10 Best Cheap Dog Foods in 2018

The quality of your dog’s diet has a direct influence on his health and wellness. If you think about it, it only makes sense because the kibble you offer your dog is the only thing he eats besides the occasional treat or a couple of table scraps. If you want your dog to be happy and healthy for as long as possible, it is imperative that you choose a high-quality dog food.

The problem is that high-quality dog foods come at a high price. So, what do you do?

If you’re a dog owner on a budget, you should purchase the highest quality dog food you can consistently afford. Before you go out and pick the cheapest brand on the shelf, take the time to learn about your dog’s nutritional needs and to review some of the affordable dog food brands that also offer decent quality in terms of nutrition.

Here are our top 10 picks for the best cheap dog foods.


#10 Hill’s Ideal Balance Grain-Free Dog Food

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The Ideal Balance line of dog foods from Hill’s features natural ingredients in nutritionally balanced formulas. Hill’s Ideal Balance Grain-Free Dog Food is made with chicken as the number-1 ingredient with yellow peas and potato starch for carbohydrates and fiber. It also contains chicken fat for energy and essential fatty acids to support your dog’s healthy skin and coat.

Hill’s Ideal Balance Grain-Free Dog Food is free from gluten and grains as well as corn, wheat, and soy ingredients. It is supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables to provide natural sources for key nutrients with the help of vitamin and mineral supplements for balance. Overall, it is a protein- and fat-rich formula loaded with natural flavor.

Pros: real chicken as the main ingredient, grain-free carbohydrates, fresh fruits and veggies for natural sources of key nutrients, synthetic supplements for nutritional balance, no artificial additives

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, contains some plant protein, no probiotics


#9 Rachael Ray Nutrish Zero Grain Dog Food

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Rachael Ray is a celebrity chef known for creating delicious and nutritious meals, so it only makes sense that she has her own line of dog food. Rachael Ray Nutrish Zero Grain Dog Food features real chicken, beef, turkey, or salmon as the #1 ingredient with grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potato, potato, and peas. Every recipe is free from corn, wheat, and soy as well as artificial additives and by-products.

In addition to being made with quality proteins and digestible carbohydrates, Rachael Ray Nutrish Zero Grain Dog Food is highly affordable. A 28-pound bag costs just over $40 which averages to about $1.43 per pound. If you’re looking for an affordable pet food brand that offers decent quality and an assortment of flavor options, Nutrish may be a good choice.

Pros: real meat is the first ingredient, grain-free carbohydrates, no fillers or artificial additives, healthy fats for skin and coat, supplemental fiber for digestion, chelated minerals for nutrient absorption

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, no probiotic supplements


#8 Purina Beyond Grain-Free Dog Food

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The Purina brand of dog food has several product lines but the Beyond line of products is a high-quality and affordable option. Purina Beyond Grain-Free Dog Food features real animal proteins like white meat chicken with grain-free carbohydrates. All recipes are free from corn, wheat, and soy as well as artificial additives and poultry by-products.
Purina Beyond Grain-Free Dog Food contains plenty of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support as well as several sources of supplemental fiber for healthy digestion. Each recipe is rich in protein and healthy fats, plus plenty of natural flavor. As an added bonus, each recipe is formulated in the United States from high-quality ingredients.

Pros: real meat as the first ingredient, digestible carbohydrates, joint-supporting nutrients, free from artificial additives and fillers, grain-free recipes, nutritionally balanced with supplements

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, no probiotic supplements, mineral supplements are not chelated


#7 Iams Healthy Naturals Dry Dog Food

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The Healthy Naturals line from Iams is made with real meat as the first ingredient and supplemented with plenty of other natural ingredients. Iams Healthy Naturals Dry Dog Food features protein options like chicken, lamb, and ocean fish with digestible carbohydrates like barley and rice. Each formula is completely free from corn, wheat, and soy as well as artificial additives.

Iams Healthy Naturals Dry Dog Food offers at least 25% crude protein with plenty of fat for energy and healthy skin and coat. Dried fruits offer natural sources for key vitamins while mineral supplements help to ensure nutritional balance. This dog food also contains supplemental fiber to support your dog’s healthy and regular digestion.

Pros: real meat as the first ingredient, digestible whole grains, rich in healthy fat for skin and coat, fruits and veggies for nutritional support, free from artificial additives and low-quality fillers

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, no probiotic supplements, mineral supplements are not chelated


#6 Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet (LID) Dog Food

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Dog food allergies are more common than most dog owners realize, which is why products like Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet (LID) Dog Food are important to have. A limited ingredient diet (LID) is simply a dog food formula made with a lower number of main ingredients to reduce the risk for food allergies and sensitivities. These recipes are also often made with novel sources of protein and carbohydrate like duck, salmon, sweet potato, and oatmeal.

Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet (LID) Dog Food is a great option for dogs with sensitive stomachs but it is also an affordable brand of dog food. Each recipe features real animal protein with grain-free carbohydrates. These recipes are protein-rich and have plenty of fat to maintain your dog’s healthy skin and coat as well.

