The Misunderstood Downside of Cheap Pet Food


Pet lovers usually see their pets as part of the family. As such, we try to give them the best possible chance for a long, healthy life. But with so many conflicting messages bombarding us, how do we know what’s true about pet food and what’s absolute garbage? Is expensive dog food really better than cheap food, and if so, why?

Cheap pet food

From pet insurance to food, the costs of owning a pet can add up. There’s nothing cheap about being a pet owner, and it’s tempting to pick up the cheapest food you can find. However, cheaper pet food typically contains low-priced fillers, like grains.

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Here’s how you may see those grains identified on the ingredient list:

  • Rice flour
  • Potato starch
  • Cereals
  • Wheat
  • Derivative of vegetable origin

Evidence suggests that grains cause a pet’s health to deteriorate faster and ultimately shorten its life. This evidence has led consumers to seek grain-free pet food alternatives and invited more pet food manufacturers to hop on the grain-free bandwagon. The problem is that not all grain-free pet foods are created equal. If it’s cheap, there’s probably a good reason why.

Why some pet food is cheaper than others

It’s not always about how many unhealthy ingredients a manufacturer adds to its pet food formula. Some also choose to leave out ingredients that are important to a pet’s health and well-being. These include essential proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. High-quality ingredients cost the manufacturer more and can seriously cut into its profits.

Formulating healthy pet food requires extensive expertise, and when a company doesn’t spend the money to hire experts, it passes those savings along to consumers in the form of lower prices.

When the price is right

If you find a pet food that looks good at first glance and the price is right, The Dog Stop suggests checking the ingredients list and avoiding any food that contains:

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT): Both have been linked to health concerns.
  • Corn syrup and other high-sugar additives: As in humans, sugar can contribute to dental problems and obesity.
  • Artificial colors and flavors: There’s no nutritional value, but either can cause allergies or sensitivities in pets.
  • Rendered fat and meat by-products: These are alternative names for low-quality animal parts.
  • Grains: Can be difficult for some pets to digest and can lead to allergies or sensitivities.
  • Excessive salt content: Can contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure.

What to look for instead

Homeward Pet says we should look for the following ingredients instead:

  • Meat and fat products identified by species: For example, “deboned salmon meal.”
  • Whole fruits and vegetables: Should be high up on the ingredients list.
  • Grain-free foods, when available: When grains are used, look for whole grains, such as whole brown rice.
  • Organic ingredients: May help your pet lead a healthier life.

You can expect to pay more for high-quality pet food, but you don’t have to empty your bank account to provide healthy food. Ask your veterinarian about the healthiest budget-conscious food they recommend. You may also want to conduct an online search of pet owner discussion boards. No one cares more about finding the right food than a passionate pet owner.

Be careful not to put too much faith in pet food company advertisements, as some can be misleading. For example, a pet food company may claim that its product is 60% protein but fail to reveal that much of it is plant-based and difficult for pets to digest. In other words, count on the opinions of those who don’t have anything to gain by sharing a suggestion.

There’s nothing quite like being a pet owner, and when it comes to something as important as nutrition. Even if you have the best pet insurance on the market, you want to get it right.



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