Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rising Dog Food Prices

This graph of dog food prices is German, but the story is the same all over.

Dog food prices are going up all over, regardless of brand or even what part of the civilized world you live in.

How much are they going up? As a general rule, dog food is 8 to 10 percent more expensive now than it was a year ago. The reason for this is not complex: energy costs.

As oil rose from $50 a barrel to over $135 a barrel, not only did shipping and manufacturing become more expensive, but so too did food ingredients such as corn and soy prices.

The price of corn and soy impacts everything from the price of chicken and beef, to the price and availability of substitute sources of protein, fat and fiber.

What can you do to reduce pet food costs?

Well, that depends on how many animals you have, their size, and your storage capacity.

Buying in bulk may result in savings, provided you do not store more than your dogs can consume in 2-3 months. Remember that pet food that goes rancid or buggy is a 100 percent waste.

Choosing where you buy your food matters a lot. Some low-margin bulk stores like Costco or Target can save you money as compared to buying food at a veterinarian, a pet store, or even some commercial grocery stores.

Changing brands may save you money, and ditching a high-cost "premium" food may actually result in better nutrition for your pet.

Remember that most of what you have been told about dog food is complete nonsense. Terms such as "premium," "super-premium," "human grade," "natural," "holistic" and "all natural" mean nothing. Most of the dog foods being sold with these monikers are simple "lick and stick" labeling jobs where marketing companies have contracted with third party manufacturers to make dog food in bulk, sight unseen. You are probably not buying a better food; you are simply paying more for hype and marketing.

Remember that third-party manufacturing is how we got into the Menu Foods toxic dog food mess to start with: nameless, faceless people making dog food out of sight and out of mind, with no institutional label to support, no historical source chain of ingredients, and no personnel on site to ensure quality control.

Dogs are not new. If your grandfather would not recognize the dog food company in question, I would give serious pause. Is this a company that does live-dog feeding trials? Is this a company that has used an unbroken chain of ingredient suppliers for decades on end? Is this a company that can buy in bulk, that owns its own manufacturing equipment, and has a long-term brand name in the pet food business? In my opinion, these are very important questions that should be asked before you read the rest of the label.

Finally, be aware that some dog food brands seem to be raising their prices more than others. This may reflect a change in manufacturers and ingredient chains following the fallout from the Chinese toxic dog food fiasco.

My advice remains as always: feed what you want, but keep your dogs at their correct weight, which is generally lighter than most people think.

Second, look over your entire budget to find savings, not just the dog food budget.

If you want to save money and increase happiness, cut back on your own bad habits, from beer consumption to speeding. Repair the hose rather than buy a new one, and sew on a button rather than get a new shirt. Wash the dog with the cheapest Dollar Store shampoo you can find rather than the expensive stuff sold at the pet shop (it's all the same), and search this web site to find out how to save hundreds of dollars a year on veterinary costs. Dogs do not have to be expensive, but there are certain minimum costs, and food is one of them.

Will dog food costs come down with oil prices? Probably. But there will be a lag, as agricultural cycles have a 12-month rhythm and are subject to a wide variety of variables (weather, federal import and export policies, the creation of new ethanol-conversion programs) beyond price-per-barrel oil prices.



YesBiscuit! said...

When AAFCO tossed out the NRC guidelines in the early '90s, so went the expensive recommendation for feed trials and in its place AAFCO put chemical analysis. Pet food companies can choose to perform feed trials if they want to spend the extra money, but it's not necessary for the AAFCO nutritional adequacy stamp. Companies can also choose to go with a large manufacturer like Menu and let Menu make their food and conduct feed trials.
If I owned a pet food company, I would prefer to make my own food and conduct my own feed trials. Cos otherwise, how would I know for sure?

Living the life in The Little City said...

I've been having good luck buying our dog food online at Pet Food Direct. They periodically offer discounts that offset the shipping costs. Oh, and I don't miss lugging huge dog food bags home from the store.


2CatMom said...

My cats' food just went up from $1.59 for a 5.5 oz can to $1.99. The company that makes their food hasen't raised their prices in two years while other companies seem to raise prices more frequently but in smaller increments.

That said, $1.99 is a lot for a can of food - but after the pet food fiasco I will only buy food that is actually made by the manufacturer (not outsourced)and is tested constantly with their own 100 cat 'staff.' They actually are a company that produces food for humans and uses the leftovers for cats/dogs. I have their EU certifications,there's no animal by-products or grain additives (remember, cats are obligate carnivores, not omnivores like dogs) and they've never looked better.

I may have to take out a home equity loan to pay for the stuff but you can buy a lot of $1.99 cat food for the cost of one visit to the vet.

PBurns said...

I don't have cats, but Chicken of the Sea Tuna for *humans* is $1.89 for 6 oz at Walgreens.


2CatMom said...

PBurns - that actually makes me feel better! I was just thinking - "I could buy them a can of tuna for a lot less." At least its not a LOT less, lol.

Heather said...

