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Expensive pet food - is it worth the price?

Pet food is a “buyers market” nowadays - there are so many different diets and dietary options out there that it can be hard to decide which is the best for your dog or cat. Some people have resorted to home-cooked diets, but the vast majority of us still buy pre-prepared pet foods (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

Given the range of products, however, it’s easy to throw up your hands in despair and buy the one with the nicest packaging, or the one you get hold of most conveniently - or the cheapest.  However, not all pet foods are created equal, and while you are unlikely to do your pet harm in the short term by feeding a lower-quality diet, you may be storing up problems for the future. In this blog, we’re going to take a brief look at dog and cat nutrition, and compare different types of diet.

Nutritional Requirements

Any pet food should be supplying certain essential nutrients to the animal that eats it. All animals require energy, protein and fat; iron, calcium and phosphorus; plus a range of other minerals and vitamins. Note the major exception from this list - carbs. Strictly speaking, carbohydrates are not required by dogs or cats (or humans, actually!) - however, they are a very useful way of supplying energy, and are a valuable addition to a diet for that reason.

You’ll also note that, unlike in humans, fibre is not strictly speaking essential to a dog or a cat’s digestive health, although a fibre content of roughly 5% is generally accepted as being beneficial.

The biggest issue is the protein requirement - although it is possible for a dog to live for a short while on a vegetarian diet, dogs require the animal-based amino acid taurine (unlike us, they cannot make it) to prevent a severe heart disease (dilated cardiomyopathy) developing. Cats, meanwhile, are obligate carnivores - without meat-based protein, they will die.

In practice, almost all commercial diets meet these requirements (for example, all dog foods now have extra taurine added, which is the main reason why DCM is so much rarer now than it used to be).

Complete vs. mixed diets

Some diets are marketed as “complete” - this means that the dog or cat needs only eat that food, it is a fully balanced diet for them.
Others are mixed, or mixer, diets, where you need to purchase 2 or more components (usually a wet and a dried food). Fed alone, either component is deficient in something, but together, they make up a balanced diet.
The Prescription and Vet Essentials diets that we stock are almost all Complete diets, so you don’t need to worry about matching the right tin with the right bag of dry food!


This is the first place where we see a major difference between the cheaper and more expensive foods. The more digestible a food is, the more of the goodness the dog or cat can absorb. Some of the cheapest foods reportedly have a digestibility of as little as 10% - meaning that 90% of what you feed ends up in your doggy-do bags! More seriously, it also means that you need to feed ten times as much of the cheap diet than you would for a premium one (e.g. the Hills Vet Essentials that we stock). If it costs five times more, but you only need to feed 1/10 as much, you’re still saving money with the expensive product!

Optimal Extras

No, that isn’t a typo - this refers to substances added to the food not just to provide good nutrition, but also to actively promote good health. Most diets have a few additions (e.g. omega fatty acids to promote good skin and coat quality), but the premium feeds usually have more. The diets we stock contain...

  • Added L-carnitine (to promote lean muscle mass)
  • Prebiotics (to promote healthy bacteria in the gut)
  • Precisely tuned calcium/phosphorus ratios (to maximise bone strength)
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin (for healthy joints)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (to minimise inflammatory states such as arthritis)
  • Antioxidants and Vitamin E (to help maintain a strong immune system)
  • Linoleic acid, vitamin A, selenium and zinc (to help make a glossy coat and healthy skin)

Life-stage diets

Puppies and kittens have different nutritional requirements to adult cats or dogs; as do older animals and pregnant ones. As a result, we strongly recommend feeding according to life-stage - so the food can be more precisely targeted to your pets specific requirements.

Want to know more? Ask one of our vets or nurses to talk about clinical nutrition and our range of scientifically-tested Hills diets!