The Unexpected Benefits of Expensive Pet Food

I have four dogs that I’ve managed to raise to ripe old ages, ranging from about 15 (she’s a rescue, so we don’t know for sure) to 8 1/2. For my entire life, I’ve been around dogs — all kinds of dogs. So many dogs. And there’s one thing that I learned a very long time ago that continues to play out: there’s a lot of value in expensive pet foods.

You’ll never catch me feeding my animals Kibbles ‘n Bits or Ol’ Roy, because I value high quality nutrition for myself and those around me. I will always buy the “good stuff,” and I’m pretty sure that’s a big part of what’s kept my dogs around so long, despite all odds.

According to a Synchrony Bank Pet LIfetime of Care Study, we spend roughly $434 to $684 per year on food for each of our dogs, or $351 to $584 per year on food for each of our cats. It’s important that you’re getting the best bang for your buck with that kind of outlay.

What my vet taught me about pet food

With four senior dogs, I spend a lot of time at the vet. But in doing so, I also get to talk to staff, which is great for me and great for my dogs. I learn a lot. One day, the topic of pet nutrition came up, as my vet was encouraging me to transition my dogs to senior-specific food.

I asked him which was best. And he gave me a few brands, but the most important lesson was that I needed to be very mindful of the labels on the bag. Over-the-counter dog food (that is, non-prescription foods that are made for specific needs) should have completed and passed feeding trials that meet AAFCO standards.

Many, many dog foods can use a label that says they are “comparable in nutritional adequacy to a product that has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests,” but it’s not the same thing. An AAFCO feeding trial evaluates both what goes into the dog (what the food is made of), what hangs around (what nutrients are being used in the body), and what comes back out (what nutrients aren’t being processed).

The differences in pet food pricing

Foods that complete and pass AAFCO feeding trials tend to be more expensive because it’s more expensive to do the hard work of testing. For example, a 16-pound bag of Kibbles ‘n Bits will run you about $0.94 per pound at and a 18-pound bag of Pedigree $0.95 — neither of these foods are put through AAFCO feeding trials. However, Hill’s Science Diet, which comes in at $3.88 per pound for a 15.5-pound bag, and Purina Pro Plan, at $2.92 per pound for a 17-pound bag, are.

Brand AAFCO Feeding Trial? Bag Size Price Per Pound Total Price
Kibbles ‘n Bits No 16 pounds $0.94 $14.97
Pedigree No 18 pounds $0.95 $16.98
Hill’s Science Diet Yes 15.5 pounds $3.88 $59.99
Purina Pro Plan Yes 17 pounds $2.92 $49.58

Data source: Data accurate as of March 7, 2024.

As you can see, it’s not cheap to feed brands that go as far as to put their foods through feeding trials, but it’s still important. There’s a lot known about these foods, which can help guide your medical decisions for your dog for a lifetime, as opposed to cheap foods, where it’s all just a lot of guesswork.

Prescription dog foods are another story entirely, but are often covered by pet insurance, so at least you’ve got some help reducing those costs.

The main unexpected benefit of expensive pet food: Consistency

It might sound silly when I say that knowing what goes in — and comes out — of a dog during a feeding trial leads to a great deal more consistency in the understanding of how a food works. It’s food, after all, we all know how it’s supposed to work!

But feeding a dog a kibble isn’t the same as you going to the market and getting a tomato. Foods that are formulated don’t always work as planned, since sometimes nutrients need to be present together to be useful, like vitamin D and calcium. Without enough vitamin D, you can have all the calcium in the world and you’ll only end up with urinary stones and brittle bones.

When you know what your dog is able to absorb from their food, it also helps answer questions. For example, my oldest dog recently developed anemia, but because she eats food that’s gone through AAFCO feeding trials for her age and condition, we know that she’s getting enough iron in her diet.

We can skip right to eliminating other potentials, saving time, and increasing her quality of life by making a rapid diagnosis. It also saves you (and your pet insurance) money by potentially eliminating testing that you know isn’t needed.

Expensive pet food is worth more than it costs

So, is expensive pet food worth it? I think it is. I feel like it’s an excellent value for what I get. It might be more on the surface, but it lasts a long time. Plus, it keeps my active senior dogs well fed, and it even grew a malnourished kitten into a massive, lean cat.

Even if you have insurance on your pets, high quality pet food can ensure they live their best lives.

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