Plain tuna would not meet the nutritional requirements for cats, specifically calcium, for long term feeding.

Whole fish even with bone does not have enough calcium, so human grade tuna without bone certainly wouldn't have enough.

The most important thing for feeding cats on a budget is a moisture rich, meat based diet appropriately supplemented, ideally with little to no grains. Many budget canned foods fit this criteria.

2CatMom said...

Sure, there lots of budget cat food if you don't mind animal-by products which I translate as "cancerous tissue we can't feed to humans, road-kill, euthanized animals and the like." Also watch out for "added fat" this is generally rancid cooking oil collected from restaurants.

Thanks, but no thank.

Rocambole said...

More of my gardeners are asking me about which of their veggies they can feed their dogs.

As someone who grows food and cooks, I'd love to see a booklet that listed what I should (and shouldn't) feed my dog and cat -- sort of "The Farmers' Market Cookbook for Dogs and Cats"

Considering we're all growing this food and most of us cook what we grow, the dog owners at the community garden are all pretty much saying "I feed/cook for the rest of the family -- why not the dog?"

Luckily, I found out that as an allium grower (with 15 species of the genera), I'd kill Pepper if I fed her what I eat, but I still feel horrible about the time I gave her grapes as a puppy. Luckily, she just played with them and didn't eat them (they went to the compost bin), but I had no idea they could harm her.

Then Kim Thorton at PetConnection talks about putting dandelion greens in her dogs' stew -- which means that Pepper can celebrate Easter this year with dandelion greens with hot bacon dressing (very PA Dutch!) with the rest of us -- but who knew?

It would be nice to have a basic "meat & veggie guide to feeding your pet" to share with my gardeners.


PBurns said...

As with so much that is written about dogs and food, most of the warnings are pretty close to pure nonsense.

A few grapes will not hurt a dog in the slightest. An entire bag of raisins? That's different, and a very rare occurence.

A Hershey's Kiss or two or even an entire Hershey bar will not harm your dog. An entire bag of Hershey's kisses? That might be a problem, depending on the size of the dog and the bag. Get the dog to throw up, and it will probably be fine.

A little garlic or onion will not harm a dog. In fact, a lot of flea preventive and some dog food has garlic in it as the dogs love it. See > http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=garlic+flea&aq=f&oq= No harm. Feed a dog a big bag of onion rings or dump a box of freeze dried onions into its food bowl? You might have a problem.

As in ALL things, dosage is critical. Overdosing a dog on sweet chocolate, grapes and garlic is VERY HARD and generally requires a lot of food left out for the dog to eat as much as it wants. Do you do that very often? I doubt it.

The only time I have seem a dog in serious gastro-intestinal distress from any human food was from cake icing -- it was attached to about 20 feet of almuminum foil on a series of school sheet-cakes, and the dog ate all of the foil as well as the icing. It was the foil that was the problem, not the chocolate icing!

The things that are most likely to harm your pets is not food, but medicines -- stray pills that bounce across the kitchen, bathroom or bedroom. Tylenol can kill, and so can a lot of other stuff people commonly take for tension, muscel spasms, etc. Carrots, tomatoes, zuchini, pumpkin, peas, etc? Feed all you want and the dog will eat!


Rocambole said...

Thanks for the reassurance, Patrick, but as alliums are my life, I still hesitate to share my meals with my dog.

My soup pot holds six gallons. Last week's potato-leek soup had 10 leeks and 3 heads of garlic. Tomorrow's ham/lentil will contain leeks (4 or 5, depending on what I dig up), 3 onions, 2 heads of garlic, along with bunching onions, garlic chives and garden chives if they are up (the joys of early spring!)

However, I am starting to put stuff aside for the pets as it doesn't seem to make much sense to grow food for the humans, but buy food for the animals. And of course, since I'm starting seed now for the season, I'm thinking a lot about who all can eat what.

I guess we'll find out this year if Pepper really is like her Daddy and loves broccoli raab or not! ;-)


Sarah said...

The high price of kibble is one of the reasons I started feeding (in the last month) my border collie a raw food diet. One of my parents was a scientist by profession, so I tend to approach every new situation with a scientist's skepticism, and in making lots of observations. The "premium" kibble she had been on seemed to agree with her pretty well, and the Costco kibble had given her room-clearing gas. Since she's been eating her carrots, broccoli, or apple in the morning, plus whatever uh, "barn goodies" she helps herself to while doing chores, and her raw chicken back at night, the gas is gone, her slight dandruff seems to be gone, the OCD self-licking went away, and she has even more energy. In fact, we have been threatening to put her back on kibble in order to get some peace. I really wasn't expecting to see much difference in a raw diet, but have been pleasantly surprised. Plus, it is way cheaper- I buy the chicken from the grocery store in a 40lb case, and it is working out to be about half the cost of kibble. And it keeps me out of PetSmart with their annoying stalker-clerks.

I use bar soap to wash my dog- works better than shampoo. Then again, I make my own soap which is way better (yes, there is a difference between soaps), so I have a handy supply.

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