What is the Best Dog Food? Feb09

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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.