Who knew picking out the best food for your dog could be such a challenge? Dog owners these days are faced with all sorts of conflicting advice: dry kibble only; no canned food; mix the two; no grains; include animal protein; feed a raw diet; avoid corn and avocado; carrageenan causes cancer…the list goes on and on.
Well, fret no longer. Here are some guidelines on choosing the best cheap dog food, as well as several excellent dry and canned options.
Canned vs. Dry Dog Food.
The first feeding choice as a dog owner is whether to feed dry kibble or wet/canned food. "For healthy-weight adult animals, canned versus dry food is really a personal preference of the dog owner," says Elizabeth Scott, DVM and owner of an animal hospital outside Columbus, Ohio. There are health reasons that push the decision towards one or the other, she continues, but for a healthy dog the choice doesn't matter.
Frugal masters might opt for dry dog food, which is cheaper, easier to store, and has a longer shelf life. At the cheap end of the market, prices range from 5-10 cents an ounce for kibble compared with 10-18 cents an ounce for the wet/canned variety.
Cheap dog food is made from a blend of different meats, carbohydrates, and fats. Some of these ingredients are better for your dog than others (that is, easier to digest and more closely aligned with its natural diet), and the order in which they are listed on the label matters. As with human food, the order reflects relative quantity, from highest to lowest.
"The quality of the top ingredients is much more important than the specific ingredients," Dr. Scott explains. For meat that means whole protein or protein meal, and not meat byproducts. The best carbohydrates include barley, oats, brown rice, whole wheat, whole corn, potato, sweet potato, and millet. Fats derived from animals and plant oils are good as long as they provide the correct balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Things to avoid in low-cost dog food include preservatives, artificial colorings, and sweeteners. Some experts believe that a grain-free diet is closer to what dogs would eat in the wild and better for the animal. Dr. Scott is not convinced. "Grain-free diets have been a hot topic in the dog food industry recently," she says. "I am unaware of any definitive link between health/longevity and feeding grains." Corn is also looked down on by many experts, apparently because it's hard for dogs to digest.
Budget-Priced Dry Dog Foods.
Which budget kibble is worth buying? AvoDerm heads our list. We looked specifically at the Chicken Meal & Brown Rice formula, which starts at about 9 cents an ounce, and contains quality ingredients such as chicken meal, whole brown rice, and whole white rice as well as avocado.
Avocado has taken some heat for allegedly being poisonous to dogs, but Dr. Scott argues otherwise. "Avocado is a great source of good quality, balanced fat," she asserts. "It is true that the fruit (the flesh), seeds, leaves, and bark of avocados are toxic due to persin, but birds, rabbits, and horses are much more sensitive to avocado than dogs." She is yet to see a dog develop symptoms after eating dog food containing avocado. Moreover, dog owners who posted reviews on sites like Wag report that the avocado in AvoDerm helped alleviate stomach and skin problems.
Our second favorite is Fromm Family, starting at about 10 cents an ounce. The small family- company idea is appealing and the food is a hit with experts and reviewers alike. The first three ingredients are chicken, chicken meal, and brown rice, making this product heavy on animal protein, a good indicator of quality. Reviewers like those at Chewy approve of the ingredients and several note that their pups' skin allergies have decreased when feeding on this dry kibble.
Budget-Priced Canned Dog Food.
Our top canned food choice is Canidae, specifically the All Life Stages Lamb & Rice formula. It starts at 15 cents an ounce and boasts impressive ingredients. The experts at Dog Food Advisor concede they were hard-pressed to find fault with any ingredient except for carrageenan, a thickening agent that is somewhat controversial but widely used in canned dog food as well as human foods, and approved by the FDA. Lamb, lamb broth, and lamb liver round out the primary ingredients and brown rice serves as the carbohydrate.
We also like Natural Balance Original Ultra, which starts at 17 cents an ounce. Top ingredients are the same as those found in Canidae but with oat bran instead of brown rice. Many dog owners we polled on Facebook say they use Natural Balance to help reduce allergy issues, and a few say stool sizes are smaller, a sign of improved digestion.
What Not to Buy.
Options to steer clear of are Purina and Pedigree dog foods. In the Purina dry kibble we checked we found poultry byproduct meal and several artificial colors. The canned Pedigree we researched contains chicken byproduct and vague "meat" byproduct, which could mean leftover parts from several different animals, as well as added color. User reviews aren't terrible for either, but expert reviews are far less favorable.