Pay More for Organic Dog and Cat Food Now, Spend Less at the Vet Later

Organic dog food may cost 36% to 83% more than regular food, but experts say it will keep your pet healthier — and will ward off expensive vet bills down the line.
Organic Pet Food

Organic food isn't just for your kitchen table anymore. As pet ownership in the United States continues to rise, organic dog food and cat food manufacturers are jumping on the super food bandwagon, ensuring Fido gets his fair share of organic treats.

The trend is so popular, that the natural pet food and pet care industry is expected to grow by up to 15% over the next three years, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. That means sales of healthy dog and cat food in the U.S. will reach $9.4 billion by 2017, up from an estimated $4.1 billion in 2012.

For the average pet owner, organic treats means spending more money throughout the lifespan of your pet. In some instances, you could pay up to $7 more per every 5-lb. bag of organic pet food you buy. But can purchasing premium pet food help both you and your buddy in the long run?

Pay More for Food Now, Spend Less to Treat Health Issues Later

"The benefits of feeding your pet an organic or all natural diet are endless," says Janie Knetzer, pet nutritionist and author of Home Cooking for Sick Dogs and "Many chronic health issues such as ear problems or excessive scratching can be eliminated by feeding an organic diet," says Knetzer. But not all foods claiming to be all-natural are healthy, and consumers should know what they're buying.

"You have to read the ingredients and more importantly, understand which ingredients are good," says Knetzer. "For example, food with corn as the main protein is not good, regardless if it's all natural or not."

And just like you'd read the nutrition label on your food, pet owners should get used to reading the labels on their pet's food. You should generally avoid anything with the following ingredients: Ethoxyquin, BHA (Butylated Hydroxysanisole), BHT (Butylated Hydroxytuluene), TBHQ (Tertiary Butylhydroquinone), and Sodium Metabisulphite, says Knetzer. These cancer-causing preservatives refute any health claims you'll find on the food's packaging. Instead, look for labels that use natural preservatives such as Vitamins C and E, she says.

Likewise, meat meals should always include the meat source, says Knetzer. Choose products that list chicken meal instead of poultry meal or salmon meal rather than fish meal. "My favorite brands include Dr. Harvey's, The Honest Kitchen, Grandma Lucy's, and Stella and Chewy's," says Knetzer. "I typically never recommend kibble unless a client refuses to feed anything but kibble. If that's the case, then I recommend Acana, which is an excellent choice."

Know What's Out There: Holistic, Organic, and All Natural

Walk through the pet aisle at your local pet store and you'll find a cornucopia of pet food. Among the most common varieties you'll see are holistic, organic, and all natural, but not all of these foods are created equal.

Holistic foods refer to those that use "whole" foods with minimal processing and no additives, says Knetzer. By comparison, organic foods refer to how the ingredients were grown or — in the case of meat — how they were raised. In order for a brand to call itself organic, every ingredient on its label must meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means the food must be produced without harmful pesticides or chemicals.

However, when dealing with foods labeled all natural, Knetzer advises using caution. "The USDA doesn't require the same standards for "all natural" that it does for organic," she warns. So consumers are often fooled into thinking that "all natural" is synonymous with "organic," when oftentimes the former can include ingredients that were grown with harmful pesticides. So when shopping for pet food, it's best to read labels, look for organic certification, and question foods marked "all natural."

The Main Benefit of Spending More

In our informal comparisons, we compared dog food from health brands like Acana and Blue Buffalo against common brands like Purina and Science Diet. Using stores like Chewy, Petco and PetSmart, we found prices cost up to 36% more for premium food than generic dog food. Likewise, we found that 5 lbs. of specialty freeze-dried dog food from Stella & Chewy's cost up to 83% more than a 5-lb. bag of generic kibble.

But while these premium pet foods command a bigger upfront cost, investing in top-of-the-line dog food could save you money in the long run. You'll be making fewer visits to the vet, says Knetzer. And you might not have to spend money on pet insurance either as a result.

Additionally, you'll have a healthier pet, which for any pet owner, is priceless.

Louis Ramirez
DealNews Contributing Writer

With over a decade of experience covering technology, Louis Ramirez has written for CNET, Laptop, Gizmodo, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @louisramirez.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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pet minded
I own a pet supply shop in Southern California. I understand what larsonel is saying (But I disagree). Two prospectives would be nice. I do agree that truly "Natural" well balanced foods are better for furry children. As for organic, this is not the solution.
At my shop we specialize in allergies. The process we use was developed by Glacier Peak Holistic. We observe that eliminating allergens is a gateway to having a healthier fur child. It is not the solve-all though. And most certified dermatologist, certified nutritionist, or regular vets are flat out ignorant when it comes to solving allergy issues. Many vets say it’s impossible to test for food allergies. One vet (the head of a VERY reputable NON-GMO/NON-HORMONE pet food) told me that dogs don’t have “true allergies like people have”. He was ALSO a certified nutritionist. Give salmon to my oldest dog and she turns red all over and has ‘wheel and flare’ symptoms- the medical definition of an allergy. Vets don't know everything.
Louis Ramirez (DealNews)
The pet food industry is making a big push for natural pet food, and the point we're driving across is 1) not all "natural" pet food is healthy and 2) if you spend a little more time/money researching your pet's food, your pet will be healthier and you'll wind up saving money with less visits to the vet.

As with human food, there is no "official study" that says organic is healthier than generic. This article isn't intended to be a peer-reviewed study either. But if you at least know what you're feeding your pet (know the ingredients in their food, where they were sourced, etc.) your pet will be healthier.
Larsonel and Jshelbur -- what I got from this article is that dog owners should try and stick with natural and organic foods for their dog. What's the problem with that? Why the chip on the shoulder? I think it's a great article.

As a long time dog owner, I don't rely on "published PEER reviewed literature" when it comes to caring for my dogs. Most dog owners don't. We rely on good old fashioned experience of what works for our dogs and what doesn't. It sounds like you're both on some sort of power trip and upset that you weren't included.

Get over it. Most dog owners aren't concerned about PEER literature and "board certified veterinary nutritionists". I just read an article the other day from a "board certified vet nutritionist" and he was a doctor. Does this make him a specialist in the area of food for dogs? I don't think so.

Great article. Relax people!
I too agree with larsonel. I like the PetFoodAdvisor website to help me make good choices about what food to feed my dog. They have reviewed nearly all dog foods available and discuss various aspects of nutrition and ingredients. Also they have a comments section and a forum for real people to share personal experience and answer questions. Good info!

As far as the term "organic"...even for human products the designation of "organic" is being broadened to include more and more questionable ingredients.
I agree with larsonel and I am a veternarian. How does one become a pet nutritionist? The only actual animal nutritionists I know are board certified veterinary nutritionists.
There is no published peer reviewed literature showing that organic food has a medical benefit. I am disappointed you did not interview another nutritional or animal health expert for this article. Whether a food is organic or not is irrelevant regarding skin problems. These types of problems are commonly related to allergies. The dog's body doesn't identify organic chicken from non-organic chicken. It identifies the chicken (or beef or pork or lamb or grain or non-grain) antigen and reacts to it resulting in itching. Ask your vet about skin and ear problems. Visit a board certified dermatologist or a board certified nutritionist or a regular general practitioner. Finally, I don't think the word "organic" has as many controls for pet food as human food - buyer beware.