Expensive cat food can be 25 times more expensive than the cheapest. Is it worth it?

The experts at the Clinical Nutrition Service say that “The yearly costs ranged from $86 to over $2,100” when assessing the price range of wet and dry cat foods in the United States. The infographic below shows the range. It is entirely based on their assessment. The cheapest dry food costs 23 cents a day in the United States and the most expensive wet food that they tested costs $6 per day.

Cost of cat food chart

Cost of cat food chart in an infographic by MikeB

The big question for many cat owners is whether the relatively high price of quality wet cat food is worth it. Is the high price justified when both are said to be balanced and complete and provide the same number of calories?

Well, I say a cat owner should always buy the best quality wet that they can under their budget. The ingredients are better quality. There is a higher percentage of real meat and less filler like grains. The calories are the same but are the nutrients as good for the cheap foods? The target is the mouse for an obligate carnivore such as the domestic cat: 40 percent protein, 50 percent fat and only 3 percent carbohydrates.

Dry foods contain an inordinately high percentage of carbohydrates at around 35 percent. That’s unnatural. Some vets think it can cause diabetes as the pancreas is overloaded in trying to supress blood sugar levels with insulin.

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Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVIM (Nutrition) who did the assessment asks the questions about value for money. Cailin confirms that “All of the diets that I used were ‘complete and balanced'”. This confirms that the foods should not produce dietary deficiencies.

She says that if her budget became tight, she “would feed any of the lower priced dry and wet diets to my own pet if I needed an economical option.” However, she does not question the high carbohydrate levels of dry and their unnaturalness. I regard this as an omission.

Although, she does admit that wet foods “may have benefits for some cats” – a pretty weak endorsement for wet cat food over dry. Personally, and through personal experience, I’d always use good quality wet food as the basis of my cat’s diet as it’s water content matches that of a prey animal at around 70%. Cats need to ingest water in food I believe as, in general, they are poor drinkers because of their ancestral inheritance of a wild cat used to living in dry conditions.

Ultimately Calin says that it is up to the cat caregiver to decide and her final advice is wide open to discretion: “I encourage all cat lovers to select diets for their cats that fit comfortably into their family budgets.” The important point to make is that people considering adopting a cat need to figure out their budget. Cat food can be expensive as stated. The cost mounts up. This is only part of the overall maintenance costs.

Below is an image from their assessment. If anyone objects, I’ll remove it. It is from Cailin’s page on their website which you can read by clicking on this link.

USA - yearly cat food costs from cheap dry to expensive wet

USA – yearly cat food costs from cheap dry to expensive wet. Chart: Clinical Nutrition Service.

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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