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When you’re striving to save and invest every extra penny you can squeeze from your budget, one of the first line items to examine is your food expenditure. If you have a dog, you have to include his food in your monthly budget, too. I’m going to show you how to find affordable healthy dog food so you can have a little more breathing room in your budget.
The best way to find affordable healthy dog food is to first identify your dog’s needs in terms of food form and ingredients. Then choose three or four possible foods. Finally, use my simple equation to calculate the cost per calorie and choose a cheap dog food that is still healthy enough for your dog.
How Much Does It Cost to Feed a Dog?
If you’re new to pet ownership, you might not have any idea how much feeding a dog costs. A lot depends on the size of your dog, any special dietary needs, and the form of food you choose. Let me explain…
Big dogs eat more than small dogs (I know, shocker). But the difference in cost between feeding a 10-pound mutt vs. a 100-pound Great Dane with a kidney problem can be huge. Then, consider that dehydrated raw food’s price may be as much as 5 times higher than plain dry dog food.
You could end up spending $33 a month for the cheapest high-quality dog food to well over $600 per month to feed prescription food to big dogs. If you’re serious about pursuing financial independence and early retirement (FIRE), you need to learn to crunch the numbers and shop around for the best deals!
Price Ranges of Different Kinds of Dog Food
Let’s examine the price ranges of various forms of dog food. Hopefully, this will help you narrow down your choices a bit. Keep in mind that these prices were accurate at the time of publishing, but can change over time. This will give you a general idea for you to get started…
Cost to Feed a Dog per Month
|Type of Food||25 lb. Dog||50 lb. Dog||75 lb. Dog||100 lb. Dog|
|Mid-Range Dry Dog Food||$12||$20||$27||$33|
|High-End Dry Dog Food||$20||$33||$37||$54|
|Mid-Range Canned Dog Food||$92||$153||$214||$259|
|High-End Canned Dog Food||$128||$214||$299||$363|
|Refrigerated/Fresh Dog Food||$110||$183||$256||$311|
|Frozen Raw Dog Food||$128||$214||$299||$363|
|Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food||$366||$610||$854||$1037|
Freeze-dried raw food will cost about 30 times more per month to feed over a mid-range dry kibble dog food! If this is in your budget, more power to you, but it’s not a great choice for most people with limited finances.
How to Find Affordable Healthy Dog Food
1. Identify Your Dog’s Needs
Determine how many calories should be in your dog’s diet each day. You can do that by using the nutrition calculator provided by PetNutritionAlliance.org (click to go to the calculator in a new window). If you’re not sure whether your dog is overweight, ask your vet and also ask how much he should weigh so you can plug that number into the calculator.
Identify your dog’s food preferences and sensitivities. Will you feed dry dog food, wet, raw, commercial cooked, or homemade food? If you’re a typical dog owner, you probably feed dry dog food.
Dry kibble is often the most inexpensive dog food, but consider adding some wet food or homemade food for extra health benefits. Even a little fresh, real chicken and a bit of baked sweet potato sprinkled over dry dog food will add nutrients.
If you know your dog hates fish-flavored food or gets super itchy when he eats chicken, look closely at all labels for that ingredient before choosing a new food.
Don’t forget to factor in any special considerations for health issues. This includes obesity, urinary tract disease, arthritis, skin problems/allergies, heart disease, etc. Talk to your vet if your dog has a serious medical condition. If he’s already eating prescription dog food, it’s best to stay with it. However, you can still ask your vet if there are more affordable alternatives.
2. Identify Your Own Needs
First, do you have a written budget? If not, I strongly recommend you start one now. It’s the best way to make sure you’re spending the right amount on your best buddy’s food. Check out this article from NerdWallet.com on how to make a simple budget.
Figure out what your feeding preferences are. In other words, will you buy the food at the supermarket, online or in a pet food store? Do you prefer the convenience of dry food or the extra health benefits of fresh food?
Perhaps using organic or human-grade ingredients is important to you. Jot down your dog food “must-haves” on a piece of paper next to your monthly budget allotment.
Learn about the criteria for Healthy Dog Food
3. Read the Labels
Canine nutrition is a highly controversial topic. Trends and fads will confuse the heck out of you. If you have a particular belief about what should or shouldn’t be in your dog’s food, that’s fine.
Over and over we see dog foods that are praised one day and vilified the next. If you want to be safe, choose products from major national manufacturers that fit your needs. I avoid small, regional and boutique food brands because their production standards may not be consistent.
If you have no previous knowledge about dog nutrition, here are a few tips…
Feeding Trial Statement
Look for a statement on the label that says the food has been through an Association of American Feed Control Officials feeding trial.
