Dog Food Types & Cost Comparison

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The Basics: Food Types

Before looking at all the various factors you may want to consider when choosing a dog food, it is important to understand what we mean when we refer to fresh, dry, wet, and raw food.

Fresh

Fresh foods use human-grade ingredients, including whole cuts of meats, vegetables, and grains. Most have lower or no preservatives, and commercial varieties are usually fortified with essential oils and nutrient blends.

* Separated human-grade ingredients in their original forms - Pouches

fresh dog food

Dry

Kibble is made by blending and cooking large batches of grains, proteins, vitamins, fiber and other ingredients together at extremely high pressure and temperature to form a uniform mixture.

* Kibble - Dense disks or balls in large bags

kibble

Wet

Compared to dry food, wet food contains significantly more moisture, and is usually packed in serving-size cans. In many foods, grain gluten, and protein gels are used to make meaty chunks designed to look like real meat.

* Meaty moisture rich chunks - Single serve to a few portions in cans or pouches

wet dog food

Raw

Raw foods are just that: raw, uncooked ingredients, usually meat, edible bones, and organs. Because the food is raw, care must be taken to avoid bacterial contamination in the household.

* Ground ingredients - Frozen packages or dehydrated contents in room temperature bags

raw dog food

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Fresh (and homemade)

Prior to commercial food production, dogs were often fed table scraps and leftovers. Today, commercially-produced fresh foods have entered the market as a new alternative to traditional wet and dry foods. Though processing levels and ingredient quality vary among brands, fresh foods are cooked but are not typically processed into a uniform format like dry and wet foods.

Some fresh foods use human-grade ingredients, including whole cuts of meats, vegetables, and grains. Most have lower or no preservatives compared to dry and wet foods, and commercial varieties are usually fortified with needed essential oils and nutrient blends. Fresh foods must be refrigerated or frozen and are not designed to be stored as long as other food types. Homemade foods (whether specifically prepared for dogs or leftovers) are considered fresh foods.


Dry (kibble)

Dry dog food, also known as kibble, is the most common form of food on the market. Available at virtually any price point from the ultra affordable to premium organic foods, kibble’s primary distinction is in how it is produced and how that process affects shelf life. Typical kibble is made by blending and cooking large batches of grains, proteins, vitamins, fiber, and other ingredients together at extremely high pressure and temperature to form a uniform mixture. That mixture is then extruded or pressed and cut into individual pieces before being baked further to lower the moisture content to 8-12%.

Wet (Cans or Pouches)

Wet food is also widely available at a range of prices. Compared to dry food, wet food contains significantly more moisture, and is usually packed in serving-size cans. During production, the food is made by mixing ingredients and then cooking them at scale. In many foods, grain gluten and protein gels are used to make meaty chunks designed to look like real meat. The food is portioned and sealed in cans that are then sterilized through the process of retorting (heating the cans to 121℃), allowing the food to be shelf-stable.

Raw

Raw foods are another relative newcomer to the dog food market that looks back to try to recreate diets similar to what dogs ate in the wild. Raw foods are just that: raw, uncooked ingredients, usually meat, edible bones, and organs. Because the food is raw, care must be taken to avoid bacterial contamination in the household. Raw diets are either homemade or commercially-produced and must be frozen if not made daily.

Pet Parents Daily Spend On Pet Food

Pet food cost is an important factor and varies wildly within and between types of food. Because container sizes range from individual serving packs to 50lb bags of dry dog food, the best comparison is the cost per day based on manufacturer feeding guidelines.

Additional cost-related factors to consider are:

Cost ranges for a 30 lb dog by food type.  

Dry

$0.20 - $13 per day

Pros: Locally available with many options available (most are below average in affordability)

Cons: Highly processed and calorically dense (can lead to quick weight gain)

NomNomNow's Veterinary Nutritionist, Justin Shmalberg DVM on Dry Pet Food

For our hypothetical 30 lb dog, dry foods offer the widest range of costs, from around $1.40 per week for the cheapest store-brand kibble to more than $13 per day for specialty foods that are only available online. Dry food usually requires no specialized storage that would affect cost, but if purchased locally in large bags, the food can be heavy to handle.

Wet

$1 - $6 per day

Pros: Locally available and moisture-rich

Cons: Large number of cans to store and portioning per meal is difficult

Wet foods are not quite as cheap at the low end as dry foods, but a recent market survey also shows the high-end cost ceiling to be substantially lower. Foods range from a little over $1 per day to over $6 per day. Note that wet foods, with their significantly higher moisture content, are relatively heavy to transport. In our higher-end example, approximately 21 cans of food are required per week (3 cans per day) for a 30 lb dog.

Fresh & Delivered

$5 - $6.50 per day

Pros: Formulated by experts, delivered in temperature controlled packages and pre-portioned (Check out NomNomNow Dog Food Recipes)

Cons: Above average in affordability

NomNomNow's Veterinary Nutritionist, Justin Shmalberg DVM on Fresh Pet Food

In part because of their relative newcomer status in the pet food industry, fresh foods have a smaller range of costs. In our research foods varied from approximately $5 per day to about $6.50 per day for our 30 lb dog. Fresh foods will require refrigeration and are typically purchased or shipped in smaller amounts at more frequent intervals.

Homemade

$3+ per day (will vary based on where and which ingredients are purchased)

Pros: Fresh food with controlled ingredients made by pet parents

Cons: Highly time-consuming

Learn more about NomNomNow's take on Homemade Pet Food

While the cost of making dog food at home may seem appealing at first, there are several factors to consider that complicate the issue. Most important: to ensure the recipe is nutritionally complete and balanced, you have to use a recipe developed by a veterinary nutritionist, and that is not cheap (cost to develop a recipe is usually around $500).  

Raw food materials to make enough fresh food for our 30 lb dog cost a little over $23 (a little over $3 per day), but that does not include your time and effort required to go to the store, select and purchase the ingredients, transport them home, prep the ingredients, cook the food, portion it into meal packs, and clean up your kitchen and cooking gear. Given the nature of fresh food, this process will happen no less than once per week and can take several hours from start to finish.

Raw

$6.30 - $6.50 per day

Pros: High in protein

Cons: Contain ground bone and organ meats which will have calcium and nutrient variations

NomNomNow's Veterinary Nutritionist, Justin Shmalberg DVM on Raw Pet Food

In our research, raw food diets had the least variance in cost between high end and low-end options and overall were roughly equivalent to the upper end of wet and fresh food costs at approximately $6.30 to 6.50 per day. Again, these figures are based on commercially-produced raw foods that are nutritionally complete and balanced.

*costs do not reflect shipping and storage costs, which are variable

Visit Complete Guide to Comparing Dog Food Prices for more information.


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