The dog food market presents a dizzying array of choices for pet parents. Before you decide which particular brand or formula to feed your pupper, it’s important to understand the different types of food that are available and how they may impact your budget and your dog.
Whether you are new to the pet parenting game or just looking to change things up for the health and wellbeing of your fur baby, we’ve got the scoop on the different kinds of dog food and what those choices will cost, money and health-wise.
Dry Dog Food
It’s super convenient, has a very long shelf life, and can be quite inexpensive. Kibble sales are the biggest category in pet food with figures estimating dry dog food sales at 68% of the total dog food share.
Dry dog food is made by combining grains, proteins, vitamins, fiber, and other ingredients such as preservatives in large batches. Those batches are cooked at extremely high pressure and temperature to form a kind of dough. That dough is then formed into uniform pellets, balls, or some other shape and cooked again to get the desired hard consistency.
Financial Costs of Dry Dog Food
Dry dog food is sold in a variety of tiers from low-grade, cheap formulas to super premium, pricier formulas. For a 30-pound dog who eats twice daily, costs will range from $0.20-$13 per day. Additional financial costs associated with kibble include shipping or gas and time spent going to a local store to purchase kibble.
Health Implications of Dry Dog Food
Dog parents are increasingly turning their noses up at kibble. Recalls, increases in terminal illnesses like cancer, and FDA warnings are sounding alarms for dog families, making us highly scrutinize the kibble we feed our dogs. Food boredom is also an issue with kibble, making many dogs turn their noses up, too.
Dr. Karen Shaw Becker shared some of the problems she sees with dry dog food on the website Healthy Pets.
- Most dry pet food has a number of problems, including poor-quality, rendered, and high-glycemic ingredients and extreme processing that creates cancerous byproducts.
- As soon as a bag of kibble is opened, important dietary fats in the food start to go rancid, and long-term consumption of rancid fats can negatively impact your pet’s health.
- Starchy ingredients are used in high quantities in dry dog food. Carbs break down into sugar, which fuels degenerative conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Bottom Line on Dry Food
Kibble is by far the most convenient way to feed your dog and can be the least expensive. It delivers basic nutritional needs for your dog but if not carefully selected, it may come at a cost to your pet’s health, vitality, and longevity. If you choose to feed kibble, make yourself aware of the ingredients that are included as well as how the are processed, if possible.
Wet Dog Food
Compared to dry food, wet food contains significantly more moisture, and is usually packed in serving-size cans. To make wet dog food, large batches of ingredients are mixed together and cooked. In many formulas, grain gluten and protein gels are used to make meaty chunks designed to look like real meat. The food is portioned and sealed in cans that are then sterilized by heating the cans to 121℃. This allows the food to be shelf-stable.
Financial Costs of Wet Dog Food
Wet food is also widely available at a range of prices and levels of quality. These foods range from a little over $1 per day to over $6 per day. For a higher-end formula, approximately 21 cans of food are required per week (3 cans per day) for a 30 pound dog. Just like with kibble, one must take into account shipping fees for online purchases or the costs of going out and buying wet food.
Health Implications of Wet Food
Generally speaking, wet foods contain more meat protein and less carbohydrates than dry food. Wet food is preserved via canning so it generally does not contain synthetic preservatives like most kibble. Heating of the final product to a high temperature does adversely impact the nutritional quality of the food. Also, and most concerning, eating canned foods exposes your dog to BPA, which has numerous adverse health effects.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri and published in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that BPA levels in the blood stream of subject dogs increased by 3 times after just 2 weeks of eating canned dog food. Exposure to BPA in humans has been linked to:
- Reproductive disorders and breast cancer in women and impotence in men
- Heart disease, diabetes, and liver-enzyme abnormalities
- Problems in brain function, memory and learning
- Reduced effectiveness of chemotherapy treatment
Raw Dog Food
Raw foods are a relative newcomer to the dog food market and try to recreate diets similar to what dogs ate in the wild. Raw food formulas consist of raw, uncooked ingredients including meat, edible bones, organs, fruits, and vegetables. Because the food is uncooked or preserved, care must be taken to avoid bacterial contamination in the household. Raw diets are either homemade or commercially-produced.
Financial Costs of Raw Dog Food
Commercially-produced raw foods that are nutritionally complete and balanced tend to have the least variance in cost between high end and low-end options, running approximately $6.30 to 6.50 per day. Again, you must account for costs associated with purchasing these products, which are not as widely available in stores as other options.
Health Implications of Raw Food
Properly balanced and complete raw diets can improve the health of your dog compared to kibble and canned foods. Raw diets can lead to the following benefits, as documented in a study in New Zealand.
- Shinier coats, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, higher energy levels and smaller stools.
- Improved digestive function.
- Higher nutrient absorption.
- Higher levels of the good bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion.
Potential health problems of concern with a raw diet include:
- Inadequate calcium and phosphorus which can cause bone fractures and dental problems.
- A 2006 study of 20 commercially available raw meat diets found that 7.1% contained a type of salmonella.
- E. coli bacteria was found in 59.6% of raw meat diets.
- These bacteria can be shed in the feces, leading to potential human exposure and infection.
- Too much fat and not enough protein can cause mild anemia.
Fresh Dog Food
Commercially-produced fresh foods have entered the market as an alternative to kibble and canned foods. Processing levels and ingredient quality vary among brands but fresh foods are cooked, not processed into a shape or form. To put it simply, they retain the look and texture of real food because they are real food. Some fresh food companies use human-grade ingredients, including whole cuts of meats, vegetables, and grains. They typically have lower or no preservatives and commercial varieties are usually fortified with necessary essential oils and nutrients.
Financial Costs of Fresh Dog Food
Similar to commercially packaged raw dog food, fresh food will run about $5 – $6.50 per day. Many fresh food companies deliver right to your door. Some even offer free delivery. If the meals are pre-portioned for your your dog, you save time and effort, too.
Health Implications of Fresh Dog Food
Anyone with the most basic understanding of nutrition knows that eating whole, real foods is far healthier than eating processed foods. The same principle goes for dogs. Some of the proven health benefits for dogs who eat fresh food include:
- Fresh ingredients are more digestible, enabling greater absorption of energy and therefore more energy for your dog.
- Shinier coats, healthier skin, and fewer skin allergies.
- Brighter, healthier eyes, indicating improved eye health.
- Smaller, firmer stools, which mean your dog’s body is actually using the food being eaten, not just passing it.
- Lower incidence of colon cancer and other digestive tract related illnesses.
- Dogs with chronic conditions such as allergies, skin irritation, or sensitive tummies find relief on a fresh dog food diet (free of the artificial additives that cause these conditions) which also leads to fewer costly vet visits.
- Longer life span due to lowered risk of cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
If you choose to feed your dog fresh food, there are no known risks to the health of your pet, provided you are feeding meals that are properly portioned, balanced, and complete. If you want to go fresh, please enlist the support of a qualified veterinary nutritionist or choose a pet food company that employs one. This will ensure your dog is not missing out on any of the essential components to a healthy canine diet.
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