Designer Pet Foods & High Price

If the ingredients match & the analysis looks as good, why pay more? Because you won’t get what you don’t pay for.



I read an article in last week’s paper that got me to thinking about how much money I spend feeding my animals. The article talked about “designer” pet foods and said that regular food like Dog Chow was just as good but that a lot of people buy the pricier food because it’s recommended by their vet. Isn’t it really all the same?


Dr. Nichol:

I wish more people asked this question. There is an enormous number of pet foods available nowadays. Whether you buy it in the supermarket, pet supply store, veterinary hospital, or health food store there are way too many choices. With our lives in America getting as complicated and busy as they are, it should be a lot simpler. I will do that for you now.


The first point is the type of food. In other words should you feed hard dry, canned, or the semi moist stuff that comes in the cellophane packages. The answer to that unless you have been given a medical reason, never feed anything but hard dry food. It’s healthier for the teeth and gums than soft food and it’s much cheaper to feed. If you need convincing note that dry food is about 13% moisture (water) while canned food is 75% moisture. Semi moist is somewhere between them. Add to that the additional cost of packaging (about .25 for the can itself) and you begin to see that dry is the only way to go. And for those pets who refuse dry food, I would forget lecturing them on the importance of healthy teeth. Kids these days never listen anyway. They got no respect.


O.K. what about senior, less active, and light diets. While there are pets who need a special food for weight loss or for management of an age related problem the diets available at the grocery or pet supply store are only slightly different than the regular stuff. Only the prescription foods that your veterinarian has are going to make a significant difference for pets who are overweight or geriatric. So what is left is regular dry pet food-in a million different brands and prices.


Now the informed pet lover feels an obligation to read the ingredients and nutritional analysis on the bag and compare brands. This would seem to make sense but the pet food manufacturers are way ahead of you. They know that with sleight of hand they can word their list of ingredients to appear to outclass the others AND beat the competition on price. And if that weren’t enough they provide you the nutritional analysis, you know, the percent of protein, carbohydrates-everything a healthy pet needs in the greatest quantity possible-right? It’s enough to give a normal person a headache.


Well, here’s how it works. If you are a cheap pet food company bent on making a quick buck you can design an impressive label listing great ingredients and high percentages of protein. Then you find the cheapest sources  possible. Does it matter to the health of pets? You bet it does. In our hospital we see pets fed every diet you’ve ever heard of and many whose names we hear only once. Poor quality food results in rough hair coats, soft stools, poor exercise tolerance, and sometimes the inability to maintain normal weight. On the other hand, the genuinely excellent diets not only prevent these problems, these pets stay energetic much later in their lives. They just seem to feel better.


So how do you know which foods are worth feeding and which are just a lot of hype? Price. It’s really that simple. If a diet is really highly digestible with truly high quality nutrients, it cannot be possible to produce it at a bargain price. You will not get what you don’t pay for. So who can afford the highest priced food? Anybody-here’s why. One way to make a seemingly good quality pet food at a low price is to add fillers like wheat hulls. The bag really weighs what it says-but it’s not really all food. Since the body knows how much bioavailable calories it needs, your pet will require a lot more volume just to get the necessary calories. So if she’s eating more volume, your going to buy food much more often than if you fed the good stuff. The bottom line is that your expenses for pet food will be about the same over the long term whether you feed higher priced excellent food or cheaper food that claims to be just as good. And while your long term cost is about the same the health of your pets will be much better if you choose higher quality food. So cheap is not better. Better is better. And you really cannot get the best for less. The pet food business is really competitive. If the makers of the better diets could produce their foods for less money they would.