Don't be tricked by "cheap" pet foods

LAST UPDATED 9 FEBRUARY 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc(Hons)

Three words: cost per feed.

We all want value for money and it's easy to think that the cheapest product on the shelf will give you the best bang for your buck. However, a much more accurate way to determine the cost of your pet's food is to work out the 'cost per feed'.

While you may be deterred from higher quality brands due to their up front cost, when you look at the price per meal you may be shocked to realise that those more expensive brands may overall be better value for money.

To demostrate this, observe our table below. These figures have been calculated based on the diet of a 5kg adult dog.

Example 1: The Extremes.

Advance and My Dog Dry Food Comparison - 5kg dog

Advance Adult All Breed My Dog Chicken, Turkey and Spring Vegetables

Weight of best value bag (kg)

40 1.5

Cost per bag

$199 $10.99

Cost per kilo

$4.97 $7.32

Amount per daily feed (g)

85 110

Servings per bag

470.6 13.64

Bags per year

0.75 26.77

Cost per feed

0.42 0.80

Cost per year

$153 $292

Products that are considered to be premium, like Advance, use higher quality ingredients overall and can decrease the amount you need to feed your dog. Premium brands often also produce larger bags than some of the 'supermarket' varieties, (you'll see here that My Dog is only available in a 1.5kg bag, whereas Advance is available in 40kg bags) which greatly increases the value.

Example 2: Same Bag Size.

Advance and Optimum Dry Food Comparison - 10kg dog

Advance Adult All Breed Optimum Adult Chicken and Rice

Weight of bag (kg)

15 15

Cost per bag

$100.79 $79.92

Cost per kilo

$6.72 $5.32

Amount per daily feed (g)

115 160

Servings per bag

130.4 93.75

Bags per year

2.8 3.9

Cost per feed

0.77 0.85

Cost per year

$282.21 $311.69

A closer comparison of two varieties with the same bag sizes, this example comparing 'premium' Advance vs 'supermarket' Optimum is good to see side by side. At face value, the Advance bag seems more expensive - it costs approximately 25% more per bag (and per kilo). However, due to the higher nutrient density and consequential smaller feed size required, Advance still comes off as cheaper per feed, making it cheaper on a daily and yearly basis.

Example 3: Cat food. Advance and Whiskas Dry Food Comparison - 4kg cat

Advance Chicken Cat Food Whiskas Beef and Lamb Cat Food

Weight of best value bag (kg)

20 12

Cost per bag

$104.00 $51.95

Cost per kilo

$5.20 $4.33

Amount per daily feed (g)

38 74

Servings per bag

526.32 162.16

Bags per year

0.7 2.3

Cost per feed

0.20 0.32

Cost per year

$73.00 $116.80

This comparison is interesting, because Advance Feline Chicken dry food (available in a 20kg bag!) is more expensive per kilo, yet cheaper per feed. This is perhaps the most apt example of how important it is to compare cost per feed, rather than cost per kilo. Quality really does make a difference!

The reason you feed smaller amounts of higher quality foods is because their formulas are designed for optimal absorption and digestibility. As your pet is able to extract greater quantities of nutrients from the food, less waste is expelled - which means fewer landmines in the backyard! The higher absorption rate in premium foods also gives your pet a fuller feeling. Lower quality foods can leave your pet feeling hungry which can impact their behaviour. Dull coats, low energy, and behavioural problems such as food aggression can occur in pets fed on a diet which is low in nutritional value.

The key is in the ingredients

Many budget products are not specific when listing their ingredients, often including an "and/or" between meat proteins and cereals. If an ingredient is written as beef and/or poultry and/or lamb, this means the manufacturer can use any combination of those ingredients. This is a common loophole used by cheaper brands as it gives the manufacturer greater flexibility with the formula of the food. Depending on supply and demand costs, the formula can change per batch.

Sudden changes to your pet's diet can cause digestive upsets such as bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence and constipation. Plus, if your pet has a sensitivity to one particular protein, there is the potential for a reaction if the recipe changes.

A good quality pet food generally places importance on specific ingredients. You won't see "and/or" written in the ingredients panel of a premium diet. Each meat or grain in the product will be named (for example 'chicken' instead of 'poultry' or 'meats'), meaning the formula of each batch will be consistent and unchanging.

Buy in bulk

Rather than buying a small bag every month, it's much more cost effective to buy a large 'value' bulk bag that will last you six months or longer. There's usually no need to worry about large bags expiring before you finish them; due to the low moisture content, dry pet food lasts a long time. From manufacturing you can generally keep an unopened product for 2-3 years before it passes expiry. Plus, smaller bags use a lot more packaging, which is not environmentally sustainable. All of those plastic bags, zip locks, tins and cardboard boxes add up!

Let's look at Instinctive Bite as an example:

Instinctive Bite Kangaroo: Bag Size Comparison

Instinctive Bite 5kg Instinctive Bite 10kg Instinctive Bite 15kg

Price ($)

$49.00 $88.20 $99.00

Cost per kilo ($)

$9.80 $8.82 $6.60

If you were to purchase the equivalent of a 15 kilo bag, 5 kilos at a time, you'll end up paying $147.00 in total which is an extra $48 or, if you're a percentage wizard, 32% more than if you were to purchase the 15 kilo bag in one go.

We'd recommend taking some of that $48 saving and investing in a sturdy, airtight container. An airtight container can help keep your food fresh for as long as possible. For best results, store the food in its original bag inside an airtight container, and avoid sitting food in direct sunlight or in damp environments.

If you place your pet's food in bins or containers, always keep the bag until you have used the last of it. If you have any quality concerns or if your pet has a reaction to the food, manufacturers will usually be able to offer more comprehensive assistance. Every brand, no matter how premium, can have its 'bad' batches from time to time, which can either be caused at the time of manufacture or during distribution.

Don't forget to buy local!

Our final tip to help save money on pet food is to buy locally made products. Not only does this help support the local economy, but it avoids those costly import fees slapped on top!

Additionally, locally made pet food is more likely to be fresh and have longer on its expiry date as it avoids lengthy import quarantine processes.

Top Australian-made pet food brands include Instinctive Bite, Advance, Black Hawk, Ivory Coat, Vetalogica, Billy and Margot, and Meals for Mutts / Meows.

The moral of the story

Always assess the value of your pet food by 'cost per feed' over price per kilo. While cheaper supermarket products may be tempting due to their lower up front cost, you will most likely save money overall by investing in the more expensive but much higher quality product, which will also be far more nutritionally beneficial for your pooch.

Instinctive Bite

Instinctive Bite is made in Australia from premium, natural ingredients. Grain free, single and novel protein options are available, all in 15kg value bags.

Ivory Coat

Ivory Coat is well-reviewed and loved by pet owners all over Australia. With premium, natural recipes and options for cats and dogs, large bags are available for almost all varieties.

Black Hawk

Made in Australia with natural, wholesome recipes, Black Hawk's 'real food movement' is not only nutritious and top quality, but excellent value.

Advance

With a range of flavours, textures, and bag sizes, this Aussie-made pet food is great value and endorsed by vets.