Geek Stuff

What is the Best Dog Food?

With the passing of our dog Hannah, an economic turning point was reached. She was allergic to many common dog food ingredients, so we ended up having to buy her very expensive dog food. At first it was a prescription food, until we found out that it was actually a lot of low quality ingredients. We were able to switch to a higher quality of food that was less expensive (around $70 for a 30 lb. bag).

When we adopted Carter from the shelter he had been eating whatever garbage he could find on the streets, so we knew that even the crappiest dog food on the market would still be something he would suck down so fast he wouldn’t taste it anyway. Eating stuff like your own crap must kill the whole gourmet experience…

My first stop was Consumer Reports, an excellent site, but outside of their major categories I often come up short. In this case they have a pet food study going on now, but no results yet. Next stop was the Google, and it did not disappoint. I found Dog Food Advisor, an amazing site. From what it says there, Mike’s dog was a victim of the dog food industry’s lack of quality control. Like any true hero, he has stepped up to right what has been wrong.

It was very easy to check out the 5 star foods and find a number of alternatives. At this point though, my background in Economics kicked in – Yes, there was a ton of data on the quality of the food, but without pricing information there was still work to do.

I fired up Google Docs and started building a table of pricing from Amazon. We are Amazon Prime Members so for many of the dogfoods there is no shipping charge (I know, I couldn’t believe it either when a 30 pound box with a bag of dogfood showed up at my front door, but it did).

By calculating the price per star I was able to compare prices at similar quality levels. At this point I found what I was looking for – I never thought I would make a plug for “Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul” but it has 4 stars, and costs significantly less than all of the others I checked out. After buying a first bag, it looks almost exactly the same as the food we were using that costs twice as much. Carter still hoarks it down so fast that I still don’t think he tastes anything, but he seems to be doing well.

Unfortunately at this point the lovely Carin identified a critical flaw in the model – I had considered all dogfoods equal by weight and that is not the case. Generally the better dogfoods are richer in nutrients so you don’t have to feed your dog as much. In some cases I noticed that it can be as much as half the food over lower quality brands (so that heinous cheap stuff is no bargain at half the price if you go through it twice as fast). The proper calculation would be cost per meal – a function of price/weight per meal/weight of bag. I may not even bother as I think I’ve got a pretty good solution, but perhaps there is an outlier out there that’s an even better deal.

Just in case you are really interested, I’ve made the table available here, you can check it out and use it as you will. If you have any additions to the data (such as how much stuff costs at Costco), or have comments on the model, I’d love to hear it.

4 replies on “What is the Best Dog Food?”

Sorry to hear about Hannah.

I admire your thuroughness, but I believe this study is incomplete. Your analysis does not delve into the back-end, so to speak.

Have you considered comparing lawn clean-up requirements based on quantity/quality of the dog food?
Does lower quantity, nutrient rich dog food result in more or less clean up?

I also appreciate the work you have put into this but would like to say that many things have to be taken into consideration in choosing a food.
I thought I had found food heaven when I started to use Purina One – The price was reasonable, the clean up was less so the food was being digestibly processed well but… on the down side, I paid for it when it came to dental work. The dogs (and a cat on her version of the food) all had considerably nastier teeth. For some reason, ingredients or the small kibble size, their teeth were getting lots of build up and looking similar to a soda drinking humans mouth.

I’m a basset hound breeder based in Sweden (as well as a marketing consultant!) and enjoyed this post (and your research).

It’s a massive minefield. In my experience, dogs do better on natural, fresh food including vegetables. However, as someone that juggles a kennel with running an agency, I’ve been using kibble fairly often too. Like humans, dogs react to food differently. Some do well on premium, others will thrive on a cheaper brand with less nutrition in it. High protein content is not necessarily a sign of quality.

As long as your dog looks fine, is healthy and seems to digest his food well (i.e. isn’t pooping three or four times a day!) you’re on to a winner.

But remember to brush his teeth!!!

Hey John! The back end is an issue – although Carter has been a consistent cigar layer, the problem is excess gas. When we first got him he could clear a room. This won’t affect the model though, it’s a checkbox, either back end is an issue and it’s off the list, or not.

Sharon – interesting about teeth, that’s a good point. It should be noted that Purina One has only 1 star (the lowest rating) at Dog Food Advisor.

Jon – yeah, sorry, we have enough trouble finding time to make healthy meals for ourselves, the dogs will get kibble. Plus human food seems to contribute to the smoke-out I mentioned. I will have to dig up his toothbrush!

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