Critter talk: The “skinny” on dog food-Do you really need to spend big bucks on those designer brands?

compare dog foods, science diet, purina brands, Iams, nutritional value

I have been paying big bucks for years for the premium dogs foods such as Science Diet and Iams.  My critters are healthy, but so are Raul’s critters.  Raul feeds Purina Pedigree and his dogs look and act every bit as healthy as mine.

So, after reading this story from Consumer Reports, I went to my local Tractor Supply Store and, lo an behold, I found Purina Pedigree, a 52 pound bag, on sale for $24.99.  Science Diet, a 35 pound bag, was $34.99.  I took a deep breath and took the plunge as I loaded two of the big bags of Purina into the cart, and one Science Diet, as the guys need to be weaned slowly off a food to which they have become accustomed.

I will publish the results of the food switch in the next couple of months.  Stay tuned to MMA and see if switching food to save a few bucks is a wise thing to do.

Americans might be spending less on themselves, but not on their furry friends. In a survey conducted by the Associated Press in December 2008, just one in seven pet owners said they had curtailed spending on their pet during the past year, even as they cut other expenses.

Prices range as widely as the foods—everything from low-glycemic and grain-free meals to human-food mimics such as chicken pot pie. At stores near our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y., per-day costs for dry foods for a 35-pound dog ranged from about 38 cents (Walmart’s Ol’ Roy Krunchy Bites & Bones) to about $2.88 (Karma Organic). Prices for canned foods ranged from $1.38 per day (Ol’ Roy Hearty Cuts in Gravy) to $4.78 (Merrick Turducken Entreé).

We asked eight experts in dog and cat nutrition at seven top veterinary schools what you get by spending more for pet food. (Note: All but one have received some funding from the pet-food industry.) They also shared advice on pet feeding. Answers represent their consensus.

Should you pay a lot for pet food?

“There’s no scientific evidence that any food is better than the next,” says Joseph Wakshlag, D.V.M., Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Pets can thrive on inexpensive food or become ill from pricey food. If your animal is active and healthy, the food is doing its job. A higher price could mean better ingredients and better quality control during and after manufacturing. But you might also be paying for pretty packaging, marketing, or a fancy name.

Can inexpensive food make a pet sick?

Most experts said they haven’t seen that happen, with the exception of a zinc deficiency in the 1980s that was traced to a generic dog food. But half had seen pets become ill from eating homemade pet food, a growing trend since the 2007 recall of some commercial pet foods contaminated by melamine. Dogs and cats each require about 40 different nutrients in very specific proportions. If you insist on making your own pet food, consider enlisting an animal nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition ( or get help from or, which the ACVN lists as resources on its site.

What ingredients should you look for?

Most experts said individual ingredients are much less important than overall nutrient profile. Check the label for two statements. Look for food labeled “complete and balanced,” which indicates it can be the pet’s sole nourishment (unlike a treat). Also look for food labels stating that nutritional adequacy was validated by animal-feeding tests based on protocols from the American Association of Feed Control Officials, a regulatory group. That statement is a step above the other one AAFCO allows—that a food was formulated to meet the group’s nutrient profiles. Make sure you can find the manufacturer’s contact information, in case you have questions. For more on labels, see What pet-food labels really mean.

Do you need to buy food with claims?

For pet food, there’s no official definition of organic, human-grade, premium, no fillers, or gourmet. Gluten-free foods are generally necessary only for the tiny percentage 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 were split on whether you need to look for them.

How important is age-specific food?

It’s very important for puppies, kittens, and pregnant pets, which have especially stringent nutritional needs. Foods “for growth” or “for all life stages” meet those needs. Foods “for maintenance” are for healthy adults only. “Senior” is “a marketing term, not a nutritional term,” says Sarah K. Abood, D.V.M., Ph.D., an assistant professor of small-animal clinical sciences at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Do wet and dry differ nutritionally?

No, but there’s a cost difference: Wet foods contain about 75 percent water, so you need more to get the same calories. The experts we spoke to said that the decision usually comes down to price, convenience, the pet’s preference, and any health issues. Cats with kidney or urinary problems might benefit from the moisture in wet food, for example, and animals with dental issues might benefit from dry food.

What do vets feed their pets?

Among them, our experts have 11 dogs and at least six cats. Most told us they use a variety of common brands sold at pet stores or supermarkets. They use both wet and dry and often combine the types.

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Posted by on February 5, 2011. Filed under Advice,Animals,CRITTER TALK. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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6 Responses to Critter talk: The “skinny” on dog food-Do you really need to spend big bucks on those designer brands?

  1. Dusty Taylor Reply

    February 5, 2011 at 5:10 am

    We are kinda going the opposite way with our felines, Costco offers a higher grade food,a larger bag for a cheaper price according to a friend of ours that runs a cat shelter and spay/neuter program. We have to wean them as well.

    We have special needs felines as well, some have special diets due to health issues and they always will.

  2. mbarnato Reply

    February 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I’ve had all the dogs & cats on Iams since the early 1980s with very good results, I think. Everyone has stayed in good health, with very shiny coats. My big guy, Tighe, will be 13 on 2/10, and he still looks like the athlete dog he is. A few months ago, I visited my friend who has Tighe’s brother, and brother dog is not in nearly as good health; does not look as good. (But he does have winters to contend with – Tighe does not). I tried to wean the critters onto a more “natural” dry food last year; we stuck with it for awhile but the farts and poops were way too copious and too stinky. Iams has always claimed to be “stool reducing”, and I believe it… (speaking of critter poops…..).

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      February 5, 2011 at 11:27 am

      I believe that Iams and other quality foods do have an effect on the quantity of “poop” Maureen. I am going to experiment with Purina nonetheless. I should be able to report something in a couple of weeks.

  3. SagaciousHillbilly Reply

    February 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I buy only dog food where some type of red meat is the #1 ingredient and corn is not a main ingredient. Purina One beef and rice formula fits the bill nicely. There are only a couple others sold at big box pet stores but they’re all quite expensive.
    I feed my dogs all the meat scraps I can give them, especially raw along with bones.
    These are carnivorous animals, not pitiful wimpy ass granola chewing grain eaters like a lot of people I know.

  4. Mother Hen Reply

    February 5, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    I have to say Iams is the best if you are looking for the least offensive crap. Of course when your dog only craps a log the size of a tootsie roll in the first place, that is pretty inoffensive all by itself!

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