The statement will read something like “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (Brand) Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult dogs.”
Formulated to Meet Nutritional Levels Statement
The second best thing to find on a dog food label is a statement that the product is formulated to meet the nutritional levels of growing or adult dogs.
It will look something like: “(Brand) Dog Food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Dog Food Profiles for maintenance of adult dogs.”
Named Protein in First Two Ingredients
Look for named proteins in the first two ingredients, such as “chicken,” or “beef.” It’s OK if chicken meal (or other specific meat meal) is high on the ingredient list as it is a high-quality, real chicken ingredient. But having a grain or an unspecified protein like “meat and bone meal” in the first two ingredients is a sign of lower quality dog food.
Watch Out for Controversial Ingredients
There are many controversial ingredients like artificial colors, flavors, thickeners, and preservatives. Cheap dog food is notorious for having more of these questionable ingredients.
There is little scientific evidence that these are harmful to dogs. Still, if you have beliefs about these kinds of things (I know I do!), watch out for them on the ingredients list.
Always choose products with real meat and natural ingredients over those with lots of cheap ingredients, artificial flavor and artificial preservatives! It doesn’t matter how affordable dog food is if it wrecks your dog’s health.
How to Compare Different Dog Foods
I’ve read hundreds of dog food labels in the last 30 years. I’ve tried comparing ingredients, manufacturer reputation, packaging–you name it. I’ve found that once I’ve narrowed my choices to three or four products, cost per calorie calculation is the simplest way to compare which food is best for your budget.
There are a couple of ways to find out how many calories are in any given dog food. First, look at the label since more dog food brands are now printing calories there. You need to find calories per kilogram (kg) to do this calculation.
You can also use the cheater’s method and look the food up on Chewy.com. They have practically every kind of dog food you can think of with the ingredients list and calories/kg amount.
You can always try going to the manufacturer’s website or even (gasp0 call the company and ask for the information. There should be a phone number on the food label or find it on the company’s website.
Dog Food Math: Calculate Cost per Calorie
I’ll show you an example of how I calculate the cost per calorie of dog food. I’m using an example from Chewy.com: Iams ProActive Health Adult Mini Chunks (dry dog food) 15-pound bag. It costs $17.39 at the time I’m writing this article.
I can see on the product label that 15 pounds equals 6.8 kg. You can also divide pounds by 2.2 to get kg.
On the page displaying the food, Chewy.com has a tab labeled “Nutritional Info.” You will see the ingredients and caloric content of the food. This Iams dog food has 3,646 kcal/kg.
Here comes the equation…
First calculate Price of package ÷ kg in package= price per kg
Then calculate Price per kg ÷ calories per kg=price per calorie
Here we go with the example…
15 pound/package ÷ 2.2 pounds/kg= 6.8 kg/package
$17.39/package ÷ 6.8 kg/package= $2.56/kg
$2.56/kg ÷ 3646 calories/kg= $0.0007/calorie
Now let’s compare it to another dry dog food. Let’s calculate the price per calorie of Taste of the Wild High Prairie dry dog food. It’s not available in a 15-pound bag, but that’s OK for our calculation. The price of a 14-pound bag is $32.99. Now the calculation…
14 pound/package ÷ 2.2 pounds/kg=6.4 kg/package
$32.99/package ÷ 6.4 kg/package= $5.15/kg
$5.15/kg÷ 3719 calories/kg=$0.0014/calorie
Wow, Taste of the Wild is double the price per calorie of the Iams food. You might not be surprised since the overall price for a similar size package was about double, but when two dog foods have greatly different calorie content it can be hard to compare them.
It’s especially confusing when comparing dry food to wet food. By calculating price per calorie rather than price per weight, you can easily compare any form of dog food to any other form.
Here’s an example using the same Iams dry food from above and the canned version of the same food Iams ProActive Health Adult With Chicken & Whole Grain Rice Pate Canned Dog Food. It’s currently priced at $17.88 for twelve 13 oz. cans. Let’s do the math…
12 cans/case x 13 ounces/can=156 ounces/case
156 ounces/case ÷ 16 ounces/pound=9.75 pounds/case
9.75 pounds/case ÷ 2.2 pounds/kg=4.4 kg/case
$17.88/case ÷ 4.4 kg/case=$4.06/kg
$4.06 ÷ 1153 calories/kg= $0.00352/calorie
The canned Iams food costs FIVE TIMES more than the similar dry food from the same dog food brand!
By the way, canned and fresh food are almost always significantly more expensive than dry food. That’s because dry dog food has had most of the water removed and the calories are very concentrated. Dry food is usually the cheapest option, but it might not be the best for overall health.
My opinion, based on 20 years as a vet and 30 years as a pet owner, is that fresh food and even canned food have health benefits that are worth the extra cost. Keep that in mind!
I’d recommend you feed at least some fresh or moist dog food even if the majority of your dog’s diet comes from kibble.
Vet-Recommended Affordable Healthy Dog Food
OK, here’s the EASY option you might have been looking for. I’ve looked at a bunch of different affordable dog food options and chosen a handful in each category that I think would be good choices for affordable healthy dog food.
I’m sure there are many others out there, but here are some options to get you started on your hunt for good cheap dog food.
Vet-Recommended Dry Dog Food Brands
I based my cost analysis on the mid-size (12-15 pounds usually) bag, when available, for dry food. It’s best to buy smaller bags so your dog will consume it all within 2-4 weeks. You can save money buying a huge bag but it will be stale by the end of the bag!
I evaluated the poultry-based version of each product. Macronutrient percentages are listed as protein/fat/carbohydrate (P/F/C). Prices were taken from Chewy.com and Amazon.com in July 2021.
|Name of Food||Form||Cost per Calorie||Macros P/F/C|
|BEST Priced Grocery Store Dry Food: Iams ProActive Health Adult Mini Chunks||Dry Kibble||$||24/33/43|
|BEST Specialty Retailer Dry Dog Food: COSTCO Kirkland Signature Adult Formula Chicken, Rice and Vegetable Dog Food||Dry Kibble||$||25/37/39|
|BEST Grain-Free Dry Food: COSTCO Kirkland Signature Nature’s Domain Turkey Meal and Sweet Potato Dog Food||Dry Kibble||$||23/33/44|
|BEST Specialty Retailer–No Membership Needed: TRACTOR SUPPLY 4health with Wholesome Grains Chicken & Rice Formula Adult Dog Food||Dry Kibble||$||25/35/40|
|BEST Grocery Store Dry Food: Rachael Ray Nutrish Dish Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe with Veggies & Fruit Dry Dog Food||Dry Kibble||$$||25/33/42|
|BEST Lower Carb Dry Food: Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food||Dry Kibble||$$||29/40/30|
Vet-Recommended Affordable Wet Dog Food
Wet food is almost always more costly than dry but it can be a great option if your dog is a picky eater. Be cautious with all forms of commercially-made moist dog food. Many are quite high in fat and can cause significant digestive upset.
Dogs with sensitive stomachs, beware! Introduce foods with high fat levels very slowly over a couple of weeks to avoid digestive upsets.
Here are my top picks for relatively affordable healthy dog food in moist form…
|Name of Food||Form||Cost per Calorie||Macros P/F/C|
|Purina ONE SmartBlend Classic Ground Chicken & Brown Rice Entree Adult Canned Dog Food||Canned||$$$||29/62/9|
|The Honest Kitchen Whole Grain Chicken Recipe Dehydrated Dog Food||Dehydrated||$$$||23/33/45|
|Freshpet Healthy & Natural, Fresh Dog Food Chicken Roll||Fresh/Refrigerated||$$$$||37/57/6|
|BalanceIT.com Chicken, Rice & Green Beans Homemade Dog Food Recipe||Homemade||$$$$||28/39/33|
|(MOST EXPENSIVE of all recommended foods):|
Instinct Frozen Raw Patties Grain-Free Cage-Free Chicken Recipe Raw Dog Food
Finding affordable dog food that fits your budget doesn’t have to be difficult.
Once you know how much you can spend, do a little online research and choose two or three brands that appeal to you. Next, shop around to find the best price on those brands. Finally, do some dog food math to find out which one of your short-list foods best fits your budget.
Make sure you change to any new food gradually, over a period of at least 7 days to avoid upsetting your dog’s digestive system. Once your dog is eating the new food, give it a couple of months to see if it suits your dog. If it doesn’t, at least now you’ll be prepared to find the best replacement by going through the same process again.
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- Vet-Recommended Dog Food for Allergies (Prescription & OTC)
- Vet-Recommended Dog Food for Bad Teeth
- Best Dog Food for Picky Eaters: 10 Surprising Vet’s Picks
- Vet-Recommended Best Dog Food for Puppies
- Vet-Recommended Best Dog Food for Urinary Health (Rx & OTC)
- Are the Best Recipes for Homemade Dog Food Safe?
- Vet-Recommended Best Weight Management Dog Food
- Ask a Vet: Cat Treats for Dogs–Which Ones Are Safest?
Last update on 2022-11-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API