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Cheap Dog Food vs. Expensive Dog Food (3 Key Differences)

Written By: Sharon Waddington

Last Updated:

Selecting dog food may seem pretty overwhelming since several options are available in different price ranges. You might wonder why the price points differ, especially if you’re a new pet owner. Not to worry, as I did the research for you and found valuable information any dog owners should take note of. 

The key differences between cheap and expensive dog food include the type and quality of food, the expertise of the manufacturer, and the processes involved in producing the food. Another major determiner of the cost of dog food is the ingredients used in making the food.

Although this seems straightforward, do not be deceived because cost, quality, and health concerns overlap, and I’m sure you want your pup to grow up big and strong. So, let’s get into the specifics that determine the difference between highly-priced dog food and low-cost dog food.

Cheap Dog Food vs. Expensive Dog Food. Some cheap dry dog food next to some more expensive wet dog food.

What is the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Dog Food?

A visit to the dog food section of the retail store in your neighborhood or a pet store/boutique presents various options at different prices. You’d find dry, canned, fresh, and even raw-meat-based foods; various brands, grades, and prices.

A regular bag of kibble costs about $10 to $25. Some premium brands of the same quantity cost two to three times more. Since feeding is an essential component of caring for your furry friend, choosing the best and healthiest food for your pet often raises the question of price point.

It begs the question, what makes one food product different from the other? Why is one dog food brand more expensive than another of similar composition? And is it really worth the price to spend more on feeding?

The table below summarizes the factors that differentiate costly and cheap dog foods.

Type of foodDry, WetFresh, Raw
IngredientsMore Grains, grain by-products, meat by-products, and additives.Meat, Whole vegetables, Additives.
Production processDisputableDisputable
Factors that differentiate costly and cheap dog food

It is important to state that, as with many other products, “expensive” doesn’t exactly translate into “healthy,” and also, “cheap” doesn’t mean “bad.” These factors are not in isolation but interwoven into each other. 

Let’s break down this interplay and find out what makes one different from the other.

Type of Food

There are several food types on the market for your canine companion. Still, when comparing the costs of different dog food types, all of these commercially available options can be classified into four main groups:

  • Dry foods such as extruded food products are called kibble. Cold-pressed also falls into this category.
  • Wet foods that come in cans, pouches, or tubs.
  • Fresh foods such as cooked fresh or frozen food, whether homemade or purchased.
  • Raw food diets, either frozen or freeze-dried.

Generally, the first two categories cost way less than the last two. However, premium brands of dry and wet foods available at pet stores and boutiques are more expensive than the regular ones in retail and mass markets.

Related: Kibble vs. Homemade Dog Food (Which is Better?)

Still, these high-quality foods are cheaper when compared with fresh or raw foods. Although not recommended due to health concerns for the pet, owner, and general public, raw diets are the most expensive dog foods.

If you follow my blog, you’ll know I’m the proud owner of a gorgeous German Shepherd named Willow. If you want to know more about the type of food I feed her and why, you can check out this article, Best Diet for German Shepherds: Nutrition, Types, and More!

German Shepherd Eating Food From Bowl
My German Shepherd eating her cold-pressed dog food

Ingredients Used

Another critical difference between cheap and expensive dog food is the ingredients used in manufacturing them. Premium quality foods tend to be more expensive than lower quality foods because of the quality of their ingredients. 

Here are some of the ingredients used in making dog foods:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Meat by-products
  • Legumes
  • Grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Fats
  • Vitamins and minerals

When considering cheap or expensive dog food, you must know your dog’s nutritional needs.

Generally, low-priced foods contain more grains, grain by-products, and meat by-products. For higher quality foods that might be more expensive, you’d find they have more real meat, whole vegetables, and low quantities of grains and by-products. It’s not surprising that some may even contain exotic meat and (or) be packed with more vitamins and minerals.

In addition to this, some food products contain organic ingredients. The percentage of organic ingredients in dog food also contributes to the cost. Foods with a higher rate of organic ingredients are also highly-priced.

