Why Is Dog Food Cheaper Than Cat Food?

The Price Difference Between Dog and Cat Food

Walk down the pet food aisle at any grocery store or pet supply shop, and you’ll quickly notice a stark difference between the price tags on dog and cat food. Cat owners resignedly accept that they’ll be paying more per pound for their feline’s meals, but why is cat food pricier in the first place?

In this article, we’ll analyze the key factors that contribute to the higher costs of cat food compared to dog food. Understanding the reasons behind the price variance can help consumers make informed choices when selecting food for their pets.

Raw Material Costs

One of the main reasons cat food costs more than dog food is that cat food contains more expensive raw ingredients, especially meat. Cats are obligate carnivores and require a high protein diet with a lot of meat compared to dogs. According to Tufts University, “on average, cat foods contain about 7% more protein and 3% more fat”. Meat is one of the most costly ingredients in pet food.

For example, beef, chicken, and fish typically cost over $1 per pound in bulk for pet food manufacturers. That’s 2-3 times more expensive than grains like corn, wheat or rice which can cost under 50 cents per pound (PetFoodIndustry.com). Since cat foods contain up to double the meat content of many dog foods, the raw material costs are higher.

Cats also require more essential amino acids like taurine that are added to cat foods. Additional vitamin and mineral premixes are added to cat foods to meet feline nutritional needs. These specialized ingredients and supplements add more to the cost of manufacturing cat food compared to most dog foods.

According to PetfoodIndustry.com, wet cat food is seeing the largest cost increases for manufacturers, up 30% since 2019. This is likely due to the high meat content and specialized ingredients required in wet cat foods.

Economies of Scale

Dog food can be produced more cheaply than cat food due to economies of scale. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are approximately 76 million dogs compared to 58 million cats owned as pets in the United States. With a larger dog population, dog food is produced in much higher quantities than cat food.

This allows dog food manufacturers to benefit from economies of scale – the cost advantages that companies obtain due to size and scale of production. Producing larger volumes of dog food allows manufacturers to spread fixed costs like equipment and facilities over a larger output. They can also benefit from bulk discounts on raw ingredients. This enables dog food brands to reduce their unit costs and offer cheaper retail prices for dog food compared to cat food, which is produced in smaller batches.

Branding and Marketing

Cat food is often marketed as premium, targeting health-conscious cat owners who are willing to pay more for high-quality food. Cat food brands position themselves as delivering superior nutrition, using premium ingredients like real chicken, salmon, or tuna. There are specially formulated recipes for issues like hairballs and urinary tract health that fetch higher prices. This article discusses how pet food companies use engaging websites, SEO, and social media influencers to build brand awareness and charge premium prices. Manufacturers hype up scientific research and exotic ingredients to make cat food seem more advanced. According to this source, getting published on industry blogs and partnering with experts and influencers are effective marketing strategies for premium pet foods.

Nutritional Requirements

Cats have higher protein requirements than dogs. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat animal-based proteins to acquire certain essential amino acids not produced by their bodies. According to the National Research Council (NRC), adult cats require a minimum of 26% protein in their diet, while adult dogs only require 18% (1).

Cats also need higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals compared to dogs. For example, cats require more taurine, arginine, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, and arachidonic acid in their diet than dogs do. Taurine deficiency can cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal heart condition, in cats. Both arginine and arachidonic acid are essential for cats’ immune function and skin/coat health (1).

On the other hand, dogs have higher requirements for calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and sodium because of their larger body size and bone structure compared to cats (2).


(1) https://www.kymythy.com/articles03.html

(2) https://grainandfodder.com.au/nutritional-needs-of-older-dogs-and-cats/


There are some key differences in the packaging used for dog food versus cat food. Cat food tends to utilize more small-format, single-serving pouches and cans, while dog food is more often sold in larger bags. According to Levapack, wet cat foods are commonly packaged in 3 oz cans or pouches, while wet dog foods come in larger 13 oz cans. Canned and pouch packaging is more expensive and labor-intensive than bags, which leads to higher costs being passed on for cat food.

Bless Packing points out that cat food packaging focuses on smaller pouches and cans that cater to single-cat households and facilitate portion control. In contrast, dog food packaging emphasizes bulk bags that enable buyers to purchase more extended supplies for multiple pets or large breeds.

The packaging format also relates to the cat’s status as a “solitary hunter” that eats multiple small meals versus the dog’s “pack animal” status where large volumes are consumed at once. The cat food industry has responded by providing more individually portioned packaging better suited to feline feeding habits.


There is more competition among brands in the dog food market compared to cat food, which allows dog food pricing to be lower. According to Petfood Industry, the top 5 dog food brands (Purina, Mars, J.M. Smucker, Hill’s, and Blue Buffalo) make up around 77% of the total dog food market share. The market is less concentrated for cat food, with the top 5 brands taking up 65% of the market. With more players competing for market share in dog food, brands are pushed to offer competitive pricing to gain new customers and retain existing ones.

The dog food market is also more saturated with private label and niche brands that cater to specific needs or demographics. This further intensifies price competition. Cat food has fewer private label options, and the market is more dominated by the major national brands. With less pricing pressure in cat food, brands can charge slightly higher premiums.

Humanization of Pets

Over time, cats and dogs have moved from being viewed simply as functional pets or helpers on the farm, to being seen more and more as members of the family. This trend is known as the humanization of pets. According to this article, the humanization trend has given birth to numerous premium pet food brands promoting human-grade meals. These brands have positioned themselves to target pet owners who are willing to pay more for food they perceive to be higher quality.

The premium pet foods associated with the humanization trend are often marketed as nutritionally complete, made with wholesome ingredients, and free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. As explained in this source, while people have been humanizing pets for a while, the pace of change is accelerating. Pet owners increasingly want to feed their cats and dogs food that looks and tastes like human food. This has led to greater product specialization and innovation from pet food manufacturers looking to meet the demand.


Pet food for dogs and cats is a multibillion dollar industry, with over $87 billion in revenue in 2022. However, there are notable differences in profit margins between dog and cat food. According to research, profit margins on dog food are generally around 50%, while cat food margins can be as high as 70% for premium brands.

This difference comes down to a few key factors. First, cat owners have shown a greater willingness to pay higher prices for premium, specialized formulas catered to their pets’ needs. Brands can charge more for ingredients like real meat and avoid fillers, boosting margins. Second, the cat food market features heavy branding and marketing of specialized formulas, allowing companies to command higher prices. Dog food tends to be more commoditized in comparison.

Additionally, producing cat food requires higher quality ingredients to meet cats’ nutritional requirements as obligate carnivores. More meat-based ingredients raise production costs. Cat food also requires more specialized packaging to prevent oxidation from fish oils. Thus, higher costs allow cat food brands to retain higher margins than dog food. However, both remain highly profitable markets, with experts estimating 50% margins on average for dog and cat food.


In summary, there are several major factors that contribute to dog food being cheaper than cat food. The most significant reasons are economies of scale, with dog food selling in much higher volumes; differences in protein sources, with cat food requiring more expensive ingredients; and cats being seen as more discerning, leading brands to market premium cat food at higher price points.

The key takeaway is that the price difference ultimately comes down to supply and demand dynamics in the pet food market. Food formulated for dogs benefits from greater production scale and lower material costs. Meanwhile, cat owners have shown willingness to pay more for food they perceive as higher quality. As long as these trends continue, dog food is likely to maintain a competitive price advantage over cat food.

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