Cat Food vs Dog Food. Which Costs Less?


Pet food costs can be a significant portion of a pet owner’s budget, especially for those with multiple animals. With an estimated 88 million pet dogs and 94 million pet cats in the United States alone, many households have both cats and dogs to feed [1]. This leads to an important question for multi-pet households – is cat food or dog food cheaper?

There is an ongoing debate among pet owners regarding whether cat food or dog food costs more. The answer depends on many factors, such as the type of food (dry vs. wet), specific brands and formulas, portion sizes required, and the nutritional needs of the individual pet. This article will analyze the key differences that impact the costs of feeding cats versus dogs.


Dry Food Cost Comparison

When comparing popular dry cat and dog foods across different brand tiers and bag sizes, research shows that dog food tends to be less expensive overall.

Looking at prices for a 30 lb bag of mid-tier dry dog food like Purina One costs around $40-45, while a 15 lb bag of comparable mid-tier dry cat food like Iams costs $25-30. The per pound price shakes out to around $1.33-$1.50/lb for dog food versus $1.66-$2/lb for cat food.

At the premium brand level, a 30 lb bag of Blue Buffalo dog food costs $60-65, or $2-$2.16/lb. Meanwhile, a 15 lb bag of comparable Blue Buffalo cat food is $40-45, or $2.66-$3/lb.

The pattern persists even for budget brands. A 40 lb bag of Pedigree dog food is $20-25, or about $0.50/lb. Yet a 16 lb bag of Meow Mix original choice cat food still comes in at $14-16, or around $0.87-$1/lb.

Across popular brands and bag sizes, dry dog food consistently costs 20-50% less per pound compared to similar dry cat food products.

Wet Food Cost Comparison

When comparing wet cat and dog foods, there are a few key factors to consider including brand, ingredients, and can/pouch size. According to Tufts University research [1], wet cat food often costs more per calorie than wet dog food. This is partly due to the smaller can sizes typically used for cat food.

Looking at popular brand name wet foods, a 3 oz can of Purina Fancy Feast grilled seafood cat food costs around $0.73 while a 10 oz can of Purina Beneful beef stew dog food costs $1.77. So the cat food costs $0.24 per ounce compared to $0.18 per ounce for the dog food [2]. However, when comparing high-end natural brands like Wellness, a 3 oz can of cat food averages $1.75 while a 12.5 oz can of dog food costs $3.79 – coming out to $0.58 per ounce for cat and $0.30 per ounce for dog.

So while popular canned dog food is often less expensive per ounce compared to cat food, this trend reverses when looking at premium natural brands. The key factors are the ingredients, brand reputation, and smaller can sizes typically used for cat food. Checking prices per ounce rather than per can is important for accurate cost comparisons between cat and dog wet foods.

Brand Loyalty Differences

Research suggests that cat owners tend to be more brand loyal compared to dog owners. According to a 2009 study by DVM360, cat owner spending was less affected when switching brands compared to dog owners ( This implies that cat owners are more likely to stick with familiar, trusted brands even when cheaper alternatives are available.

The increased brand loyalty of cat owners makes them less willing to purchase cheaper store brand cat foods compared to dog owners. Cat owners want assurances that the food will meet their cat’s preferences and nutritional needs. Since store brands have less history and familiarity, cat owners tend to prefer sticking with proven name brands. As a result, cat owners are often willing to pay more for cat food from established brands. Dog owners exhibit more flexibility and openness to trying cheaper alternatives for dog food.

Nutritional Differences

Cats and dogs have different nutritional requirements, which impacts the formulation and cost of their food. Cats are obligate carnivores and require a high amount of protein in their diet – around 30% on a dry matter basis. Dogs are omnivores and require less protein, only around 18-22% on a dry matter basis according to the Pet Food Institute. The higher protein content makes cat food more expensive to produce.

Cats also require more fat than dogs – usually 15-25% of their diet versus 10-15% for dogs. Fat provides essential fatty acids and is a concentrated source of energy. Again, the higher fat content raises the cost of cat food.

When it comes to fiber, dogs require more than cats – around 3-4% versus 1-2% for cats. Fiber ingredients like corn, wheat, rice, and soy are inexpensive additions that bulk up dog food. Cat foods rely more on costly animal ingredients for protein rather than plant-based fiber.

