If you’ve tried shopping for a cheaper dog food lately, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how much quality you’re really losing by cutting $10 or $20 out of your budget. The answer, unfortunately, isn’t very straight forward.
Dog food is available in every price range from a few cents per pound to a few dollars per pound. While you can expect a lot of really low-quality food at the bottom of that range and a lot of high-quality food at the top, the middle ground is less straight forward.
But that doesn’t mean finding a quality low-priced food is all about luck. In this article, we’ll discuss some tricks to identifying a truly quality dog food and then review the top 5 best cheap dog foods that are sure to fit in your budget.
What Does the Name of a Dog Food Say About Quality
When searching for a quality dog food, you have to know how to understand what is actually in the food based on the information provided on the bag. This is even more important if you are looking at foods that are in the lower price range.
The first thing you’ll see when you pick up a bag of dog food is the name. How the name of the food is constructed can actually tell you a lot about the quality of the food.
A food called “Beef Dog Food” must contain 95% beef just as a food called “Chicken Dry Dog Food” must contain 95% chicken. This is what is known as the AAFCO 95% rule, according to akc.org.
In reality, finding a dog food that actually has 95% of one or two single ingredients in it is close to impossible.
Most quality dog foods fall into the 25% rule, which states that a food title containing words like “recipe” and “formula” must contain between 25% and 94% of the named ingredient(s). This rule would include foods with names like “Lamb and Rice Recipe” and “Poultry Pate.”
Many foods at the low end of the price range use the word “with” which indicates that the food contains between 3% and 25% of the named ingredients. Examples of this would include names like “With Real Beef” and “With Free Range Chicken.”
The lowest quality foods have less than 3% of the named ingredients and use the word “flavor” in the description. Something called “Chicken, Vegetable, and Rice Flavor” only contains 3% of those three ingredients combined and is probably largely made with corn, soy, and by-products.
Marketing Tricks to Watch Out For
Ideally, you should choose a food with words like “dinner,” “recipe,” or “formula” in the title. At the very least you want to avoid any food that uses the word “flavor” in the name.
Even if you do find an affordable food that qualifies for the 25% rule, you still can’t be completely sure how quality the food actually is. You’ll need to look at the ingredients label to get a better idea.
Ideally, the first ingredient listed should be a named animal protein like “chicken,” “turkey meal,” or “salmon.” The more named animal ingredients in the first five ingredients, the better, because ingredients are listed with the largest contributing ingredients first.
But be aware, dog food companies will try and trick the consumer by breaking up grain ingredients into different names so they can be listed separately, further down the list. For example, a food that lists “Chicken, rice, rice bran, potatoes, rice meal” on the ingredient list likely contains more rice than chicken.
How to Find the Best Quality Dog Food for Price
When it comes to finding the best deals on dog food, you’re going to need to concentrate on what’s not in a food, just as much as what is.
Try to avoid any food that contains cheap filler ingredients high in the ingredient list like corn and soy. These contain little nutritional value to your natural carnivore dog.
This is especially true if your dog is allergic to grains. If that’s the case, you’ll want to read this article on the best grain free dog foods.
Also, avoid food that uses low nutrition “by-product meals.” Also avoid any food that contains animal digest as these diets utilize the rendered meat of dead, dying, and diseased farm and companion animals including dogs euthanized in shelters.
The higher the protein content of a food, the better. The average protein level in dog food is around 20%, so look for higher levels if possible but be aware that many of the best budget dog foods use legumes to add protein, which isn’t as bioavailable to your dog’s system.
Reviews of The Best Cheap Dog Foods
#1. Victor Classic – Hi-Pro Plus, Dry Dog Food
First on our list of the best inexpensive dog food is Victor Classic Hi-Pro Plus. This food is loaded with animal ingredients, tons of protein, and, best of all, is the cheapest food on our list.
This all-life stages dry dog food packs a mean protein punch at 30%. A minimum of 88% of this protein comes from animal sources including beef, pork, chicken, and fish meal.
While all these meat meals are more processed than fresh meat sources, they contain less water and appear to provide more available nutrients than fresh meat. And all those animal ingredients listed in the top of the ingredient list easily qualify this food as one of the best low-cost dog foods.
It is important to note that this food is not branded with any of the telling “recipe,” “with,” or “flavor” words that would tell us the approximate ingredient percentage. But, with six animal ingredients listed in the first seven of the ingredients list, we can safely assume this food is at least 25% meat.
With the high protein percentage and 20% fat, this recipe is one of the best cheap dry dog foods for active dogs and the best cheap puppy food on our list.
This food does contain sorghum as the second ingredient and “blood meal” which is of questionable quality since it does not have a named source like “beef” or “pork.” However, given the number of named meats and all-natural formula, the positives of this food vastly outweigh the negatives.
