pet stores have rewards programs where you can save and get coupons on the dog food brands that they sell. It may only be $1 here and there, but those savings will add up over time.