Due to their specific nutritional needs, especially for high protein, cat foods are more expensive to formulate and produce than dog foods designed for omnivorous canines. This difference is reflected in the higher retail pricing for cat food compared to many dog food products.

Portion Sizes

Cats generally require much smaller portions of food compared to dogs. According to Size Matters: The Truth About Pet Food Portions, portion sizes for a 10 pound cat are around 1/4 cup of dry food per day. Meanwhile, a 30 pound dog requires up to 1 3/4 cups of dry food per day. This is about 7 times as much food as required for a cat!

The smaller portions cats require means cat food tends to last longer than comparably priced dog food. Over the course of a month, cat owners will spend much less on food compared to dog owners. Exact costs depend on the type of food, brand, store prices, portion sizes, and other factors. But in general, the smaller appetite of cats makes cat food more economical.

Health Considerations

Prescription pet foods, often recommended for health issues like kidney disease, urinary problems, or food allergies, can significantly impact the cost of feeding pets. Studies show that cats and dogs have similar rates of chronic kidney disease, at around 1-3% prevalence.[1] However, urinary and allergy issues appear more common in cats. One study found 51% of cats had a food sensitivity, compared to only 20% of dogs.[2]

These specialized prescription foods typically cost 2-3 times more than conventional pet foods.[3] So while incidence of chronic kidney disease may be similar for cats and dogs, more urinary and allergy issues in cats could lead to higher prescription food costs over their lifetime.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are relatively common in both cats and dogs. Some studies estimate that 1-10% of dogs and cats may have food allergies.1 The most common food allergens for dogs include beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, and wheat and soy. For cats, the most common food allergens are beef, fish, chicken, and dairy products.2

When a pet has a food allergy, a veterinarian may recommend a specialty limited ingredient diet to help identify the allergen. These specialty diets only contain one protein and carbohydrate source and are made without common allergens. Prices for these foods tend to be significantly higher than regular pet foods. For example, a 3 lb bag of Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d for skin and food sensitivities costs around $27 while a similar sized bag of regular dog food costs $10-15. The specialty food is 2-3 times more expensive. Proper diagnosis and management of food allergies is important though to relieve symptoms and prevent chronic conditions.

Additional Factors

When comparing the costs of cat and dog food, it’s important to consider additional factors beyond just the price per pound of kibble or can. Some other considerations include:

Treats – Many pet owners like to give their cats and dogs treats as a reward or supplemental snack. Treats for dogs, like biscuits, dental chews, and jerky tend to be less expensive than many cat treats. Cats treats are often smaller in size.

Food Toppers – Premium “topper” products to mix into dry kibble to increase palatability are popular for both cats and dogs. However, since cats are smaller, cat food toppers tend to last longer and be more economical.

Lifestyle – The lifestyle and daily routine of cats vs. dogs can also impact food costs. For example, a working or high-energy dog that needs dense nutrition for all-day activity would likely require more food than a housecat. On the other hand, an outdoor/indoor cat doing regular hunting may supplement their diet with prey and require less food overall.

Ultimately, both cats and dogs can thrive on high-quality food designed for their species-specific nutritional requirements. Doing research to find economical options without compromising quality is key for both pet owners and their furry companions.


The data shows that dog food tends to be more expensive than cat food overall. While there are some cheaper dog food options, especially for dry kibble, premium and wet dog foods are typically more costly than comparable cat foods. This likely stems from the fact that dogs generally eat much larger portions than cats. Additionally, dog owners seem more willing to pay higher prices for high-quality, natural ingredients. When you factor in that the average dog will consume more food over its lifetime, dog food is generally the more expensive choice long-term.

In summary, while there are some low-cost kibbles that even out the playing field a bit, cat food proves to be the more budget-friendly option for pet owners in the long run. Cats have smaller appetites and lower daily calorie requirements, allowing cat owners to save on food costs. However, owners of either pet can find ways to reduce feeding expenses through savvy shopping, portion control, homemade diets, and avoiding food waste. As long as your pet’s nutritional needs are met, the cheapest route for either cats or dogs is manageable with planning.

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