Manufacturing Process

Although the quality and quantity of ingredients determine, to a large extent, the cost of dog foods, there are other contributors. These are factors involved in the process of production from lab to shelf that play vital roles in determining whether a food brand is highly priced or not. 

They include:

  • The brand
  • Formula Research and Development
  • Quality and Expertise of Staff
  • Food trials following AAFCO guidelines
  • Quality Control and Assurance
  • Cost of production
  • Quantity produced and sold.
  • Advertising and marketing

Dog food from companies that have been around for more than 2 decades costs less than food from their newer counterparts. These more well-known companies produce large quantities and ranges of dog food because they can afford to procure ingredients in bulk.

Also, they have their own production plants and quality personnel working on researching and developing recipes and can formulate quality canine nutrition. They have reasonable quality control and can afford to conduct food trials.

Some newly established companies might not afford the costs these factors incur, especially if they don’t have their own facilities. For these reasons, they may spend more on advertising and marketing.

Rather than food trials, they may opt for nutritional profiles to meet the requirements of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Foods from these newer brands, although termed “holistic,” “human grade,” or “natural,” may lack quality control during manufacturing.

The name of the brand and how long it has existed, to a large extent, determine how much their food products would be priced.

Still, this doesn’t mean there aren’t newer brands that offer quality food at low cost. Again, high price points can also mean high-quality ingredients and good quality control during production.

What is the Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Dog Food? Bowl of Wet Dog Food.

Does Higher Cost Mean Better Nutrition?

This question is widespread concern for dog owners, animal nutritionists, and veterinarians. Advertising can be misleading, with all the spiffy presentations and powerful marketing. It makes one wonder if a higher price guarantees better health for the dog.

A high price point doesn’t necessarily mean the best choice nor the labels’ buzz words. Some highly priced foods are for supplemental feeding. Some are labeled “intermittent” or “complementary.” Some dogs become sick after consuming expensive foods, and some do well on cheaper options.

When buying food for your furry friend, you should consider the manufacturer’s knowledge and quality control.

“Also, you should get a suitable product for your pet and your lifestyle. This way, you would avoid being ripped off by advertising noise.”

World of Dogz

Again, do you care about where it is being produced? Do you want to know if food trials are conducted and how? Choosing the right option for your pet also depends on your priorities. 

Also, before buying a product, do well to read the nutritional composition at the back of the label. You will find information on the adequacy of the food. The best choice for your canine companion is a complete and balanced product.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Should You Feed Your Dog Organic Food Diets?

While most pet store owners argue that organic diets are better for your dog’s health, experts agree that going organic isn’t all that necessary.

The improved health noticed after switching to an organic diet may, after all, just be a marketing placebo effect. Spending a lot on organic food doesn’t exactly translate to it being a need and of good value to your dog. All you need is a diet with good quality ingredients, organic or not.

Q: Are Raw Food Diets Good for Your Pets?

There have been glowing testimonials about raw-meat-based diets, but none of these are scientifically proven yet. However, raw food diets have been confirmed to have nutritional deficiencies or excesses.

The nutritional profile of some heavily marketed raw meat diets does not meet AAFCO requirements. Some of these diets may complete the required nutrient level but fail to have an ideal nutrient profile. Some have high dietary fat levels.

These concerns are why raw meat diets, frozen or freeze-dried, are generally not advisable despite it being highly priced and heavily marketed. Most of these testimonials are only stories.

Final Thoughts

Feeding a dog can be expensive, especially when you’re intentional about providing quality food to your pet. One food product may be more costly than the other due to any of the following:

  • Ingredients
  • Type of the food
  • The manufacturing process

However, a high price point doesn’t guarantee better nutrition. Go for a healthy diet that gives you good value for your money. Unless your vet recommends it for health reasons, expensive foods may just be all bark and no bite. However, if your lifestyle affords it, why not? That’s my philosophy, anyway.

Photo of author

Sharon Waddington

Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs.