“What is the best quality dog food for the money?” is a question asked by almost every dog owner in the country. Pet nutrition, no matter the species, can be a hot topic among guardians. If you look on any pet-centric forum on the Internet, you can watch arguments about food break out before your eyes. People often feel very strongly about their choices when it comes to dog nutrition. Because not every guardian has the flexibility in budget that allows for super-premium varieties, it’s important that you understand how to find the best one that you can afford. Here’s what you need to know:
Types of Food
There are four types of commercially produced pet foods on the market today: grocery, premium, super-premium and prescription. These choices can further be broken down into three varieties: moist, semi-moist and dry. Alternatively, some guardians choose to feed their dogs a raw diet or one that is home-cooked. It is generally recommended by veterinarians that dogs are fed at least some dry kibble or treats to help keep their teeth clean. If you choose a moist option, be sure to add raw meaty bones or crunchy biscuits to your dog’s diet.
When we talk about “grocery” dog foods, we’re talking about those that you can find in the aisles of your local supermarket or big box store. Brands like Alpo, Bil-Jac, Old Roy, Purina, Pedigree, Iams, Rachel Ray Nutrish and Mighty Dog are considered grocery brands. Prices will vary depending on where you live, but you can reasonably expect to pay between 0.45 cents and $1.50 per pound for dry varieties. Within the grocery category, cans of wet food are typically less than $1.50 per can and semi-moist varieties cost about 0.65 cents per pound.
Premium dog foods use higher quality protein sources than their grocery variety counterparts. Manufacturers refrain from using artificial dyes but do add antioxidants and additional vitamins. These varieties are often more digestible for your pet, resulting in fewer and smaller stools. Brands in the premium category include Purina One, Nature’s Recipe, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul, California Natural, Nutro and Science Diet, among others. Prices for premium dry foods often range from $2.00 per pound to $2.50 per pound.
Super-premium varieties are the premium choices of yesterday. Many of these foods have an updated, improved list of ingredients that set them apart from the competitors. Proteins are listed as the first several ingredients and you won't find any grains on the label. Many of these varieties can be found with unique sources of protein; important for dogs with food allergies. It’s not unusual to find kangaroo, bison and even rabbit as the protein sources in super-premium varieties. Blue Buffalo, Wellness, Merrick, Innova, EVO, Fromm and Evanger’s are brands included in this category.
Super-premium foods can be difficult to afford for many people. It’s not unusual to pay between $3.75 and $4.30 per pound for a super-premium variety. What you should know is that these foods can often keep a dog healthier for longer. They are more digestible and consist of high-quality ingredients. The money that you save on vet bills can balance out the cost of the food.
New Kids on the Block
Many people are interested in trying raw, or BARF, diets for their dog but are afraid of the thought of feeding raw meat. Others want to try this type of diet for their pets but simply don’t have the time to prepare wholesome foods. With these people in mind, pet food companies have begun to produce freeze-dried or dehydrated raw diets for dogs. By measuring a specified dry amount of food, adding warm water and letting the food rehydrate for five to ten minutes, owners can give their dogs a species-appropriate raw diet. Grandma Lucy’s, Stella and Chewy’s and The Honest Kitchen are just three brands of dried, raw diets available. These options can cost between $50 and $100 a month, depending on which variety you choose.
There are a variety of prescription diets available from your veterinarian. These foods, on average, are as or more expensive than super-premium foods. You should know that veterinarians don’t prescribe these diets lightly; if your vet suggests that your dog be put on a prescription diet, there is a good reason for that recommendation.
Your vet may prescribe a diet for kidney problems, liver issues, gastrointestinal upsets or even weight management. While many vets have a favorite brand, Royal Canin, Hills Science Diet, Iams and Purina all make prescription diets. If your vet’s suggestion is too pricey, don’t be shy about asking for an alternative.
Which Should You Choose?
When you brought your dog home, you entered into a moral contract to provide it with the best possible life that you could. That includes an appropriate diet, vet care, exercise and love. Ultimately, you have to pay the mortgage, your bills and for your own food. You should always feed your dog the best food that you can reasonably afford. While freeze-dried or dehydrated raw foods and super-premium diets are thought of as the best choices currently available, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t fit these foods into your family’s budget.
Many will argue that dogs have been living for thousands of years on grocery brands and even scraps tossed to them by their guardians. While this may be true, nutritional research has shown that certain ingredients are more digestible and healthier for the canine species. Humans could survive for years on fast food and ramen noodles, but it doesn’t mean that those are the healthiest choices. At the end of the day, you should research the foods available for your pet, make a short list of options and then choose the one that is readily available and most affordable.
By choosing the best food that you can afford, you’ll be providing your dog with the healthiest diet possible. Just as with humans, a nutritionally sound diet can ensure bone and joint health, proper organ function and better overall body health. When you decide to purchase or adopt a dog, you did it with the best of intentions. You owe it to yourself and your dog to feed it the best quality diet that you can afford.