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Is the best pet food the most expensive?
Pet parents are concerned about the quality of the ingredients they find in their pet's food. That concern may persuade them to think price is a direct indicator of quality. After all, the better the quality, the higher the price, right? Not necessarily so. Numerous factors go into the production of pet foods, affecting the shelf price. On top of that, pet food labels are often difficult to decipher. And, to even further complicate things, most major brands have several different price tiers or lines, creating a pricing dynamic that can be hard to navigate with your wallet intact.
In order to get the best pet food quality you desire at a price you can afford, you need two things:
(1) To understand how pet food labels are worded.
(2) To research where you can get the best value.
Mike Sagman of DogFoodAdvisor.com always emphasizes, “Pet food companies aren’t legally required to disclose anything about where they get their ingredients. So, even though a pet food label says ‘Made in the USA’, the ingredients themselves could legally come from just about anywhere… including China.” Mike goes on to say that he discovered that manufacturers of dog food can use numerous ingredients that are appalling, including agricultural waste, food industry by-products, diseased and dying cattle, out-of-date grocery store meats and much more.
Jane Lerner of Essentiallydogs.com agrees that labels are vague, even intentionally so. For example, Lerner says this about the vague label description ‘meat', “When the meat ingredient is not specifically named (i.e., beef, lamb…) then the manufacturer will list the ingredient as ‘meat' … Simply put, ‘meat' in this context is defined from any mammal.”
To further clarify this, I found PetMD.com says, “Pet food is made from the 50 percent of the carcass that cannot be profitably sold for human consumption. Real meat cuts deemed inedible for human consumption can also be included in pet food with the discarded 50 percent, which includes the tongue, esophagus, diaphragm, intestine, sinew, and heart, and is defined as ‘meat' by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).“
The bottom line is, when looking for quality pet food, it's more important to look at the ingredients than at the price tag. Lerner encourages that the right diet for your specific pet, even breed specific, is crucial to optimum pet health – saving you vet bills that are more costly than quality food – and giving you healthy, vibrant pets.
Because pet food labels are difficult to decipher, use unbiased online resources, like those mentioned above, to help you learn the lingo. Unidentified meat is only one of the ingredients in pet foods that can affect quality and safety. Low-quality ingredients make for low-priced pet foods, so knowing exactly what is keeping that price astonishingly low is critical. On the flip side, not every ingredient that is inexpensive is automatically bad or unhealthy. For example, rice is typically one of the lowest cost ingredients and can be very healthy, as long as it's of decent quality.
Researching the best value:
Once you've identified a few specific brands and lines that are the best options for your pet, research where to get them at the best price. The results may surprise you. Many pet parents automatically think of their local pet store for pet products, but the same brand and line might be available less expensively at the supermarket, at a club store, a big box store, or even online. Shop where you can get the lowest price per ounce, taking into account available coupons, store incentives – like special offers, cash back, or price matching (PetCo and PetSmart are two that offer it) – and, if shopping online, shipping.
And finally, as you pick the perfect food for your pet, watch the serving recommendations! If you think you've found a bargain but need to use twice as much per feeding, it's definitely not a bargain at all.
More good reads you won't want to miss:
Caring for your Pet while Keeping More of your Money
6 ways you think you're saving money, but you're not