#2. Crave Grain Free Adult Dry Dog Food With Protein
Second on our list of the best affordable dog foods, is a dry food with even more protein than our first choice food. Crave’s Adult Dry recipe is the best cheap grain free dog food on our list and the best grocery store dog food.
This formula has an outstanding 34% protein content and includes quality animal ingredients like salmon, chicken meal, fish meal, and lamb meal.
Like our first choice of food, this brand sidesteps traditional labeling, making it difficult to say exactly what percent of this food is meat. But with five of the first eight ingredients being animal sourced we can at least assume the amount of meat is equal or greater than the amount of legumes and potatoes.
This food can usually be found at the local grocery store which adds to the convenience factor but does cost about twice as much as our first choice food which makes this the best mid-priced dog food on our list. While Victor’s may win in the price battle, Crave contains higher quality ingredients overall and may be worth the extra cash.
#3. Nutro Wholesome Essentials Natural Adult Dry Dog Food – Chicken, Brown Rice & Sweet Potato
Third on our list of the best value dog food, is a well-balanced kibble for the average companion dog. Nutro’s Wholesome Essentials dry food contains quality meats and easily digestible grains at a budget-friendly price.
This food only contains 22% protein and is lower in calories than our first two choices. While this is not the best economical dog food for active, working, or young dogs, it is a great choice for less active dogs and those that struggle with weight gain.
The first two ingredients are chicken and chicken meal, and lamb meal is also listed toward the top of the ingredients list. However, this food also lists rice three separate times so it is safe to assume it is made with a high percentage of rice overall.
The “Farm Raised Chicken, Rice & Sweet Potato Recipe” title on the bag suggestions this food contains at least 25% chicken, rice and sweet potato, with the chicken being the more plentiful ingredient. That qualifies this food as one of the best dogs foods on a budget.
And with a price that easily falls between our number one and number two choice foods, this diet is a great option for owners looking to save some money on their dog’s food.
#4. Purina Beyond Grain Free, Natural, Adult Dry Dog Food
Our fourth pick of the best cheapest dog foods comes from one of the best cheap dog food brands. Purina has a number of low priced dog foods available, but their Beyond line far outweighs the others when it comes to ingredient quality.
This food comes in five grain free flavors. All flavors are listed as “recipes” containing meat and either eggs or lentils.
The recipes with lentils have 30% protein, but a chunk of that likely comes from the less bioavailable plant source. The egg recipes still have a high 27% protein and are one of the best store-bought dog foods you’ll come across while buying groceries.
We know all these foods contain at least 25% meat and lentils or eggs. All flavors contain the named meat as the first ingredient and chicken meal also high in the list.
This food contains synthetic vitamins and minerals, but no artificial preservatives or colors.
This is one of the best dog foods for your money as the price is below mid-range.
#5. Purina Pro Plan SPORT Formula Dry Dog Food
The last food on our list of the best dog foods for the money contains the same protein and fat content as our number one choice. Purina’s Pro Plan Sport Formula is made for active dogs whose owners are a little strapped for cash.
Like Victor’s, this diet contains 30% protein. But unlike our first choice, this food is much lower in animal ingredients.
This brand does not use telling slogans that would give us an idea of the total percentage of the different ingredients, but we do know chicken is the first ingredients listed. Unfortunately, it’s likely that much of the protein comes from the second listed ingredient, which is corn gluten.
While this high-protein part of corn is probably more digestible to dogs, it is still a low-quality grain and commonly causes allergic reactions. This would not be the best reasonably priced dog food for dogs with sensitive systems.
Some other red flag ingredients in this food are poultry by-product meal and animal digest.
Many owners swear by Purina and prefer this brand to others. If your dog has traditionally done well on this brand but our number four choice is too pricey, this formula is a good fall back, especially for those more active dogs.
What is the Best Cheap Dog Food?
When it comes to finding the best dog food for the price, you have to look deep into the ingredients list and past the tricky marketing dog food companies use. We chose Victor’s Hi-Pro Plus as the best cheap dog food for its incredibly low price and high meat content.
This food is packed with nutrients from quality ingredients and free of chemicals and cheap filler meats that many bargain dog foods use. And, with the higher calorie density, you can feed more restricted portions and still know your dog is getting everything they need to thrive.
If you’re looking for the best prices on dog foods that are lower in calories or available at the local grocery store, we’ve included some of those options on our list as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Summed Up: The Best Cheap Dog Food
|Name||Victor Hi-Pro Plus||Crave Adult Dry||Nutro Wholesome Essentials||Purina Beyond Grain Free||Purina Pro Plan Sport|
|Features||Very affordable, high protein, multiple meats||Quality ingredients, very high protein, mid-range price||Low price, highly digestible meats and grains||High protein, low price point, grain free||Affordable, trusted brand, meat is the first ingredient|