Ask LH: Is Expensive Pet Food Worth It?

Ask LH: Is Expensive Pet Food Worth It?

Hey Lifehacker, Expensive dog food (such as Hills Science Diet) is at least twice the price of supermarket brands. Is it worth the cost? I’d ask my dogs but I’m sure they’d lay a guilt trip on me and tell me I should pay the extra to prove I love them. Thanks, Doggy Dilemma

Dog food picture from Shutterstock

Dear DD,

Domestic dogs are omnivorous mammals that require a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water to stay healthy. Some cheap dog foods do not provide sufficient nutrition and may require you to supplement their diet with additional foods. Look for brands that contain high levels of proteins, E and C vitamins and natural vegetables in the ingredients list. This actually isn’t too difficult and you certainly don’t have to fork out for the top-tier stuff.

Some fancy ‘gourmet’ brands imply that their food tastes better in a bid to justify the higher premium. But this is just clever marketing: the vast majority of dogs are not fussy eaters and will happily gobble up anything you throw at them. Biologically, dogs have a far less sophisticated palate than humans, with around 80 per cent fewer taste buds. In other words, carefully seasoned meals and expensive cuts of meat are largely wasted on them.

Now, an argument could be made that dog’s derive culinary pleasure from their advanced sense of smell which could conceivably make them prefer premium brands. But honestly, how long does your dog spend inhaling his food before he starts tucking in? Most dogs just take a few cursory sniffs to make sure it’s edible. And I’ve never seen a dog stop halfway through a meal to take an appreciative whiff. So I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over the dog food brand you buy. As long as it has ‘Complete Nutrition’ on the label it should be all your dog needs to live a long and happy life.

We’d also like to hear from our dog loving readers on this one. What do you feed your ‘best friend’? Do you mix it up with different brands and flavours or stick to the same product? Lets us know in the comments section below.


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  • The core of my dog’s diet is chicken carcasses and butcher’s bones, rounded off with a cup of a premium quality kibble (which I buy in 15-20kg sacks). Even though he’s a very big (50kg) dog, that still works out at a very economical $2/day which is less than most spend on a little tin of cat food. He has plenty of energy, solid stools, fantastic coat and teeth so no one’s getting short-changed. There are always plenty of plates or used yoghurt-containers to clean, which gives a bit of extra variety and takes a lot of hard work away from the dishwasher.

    I try to keep the kibble brand/flavour as constant as possible, although suppliers can be erratic and I’ve had to give up on a couple of brands. I’ve learned to avoid kibble with soya-based filler ( causes wind and diarrhoea ) .

    Your comment about taste buds is a bit misleading, much of what we call taste is actually smell, and while dogs have amazing olfactory acuity, the actual range of detectable odours is about the same as humans.

  • See… too many people treat their pets like people… My little JR/Border collie cross, is as fit and healthy as she can be, although I should prolly walk her more… and she eats kibble. She gets a snack during the day, but kibble is keeping her out of the vets office, and her weight is perfect. A Vet will tell you kibble is preferred to wet food, although if you own an active larger one a little something extra is OK. People tell me, my dog/cat is too fussy… Believe me when I tell you they will eat kibble when they get hungry enough…!

    • “Believe me when I tell you they will eat kibble when they get hungry enough”
      I hate it when people say “ohh my dog doesn’t like dry food, they wont eat it. I cook an extra plate for them every night instead”. Put the dry food down for a few minutes, if they don’t eat it, take it away and try again in a few hours. They will eventually eat it.

      • Not really. Years ago a cat of mine would not eat certain foods. I took this approach and he just got bonier and more skeletal each day. There was nothing wrong with him, apart from starving due to iron stubbornness. So I changed up stuff till he DID like it and he improved.

        Even today though, put food in front of him that he doesn’t like and he’ll just turn away and do his own thing; put him back to front of it to make him reconsider and he will attack you.

        • We’ve had a few cats, one of which was adopted from a relly that had supposed finicky taste. It wouldn’t eat the kibble either, until it realised it was really hungry and then it stopped being so finicky. Your cat sounds the exception rather than the rule, the best thing is to get ’em onto dry food straight after weaning.

      • Riiiiiight, because we should purposefully feed dogs food they don’t like just because a hungry dog will eat anything. No one’s saying you should prepare a gourmet meal every night, but you should at least try a range of kibble brands until you find one that they seem to enjoy.

        • There’s nothing wrong with changing the type of kibble, hell my dog itched like crazy until I found a brand that stopped it. The point is, there’s no need to treat them like a human being when it comes to food. Your Vet will recommend the really expensive stuff, but the expensive stuff is made of the same stuff you find in the Shopping center. I would recommend not using home brand though.

