Dog & Cat Food: Are Expensive Foods Better?

Updated November 28, 2020

Pet food safety is in the news again, and this time it’s one of the foods that vets actually recommend. Pet owners I talk to are confused and unsure who they can trust. Suddenly “spend more and it’ll be better” doesn’t sound so convincing.

So which pet foods are really better? Is it worth spending the extra money on premium dog and cat food?

Why Premium Pet Food?

Why would anyone buy a food that is:

  1. More expensive
  2. Harder to get
  3. Having safety issues, and
  4. Not as tasty

A crazy person, that’s who. Unless there’s more to go on.

You can probably tell by now that I’m going to come to the defence of poor old ‘big pet food’. Not for the companies, not even for vets, but instead for the health of pets as I see it.

As always, I have an unusual viewpoint, especially about taste. Even if you disagree, I hope you’ll find it interesting enough to leave a comment. So stay with me while I tackle each of these four big disadvantages of premium pet foods.


Here’s what the companies say: price is not so bad on an as-fed basis. The idea is that premium foods are more digestible and therefore the pet gets more out of the same volume of food.

This is mostly true. Although you do still spend more it isn’t as bad as it first looks. And a bonus of increased digestibility is less poo!


You can’t get premium pet foods in your weekly shop, which instantly makes them less convenient. Now you need to make extra time for a special trip.

There’s no denying it. However, there are lots of sellers these days. As well as vets there are now plenty of independent pet stores selling premium foods. The RSPCA have even opened one in Hillcrest.


Hills have been in the media in the past month for excessive Vitamin D levels found in some of their canned pet foods. In 2007, Hills foods were found to be contaminated with melamine, again resulting in a large recall. These events have no excuse, but do they mean Hills foods are especially bad?

Probably not. If we put premium foods up against supermarket brands we’re not comparing apples with apples.

Most premium foods (Hills, Royal Canin, Eukanuba etc) are international. Importantly, this means they are sold in countries with active pet food regulatory systems.

Most supermarket foods are local. They have nearly no regulation, and no monitoring. This doesn’t mean they are unsafe, just unknown.

So when I hear about a premium pet food recall, I think, “terrible, but at least we know.” And being a long boat trip away means we are relatively well insulated. In both the Vitamin D and melamine cases, shipment delays mean that most of the food exported to Australia was recovered before it reached pet owners.

I deliberately buy these foods for the monitoring that they undergo in other countries. Crazy? I don’t think so.


The last point, on the other hand, is hard to argue. Yes, dogs and cats learn to love any food, but give them a choice and most will still head for the supermarket option.

To understand my concerns, I want you to try to imagine yourself in the shoes of the food company. You’re fighting for shelf space, knowing that if sales drop you lose your spot. What do you do?

There’s no-one in the supermarket giving the customer advice. That means you’ll need to use clever advertising and well-designed packaging. But talk to any pet owner about why they choose Brand A over Brand B and something else always comes up first.

“He really loves this one.”

This is the key to understanding the pet food aisle. It’s natural selection in a jungle of competing foods. And after all the marketing is over, there’s just one trick left: make it as tasty as possible.

Taste Is King

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying supermarket foods are bad or dangerous. They are perfectly fine for the nutrition of dogs and cats. But I want you to imagine what happens when taste is priority number one.

I believe there is always a trade off between making the tastiest food and making the most nutritious food. If a company pushes taste to its limit, I can’t see how other areas don’t suffer as a consequence.

This is why I see taste as a negative, not a positive. Now let’s look at the other side of the fence.

Supermarket vs Premium?

The premium pet food sellers have to compete for the opinion of vets and pet stores, not taste. Unless they can convince experts to recommend their foods, they won’t sell them. They need someone saying, “it might be hard to change, but this food is better for your pet.”

Here’s something else no-one considers: what happens when pets get old. Most common diseases are treated by a combination of medicines and prescription foods. My heart sinks when I see an old cat with kidney failure who only eats Fancy Feast®.

Unwell animals have lower appetites and cope poorly with diet change, especially a drop in tastiness. Prescription foods and premium foods appear to taste very similar. Therefore, those owners who had put their pets on premium foods when they were young set them up for a healthier old age.

So Which Pet Foods Are Better?

There’s one final way to look at it: imagine the same decision from a human perspective. If I chose my diet based on what was cheaper, easier to get, less regulated and tastier I probably wouldn’t be making the best choices.

The same is likely to be true for pets. The best foods? I think you know what I reckon.

