Really why should we? Many of us might not want to admit it but there’s only one reason we spend so much on premium dog food. And that reason is that we’ve been subconsciously trained to read “expensive” as “quality”.
Who did this? Marketers. But don’t hate them. They’re just doing their jobs. And, obviously, they are very good at it. Lol.
So, today, we seek to uncover the real truths about premium dog food. Are these food products really worth the exorbitant prices they cost? What exactly are you paying for when you tip that box from off the shelf and into your cart?
But before we go on, it begs the question…
Just What Are Premium Dog Foods Exactly?
The truth that most manufacturers wouldn’t tell you is that “premium” has no standard definition. Not from the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), neither from the United States Department of Agriculture (USD) nor from the National Organic Program (NOP).
So, what this means is that “premium” means whatever the manufacturer says it means. There is no set of guidelines anywhere by which a particular dog food can be measured for “premiumness” or not.
But before we continue, let’s give you a brief rundown of how the word “premium” came to be a buzzword and a symbol of quality.
How Premium Got Introduced To The Pet Food Industry
The term actually began in the alcohol brewing industry. From there the term spread into other industries including fashion, human food, health and beauty, and then to the pet products industry.
Cailin R. Heinze in her article on premium dog food gives us a little insight into how the word “premium” came to be a buzzword in the pet industry.
The big idea is to play on your innate emotions and desires to live a life of luxury. So, they hike the prices a bit, give you a false sense of increased value… and bam! A premium product is born! And you think “that’s got to be healthier cos it’s soooo expensive. I have to break my piggy bank and get that!”
Now, not to be too much of a naysayer, the truth is that some of the premium products actually offer more value than their contemporaries. But here’s the thing…
It’s not a matter of the tag “premium”. It’s a matter of the manufacturing company and its practices.
However, more value or not, there’s one thing that’s unchanging… Premium pet food always costs a pretty penny. And as we said, it’s the reason you think they are better.
It’s actually less emotional and more scientific than you think. A study has proved the link between price and human perception of certain products.
Check out the details of that study next…
Here’s The Ultimate Proof That Price Does Affect Our Perception Of Premium Dog Food
In 2007, a group of researchers from Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology conducted a research. They wanted to prove that there is a link between how a product is priced and how humans consequently perceive such products.
So, they got some volunteers and got them into an MRI scanner. Then they gave them different samples of wine. Note that the only difference between these samples was price.
Now, here’s the interesting thing…
The researchers gave the volunteers the same wine twice. And on each occasion, the researchers had the volunteers believe that the wines were of different prices. Remember, it was still the same glass of wine. The only thing that had changed was that the volunteers had been tricked into believing that one of the samples cost more than the other.
Result Of The Experiment?
All volunteers reported that the “costlier” wine tasted better than the “cheap” wine. But that’s not all… even the reports from their MRI scans showed that, upon hearing a higher price, some areas of their brains got enhanced. So, it wasn’t just that the volunteers said it tasted better. They actually did believe and perceive that it tasted better. All because of a price increment!
And the stats prove that this doesn’t just happen for wines. It’s also happening in the pet food industry. In 2015 alone, premium pet foods (including premium dog food) accounted for 61% of total pet food sales. That is about $14.5 billion (with a capital B!) out of the total $23.7 billion sales. That’s a lot!
Truth is that many of these premium pet food manufacturers actually do a bit to justify the high cost of their products. So, you see them try to avoid grains and by-products. They also try to include fruits and veggies, probiotics and also try to make meat their first product.
But here’s the million-dollar question…
Does Premium Dog Food Actually Translate To Healthy Dog Food?
Dr. Cailin R. Heinze (VMD, MS, DAVCN), a board-certified veterinary nutritionist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine doesn’t seem to think so. In her article about premium pet food, she explains that there hasn’t been any clear links drawn from healthier pets to premium pet food.
That a dog does better on a brand than another has more to do with the practices adopted by a particular brand than whether or not the food is designated “premium”.
Granted, some premium companies may include expensive ingredients in their products. Some may include protein, animal fat, or other essential nutrients. But reading the label to be sure what the box actually contains is always a safer bet when judging the quality of a food brand.
A less expensive dog food at the back of the store might actually be healthier than the expensive premium brands you’re looking for.
Many times, the included ingredients (like blueberries, probiotics or salmon) do not even necessarily bring any increased nourishment for you furkin. They are not even present in such great amounts, just traces. The manufacturers just want to justify the hiked price.
In fact, some of the brands that claim to include probiotics in their food actually do not. However, many scientists are of the opinion that probiotics possess health benefits for dogs. How true that is is still very debatable, though.
With that, we move to the next section. If you must get premium dog food, there are some things you must keep in mind. Like we said, premium dog food isn’t bad in itself. You just need to be smart and learn to read labels so well, it becomes a skill.
Some Factors To Consider When Going For Premium Dog Food
So, there are so many words thrown around that add up to describe the word “premium”. Here, we look into some of them and tell you the truth about them and what to look out for.
Grain-free doesn’t necessarily mean carb-free. To hold dry food together in place, some form of carbohydrate needs to be introduced to the kibble mix. So sometimes, cassava and potatoes are used. Other times its legumes like lentils or peas that are used.
Legumes are okay since they provide protein and some carbohydrates. But starchy veggies are less nutritious but more expensive.