          I see @Juice downvoted, but there’s no apparent reason, and it seems kind of petty without one…!!

          • It is made of the same stuff, but the composition’s different. Cheaper brands tend to use a lot of filler to bulk the food up, like corn, which have next to no nutritional value, whereas the more expensive brands will typically have a higher percentage of actual meat and veg.

          • I always check the nutritional value on kibble, that doesn’t mean I’m silly enough to pay through the nose for stuff like Eukanuba though..! 🙂

        • Not the point I was making. I agree, find a dry food they like thats reasonably cost effective depending on your situation, but there is no need to feed them cottage cheese, steak and rice every night. Dogs (generally) aren’t that fussy, but like humans, they will always go to something they prefer given the choice. If all they have to do is turn their nose up at dry food and they get a steak, they’ll do it.

  • This one is right up my alley however I have cats not a dog but the same thing works.

    I use to use whiskas (that you can buy at any supermarket) and then I switched them to Hills science diet.

    When you work out that the supermarket brand you have to have a balance of the dry food and the wet food to have a complete diet for your pet it turns out more expensive then the Hills science diet. I had a look at the ingredients of both brands and hills science diet has the vitamins and minerals that your pet needs for better health that the supermarket brand does not include.

    It seems more expensive to buy a bag of hills science diet compared to the smaller amount of whiskas but it does actually become more cost effective to do the hills science diet.

    I recommend that you slowly switch from the normal food to the hills science diet, each meal adding a bit more of hills science and less of the other 10% hills science then 20% in the next meal then 30% etc etc

    You will notice that after a while your pets fur will be so much more healthier being on hills science diet as well then just the regular brand because your pet is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs!

    sorry about the rant but i feel strongly about this! 🙂

    • I don’t think it’s necessary to go for Hills – you’re just underwriting the kickback they pack to vets for stocking them solely. There’s plenty of good brands around without settling for what’s in the supermarket

      • The nurse at the vet we use said the % markup on the Hills JD that we buy is less than 10%, so given their overheads I think that is pretty reasonable. Vets have to make a living and pay the bills, and they need to at least break even to stay in business.

        If you want good quality nutritious food for your dog it will probably cost more than the cheaper brands, unless you make it yourself.

  • Due to our little stinker (cat) having FIV, we have to feed him expensive stuff that is designed to clean his teeth and get rid of the issues he’s got (his body can’t seem to shake the inflamed gums he’s got). At something like $30 a bag (10x more expensive than the $3 Aldi stuff he knows and loves), it certainly does make a difference, but in health terms, not “my cat will only eat Kobe beef” terms.

  • I fed my dog raw human quality food. Mostly chicken wings/quarters, chicken frames, beef bones, turkey legs, liver, kidneys & fish.

    She usually only did one small stool, once a day and it was of good consistency. She grew into an adult without any issues at a healthy size (Although large for a female GSD). Cost wise, I probably spent around $50 a week for food + treats, considering she would eat around 1KG of food a day I think that is reasonable (50Kg GSD).

    As long as the meal has all the nutrients your dog needs, I don’t think it’s an issue. Personally I’d rather just feed my dog raw human food. But obviously not all people have $50 a week to spend on their dogs meals alone.

    • I’ve noticed that pet stores often sell “pet quality” food like chicken pieces for more than you’d pay at your local chicken deli or butcher for “human quality”.

  • It actually matters. I take this very seriously and I previously fed my dog (don’t have 1 anymore) good quality kibble. I take my time to read up on the ingredients in each brand and decide which 1 is better. The cheaper brands have a low percentage of protein and a high percentage of fillers as well as oats and other grains. The good quality ones usually are pretty balanced and don’t require any additional nutrients or wet food to be added to it. Once in awhile, I will mix kibble with canned meat to change it up a little. If you only take the best for yourself most of the time and eat a balanced meal, you should treat your pet in the same manner.

  • Anyone who has ever owned a cat and a dog at the same time will know that they never have to worry about cleaning the cat poo out of the litter box. End of discussion, at least as far as dogs are concerned.

  • Depends on your dog and how old they are. I had a GSD and we fed him high quality food (Eukanuba) as a puppy as he was growing and it’s important to get your nutrients and vitamins etc. The only down side was that he was a bit smellier, the oils or something in the food must have just led to more smelliness. Once he was fully grown, we would just give him a mix of the super market dry food and the canned stuff. Less smelly. Happy, healthy dog.

  • I make our own dog food with different low fat minces and raw veges. Also once a week give him sandines that he loves. Not giving my dog processed garbage, even “premium” processed garbage.

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