Related: Homemade diets for dogs | Raw diets for cats | Getting Puppies To Eat Kibble

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

17 Replies to “Dog & Cat Food: Are Expensive Foods Better?”

  1. Hi Andrew, I am currently feeding our five-year-old Moodle a combination of Advance for Adult Oodles 100g trays (soft food) with Salmon and Advance for Small Oodles dry food (Salmon with rice). He enjoys both of them. Are they a good food to be giving him. I do also supplement his diet with vegetables. He loves steamed broccoli and pumpkin and raw capsicum. He also has a piece of cooked steak once a week.

    1. Hi Amanda. I love how an Australian company has made a food especially for oodles – that’s great marketing, but it should also be a good food. The other additions will be beneficial if they don’t overwhelm the nutritional balance of the main food.

  2. Hi Andrew, with the current high cost of living, are you able to recommend any of the supermarket brands? I currently feed Royal Canin both wet and dry to a cat and 2 dogs, and the cost is becoming prohibitive.
    I note the owner of RC, Mars, also owns a few supermarket brands, one of which claims to utilise international research facilities. Is it possible that a brand such as this would be safe and effective over the long term?
    Many thanks Michelle

  3. Hi Andrew can you tell me if K9 Joint Protect made in Australia is safe as it looks like a dried chew. Also , I bought Australian dried kangaroo strips. I dont want to give my 13yr old GSD any risky products. Thank you for your site and comments. I just bought Vitapet duck tenders. Look like they need to go in the rubbish bin after what I read. Thank you.

    1. Hi Anne. They have been reports of dried meat products causing problems even from countries like the USA and Australia, so generally we don’t advise the use of these at all until we understand the cause better.

  4. I have 2 cats, 1 just recently been diagnosed with diabetes, the other is overweight.
    I need to find a low carb wet food, that they will eat.
    The food I am feeding at the moment they tend to eat the gravy and leave the meat, which then is thrown out.
    I changed my dry food which only is given as a treat as apparently wet food is the better choice. Are you able to suggest a low carb wet food please

  5. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for your very informative article! What are your thoughts on Australian made premium dry cat food, like Advance or Black Hawk? Do Royal Canin and Hills differ significantly from these brands?

    1. Hi Meg. That’s a good question. Both are good choices, but my opinion is that they are just a small step down from the other two you mention. Of course I can’t easily prove what I say.

    1. Hi Karen. It’s interesting how differently most vets see things from what you will read online. For example, despite Hills Science diet receiving so much hate, vets like myself find it is a reliable food and that is what I choose for my own dogs. Royal Canin seems almost the same. You will read much love online for brands like Orijen, K9 Naturals, Ziwi and Holistic but I find these harder to judge. I’m always in favour of choosing brands from more highly regulated countries as well.

  6. Very interesting reading. I am getting ready to add a 12 week old Ragdoll kitty to my family. I currently have an 11 year old Corgi who is fed home-cooked food added to premium dry food and a 6 year old rescue kitty who is fed Fussy Cat grain free canned food in the morning and a blend of several different premium biscuits at night. I am looking for the best premium kitten food to feed my new baby. I like to feed my fur babies food that is made of the best, most natural ingredients and that I can understand, not a bunch of chemicals or other stuff that one has to look up to know what they are. My new kitty is currently being fed Royal Canin kitten and I will keep her on that for a while, at least until I can find something we are both happy with.

  7. Interesting in regards to taste. My cat loved Advance dry food. When I switched him to Applaws, based on a better nutritional analysis, he was not so keen (he eats it, but doesn’t lap it up). Dry food available in supermarket obviously not as tasty as dry food from vet / speciality shops.

    Very insightful regards to overseas scrutiny. That is a very interesting fact. I did not know this. Thank you.

  8. Great article Andrew! Since reading it I’ve been transitioning my cat from Fancy Feast to premium wet food (was already on premium dry) – your comment about older pets and chronic disease really hit home as an owner of a 13 year-old puss. He’s thankfully healthy, but it’s a good investment in his future wellbeing and the efficacy of any treatment regime he might need down the road. Thank you!

  9. Very interesting read. I’m seeing a lot of people praising ziwi peak (and my cats enjoy it) and Ive also seen more moving to raw feeding based off damaged trust relationships with premium brands recalling food. Seems like more and more people are becoming anti grain/corn/fillers etc as well. Pet food is very different now days then it was 15 years ago!

  10. We feed our dog premium food and have struggled to keep him interested in eating due to the taste. We have recently been adding dehaydrated raw food as a topping (less than a teaspoon) and mixing with water and he now happily tucks in. It costs us an extra $35 every 3 months. This has worked for us and still fits our budget and aim the keep our boy as healthy as we can

    1. Hi Stephanie. I have never in my career seen a dog actually eat an insufficient quantity for taste reasons alone. Either they are unwell, have learnt that being fussy has benefits or it is a matter of owner perceptions. In my experience many of of these dogs are overweight when examined.

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