How Much Is Too Much To Pay For Dog Food?

Is $76 too much?

Photo: Bea Bischoff

When my wife and I adopted Woof Bader Ginsburg last July, the rescue told us the cuddly, four-month-old, ten-pound dachshund mix puppy would max out at about 15 pounds. Now 11 months old, Woof is 32 pounds of long, furry love culminating in an unexpectedly strong tail. The vet’s latest guess about her breed? Dachshund-rottweiler.

When we decided to adopt a dog, we waited until we knew we could afford it. Our one-year-old cat, Catticus Finch, was already racking up multiple $200-plus vet bills thanks to a gluten intolerance and chronically dry eyes. Add on to that Finch’s special gluten-free food and our average monthly pet expenditures were already kind of high. We knew a dog would more than double that expense, so we waited until we finished law school and both had jobs lined up.

Just adopting Woof cost close to $400. We paid a $100 adoption fee to the rescue and promptly took our tiny new puppy on a PetsMart shopping spree. Because we adopted from a PetsMart affiliated rescue, we got a thick book full of coupons for dog bowls, leashes, and toys, but the total was still over $200 by the time we hit the checkout. We’d planned for this initial expense, and it felt good to use the money from our new jobs to get our new pup everything she would need for her first months of life. The next day, we added her to our pet insurance, bringing our monthly premiums to $39.

At the rescue, Woof had been eating a brand of puppy food that I was uncomfortable continuing because of the company’s animal testing policies. After some research and consulting with our vet, we weaned her onto Costco’s store brand puppy formula. A giant yellow bag of food cost $13. After about six months on the Costco food, Woof stopped caring about eating it. She was apathetic when I filled her bowl and sometimes didn’t bother to finish her meal. We knew we weren’t feeding her too much, she just didn’t like the food anymore. When the vet cleared us to start her on adult food, we decided to switch to a different brand. Our dog park friends suggested a food they got via mail-order from Canada. After Woof tried some while they were babysitting her, they sent us home with a half bag to see if she liked it.

She loved it. She couldn’t get enough. Even the sight of the bag sent her into a frenzy.

So, I found a local pet food store that carries the brand and went to pick up a bag. I expected the food to be expensive. It was Canadian and not made out of meat byproducts after all, but I did not expect my total to be $80 for one 13-pound bag of dog food and a container of cat treats.

Now, we have a healthy dog food that Woof loves, but it costs $76 a bag. The store we buy it at has a loyalty program where after we buy 10 bags—$760 worth of dog food—we get one bag free. I feel positive that we could find a food she liked just as well for less than half that price, but I’m also positive it wouldn’t be as good for her. We can afford it, so why do I keep balking at the cost? My brain can rationally understand paying $39 a month for pet insurance, paying $50 for her heartworm preventative, and I barely blink when paying $25 for a professional grooming when she gets extra stinky.

But I cannot wrap my brain around $76 dog food. Is this because I grew up in a family whose pets were outdoor dogs who got generic grocery store food and bowls of table scraps? We haven’t made it through the first bag yet, but when we do, I’ll probably buy another. And every time I fill her bowl with carefully measured scoops, I’ll feel like I’m feeding our dog gold-encrusted caviar. She deserves it.

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