Downeast Dog News

Pet Food Facts

You Cannot Have It All – Best Nutrition or Convenience & Economy – Part 2 of 3
By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Jun 01, 2021
Photo by: Debra Bell

Last month I started a review of three factors we must consider when choosing how we feed our pets: what constitutes the best nutrition, the cost of what we feed, and how convenience plays a role. This month we begin to discuss cost.

The Cost of Our Pets' Nutrition

Many factors determine the actual cost of our pet's nutrition. Direct costs relating to the food you purchase include: the quality of the ingredients used to make the food, marketing, the manufacturing process, and distribution and delivery.


The ingredients used to make what our pets eat are the source of the nutrition they need to survive. Optimal nutrition comes from the highest quality ingredients that match our pet's nutritional requirements; fresh meat. Meat is sold in varying qualities, from prime cuts suitable for human consumption to low-grade meat used in animal feed. As quality goes up, so does the price.

When you read the word "Chicken" on the ingredients list of your pet's food, the company is probably hoping that you imagine a roasted chicken fresh from the oven. To help that happen, some companies may even go so far as to put images of a roasted chicken on their packaging. However, your vision is probably not anything like the chicken that went into that bag of kibble.

The chicken that goes into most pet food is leftovers from meat processed for people. This "chicken" is what is left after machines have stripped the muscle from the body parts of the chicken. Because of how this chicken is processed, it might no longer be deemed edible for humans but can still be sold to be used in pet food. If a dog were to eat a chicken running wild in the woods, it would get far more nutrition than it would from the "chicken" listed as an ingredient in many pet foods.

A few pet food companies make food from ingredients considered human-edible, especially in the frozen, freeze-dried, and lightly-cooked categories. However, these will be some of the most expensive pet foods due to the higher quality of the ingredients and the additional processing and regulatory requirements for food deemed fit for human consumption.


Marketing pet food includes many things. One of the most obvious is advertising, especially television advertising. As I noted last month, in 2013, the pet industry spent $2.4 million/day on advertising. When a product has a celebrity endorsement, it only adds to the marketing costs. Every dollar spent on advertising is one dollar less spent on quality ingredients!

The average consumer may not be aware of the deep discounts given to veterinary students, veterinarians, breeders, shelters, rescues, and retailers. These also add to the cost you pay for your pet's food.

Rescues and shelters often receive food for free in exchange for sending every pet home with the corresponding brand of pet food. Breeders and pet stores may also receive deep discounts for only recommending or selling a specific brand. Two of the marketing programs that reduce the consumer's cost are coupons and frequent buyer programs. However, even this type of marketing takes away from money that could be spent on better quality ingredients.

"Prescription" or veterinary diets are primarily about marketing, not nutrition or medicine. Some of the companies that sell these foods build brand loyalty early by offering vet students discounted or free food for their pets the entire time they are in school. These companies are also the ones that often teach the one or two-day seminar on pet nutrition taught at veterinary schools. It is virtually identical to the class offered to retailers. No wonder many in the veterinary community have such blind loyalty to certain brands.

Another significant marketing cost billed back to the pet food consumer is the restrictions on how "prescription" diets are sold. None of these diets are a drug or medication requiring a prescription. Drugs for humans and animals are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA has not classified "prescription" and veterinary diets as drugs even though they are marketed as such. It frightens me that there has not been an independent evaluation that has proven these products are safe and effective. It would appear that the FDA is less concerned about the health of our pets. FMI -

A "prescription" is required for these "specialty diets" because the manufacturers only allow them to be sold through a veterinarian as a way to control distribution. In marketing 101, you learn that by restraining availability, you can dramatically increase the price of a product.

To learn more about concerns with "prescription" diets, check out this news story from WJLA ABC7 News -

Next month I will address the additional factors that affect the cost of your pet's food including convenience.




Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( ) in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is also the founder of, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. Don is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC), and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Don is committed to PPG's Guiding Principles and the Pain-Free, Force-Free, and Fear-Free training, management, and care of all pets. He serves on the PPG Steering Committee and Advocacy Committee and is the Chair of The Shock-Free Coalition ( ). Don produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show, that airs on Z62 Retro Radio WZON (AM620) and WKIT 103.3-HD3 and is streamed at every Saturday at 9 AM. Podcasts of the show are available at, the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

©18-May-21, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

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