Dogs are carnivores and scavengers and can eat anything from meat to rubbish. Whether or not grain should be included in their meals is still quite the controversial issue today.
While many are against including gains, claiming that dogs should be fed as carnivores, other schools of thought believe that grains are great. In their opinion, since they provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, and protein, they are nutritious and should be included in a dog’s diet.
However, research on this issue is still quite limited.
But from the few results observed, there isn’t any substantial evidence that grain-free or grain-full diets affect dog health. Although, it is true that some dogs will have fewer stomach upsets and skin problems when grain or carbs are reduced in their diets.
Again, there’s no evidence that gluten will either harm or help your pooch. Except for Irish setters though. Some of them could come down with celiac disease if exposed to gluten. To be sure, you might want to take your dog to the vet for a food intolerance test, first.
Food allergies are rare in dogs. And when they present themselves, they are usually either gut-related or skin-related. Chief culprit? Usually meat.
Now, while the only way to be sure of an allergy in your pup would be to systematically eliminate and reintroduce different meats from your dog’s diet, you can hardly find a dog food where meat is from a single animal source. Hardly.
A pet food labeled as “lamb dinner” could contain other meats from pork to chicken to beef. Another reason you need to learn to read labels well. But even at that, studies have shown that even in some hypoallergenic dog foods, certain unlabelled animal meats were still found.
So, if the pack reads “hypoallergenic”, find out what allergy, in particular, is being referred to, so you can be sure of the meat that’s absent.
To understand more about food allergies in dogs and how you can manage them, check out our guide on hypoallergenic dog food.
This is supposed to mean that the ingredients included in the foods are good enough for human consumption. So, you find that the company brags about including muscle meat and not by-products, more of plant products, and fish oil.
But here’s the thing, your dog is not human.
Some parts of an animal that you might not be able to eat (for cultural reasons) are perfectly okay for carnivores. So, by-products are not such a bad idea. In fact, feeding them to your dog helps to minimize waste.
So, what exactly are by-products?
According to the AAFCO, quoting literatim now, byproducts include but are not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hairs, horns, teeth and hoofs.
If you’re ready for the truth, here it is: by-products are good for your pup. They are also good for our environment.
Because the marketing tactics are targeted at you and not your pet, many times, ingredients are made to sound appealing to you as a human. Yes, whether they are good for your dog or not. So, what happens is, you look at the box through human eyes and conclude that the kale and coconut oil you saw in the label would be good for your dog.
Sorry, friend. But it doesn’t work like that.
Again, there’s no scientific proof that these ingredients will provide any health benefit for your dog. And you know what’s worse? Many of these ingredients present are actually in such infinitesimal quantities, they hardly even count as present.
And yeah, a small warning… too much of any fat isn’t even good for your dog be it coconut oil or fish oil or emu oil. It could lead to pancreatitis.
Don’t be sold. Duck meat or kangaroo meat has no special advantage over regular domesticated animal meat. It’s just a game of bragging rights that some of these companies are playing with you.
But then, there’s another side to this that could actually be advantageous…
If your dog is reacting to regular meat, these less common species could help. So far your dog has actually never tasted that meat before, they could serve as a replacement to the offending meat.
Complete And Balanced
If a dog food reads “complete”, ideally, it means that the food contains a balanced diet necessary for your dog. It also means that the food meets the minimum AAFCO nutritive requirements.
If the product doesn’t meet the AAFCO standard, it should ideally be labeled “intended for occasional or supplemental feeding” or “snack” or “treat”. Such foods should always be fed with complete food.
Now that all these factors have been considered, here’s one more thing. While it might seem like a premium dog food has no inherent advantage of its own, it actually does.
We must say though that many people tout the many benefits of premium dog food wrongly. We have already explained that it’s more a matter of the quality of the manufacturers’ practices than whether it’s called a premium dog food or not.
But nonetheless, here’s one proven benefit of a premium dog food…
Premium Dog Food Improves The Quality Of Your Dog’s Poop
To conclude, here’s what Doctor Andrew Spanner (DVM) has to say about the effectiveness of dog food. He explains that pet owners with healthy pooches might struggle to find a difference between feeding normal dog food and premium dog food.
He also said that premium dog food is best for dogs that frequently come down with skin problems or stomach upsets. For him, the biggest difference between premium dog food and regular dog food is the quality of poop.
Feeding your dog with premium dog food means that your dog will produce firmer stools. Plus, he won’t have to go all the time.
And if it makes you feel any better, most vets agree to feeding their own pets with premium pet foods.
We will conclude this article with an advice from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. “When going for a premium pet product or any other pet food for that matter, it’s best to go with a company that provides a contact number. You’ll need this to make enquiries”.
If this is available, you can confirm certain vital information about the product firsthand. Information like if a nutritionist was involved in the formulation of the food, and whether or not the product has gone through feeding trials to confirm its digestibility.
Being certain of such information could help to make a more intelligent purchase.
PS: A Final Word on Obesity
The biggest pet food problem today isn’t even about premium dog food or organic dog food. It’s about obesity! About one in every three dogs is obese and their owners won’t even admit it! Ensure you regulate the amount of food your pooch takes in so they don’t become obese. Also, make sure you’re exercising regularly.
Nothing assures excellent dog health like regular good dog food and regular exercise!