Pros: real animal protein, grain-free carbohydrates, limited ingredients to reduce risk for allergies, rich in fat for healthy skin and coat, plenty of flavor options, no artificial additives

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, some recipes list carbohydrate first


#5 Nutro MAX Grain-Free Dog Food

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The MAX line of products from Nutro is designed to deliver simple, wholesome nutrition through high-quality ingredients. Nutro MAX Grain-Free Dog Food features real animal protein as the first ingredient with no by-products and no corn, wheat, or soy ingredients. Each recipe is grain-free, made with digestible carbohydrates like chickpeas and potatoes instead.

Nutro MAX Grain-Free Dog Food contains chicken fat, a highly nutritious source of energy and essential fatty acids to support your dog’s skin and coat. Each recipe is supplemented with fiber for digestion and synthetic supplements for nutritional balance. The mineral supplements are chelated to ensure optimal absorption and there are natural extracts for flavor.

Pros: real meat as the first ingredient, grain-free carbohydrates, supplemental fiber for digestion, healthy fats for skin and coat, chelated minerals for maximum absorption

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, no probiotic supplements


#4 Diamond Naturals Grain-Free Dog Food

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The Diamond Naturals line of dog food products comes in regular and grain-free options, featuring animal proteins like chicken, beef, and whitefish. Each recipe is formulated for dogs of all life stages and includes grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potato, peas, and lentils. In addition to providing energy and nutrients, these carbohydrates also offer fiber to support your dog’s healthy digestion.

Diamond Naturals Grain-Free Dog Food is rich in protein and healthy fats as well as dietary fiber. Each recipe is also supplemented with probiotics for digestive support as well as fresh fruits and veggies to provide natural sources for key nutrients. With plenty of protein and other healthy ingredients, Diamond Naturals Grain-Free Dog Food is an affordable and high-quality option.

Pros: real meat as the first ingredient, digestible grain-free carbohydrates, probiotic supplements for digestion, plenty of fiber, chelated minerals for improved absorption, fresh fruits and veggies provide natural sources for key nutrients

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, main source of fat is plant-based


#3 Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food

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Whole Earth Farms dog food is produced by Merrick and it is a high-quality brand offered at an affordable price. Made with fresh, natural ingredients, Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food is an excellent option for any dog owner on a budget. Each recipe features high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient with digestible grain-free carbohydrates for nutrients and fiber. Plus, it is free from corn, wheat, soy, and by-products.

Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Dog Food comes in several flavor options including chicken, turkey, pork, beef, duck, salmon, lamb, and whitefish. Additionally, there are recipes specially formulated for puppies, adult dogs, small breeds, and healthy weight maintenance. Each recipe contains fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients as well as supplemental fiber, synthetic supplements, and probiotics for healthy digestion.

Pros: real meat as the first ingredient, digestible grain-free carbohydrates, easy on sensitive stomachs, fresh fruits and veggies for nutritional support, probiotics for healthy digestion, supplemental fiber

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, contains some plant protein


#2 Taste of the Wild Dog Food

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The Taste of the Wild brand offers a limited selection of dog food products, but each one is made with novel protein sources like lamb, venison, bison, and wild boar. Taste of the Wild Dog Food is loaded with high-quality animal proteins and digestible grain-free carbohydrates to ensure that your dog’s nutritional needs are met. Best of all, it is surprisingly affordable at about $1.63 per pound.

If you’re looking for a high-quality but affordable dog food brand that won’t trigger food allergies, Taste of the Wild Dog Food is a great option. Because it is made with novel proteins and carbohydrates, it comes with a low risk for triggering food allergies. In addition to quality proteins and carbs, it is rich in healthy fat and fiber, plus it is supplemented with chelated minerals and probiotics.

Pros: novel protein and carbohydrate sources, contains 32% protein and 18% fat, digestible grain-free carbohydrates, supplemental fiber, fresh fruits and veggies for nutrients, supplemented with chelated minerals and probiotics

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, contains some plant protein


#1 Blue Buffalo Life Protection Dog Food

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The Blue Buffalo brand is one of the most recognizable names in the pet food industry and their Life Protection line of products is surprisingly affordable. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Dog Food features real animal proteins like chicken and fish with digestible carbohydrates like brown rice. Each recipe is also supplemented with Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits which contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Dog Food comes in a variety of flavor options, all of which are designed to support optimal nutrition. This dog food also supports healthy energy, muscle development, strong bones and teeth, joint health, strong immunity, and healthy skin and coat. Each recipe is also loaded with natural flavor your dog will love.

Pros: quality animal protein listed first, digestible carbohydrates, LifeSource Bits for nutritional balance, supports all aspects of health and wellness, natural flavor, chelated minerals and probiotics

Cons: some dogs are sensitive to chicken ingredients, some dogs are allergic to grains, contains some plant protein


What to Look for When Shopping for Cheap Dog Food

You don’t necessarily need to spend a small fortune to purchase a decent quality product for your dog. There are dozens and dozens of different dog food brands to choose from, so all you need to do is find one that will provide for your dog’s nutritional needs that also happens to be within your budget.

So, what should you be looking for when shopping for dog food?

First and foremost, you want to make sure it is complete and balanced to meet your dog’s nutritional needs as his primary source of food. The simplest way to determine this is to take a look at the information on the dog food bag. Here are some things you should check out:

  1. The AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy
  2. The Guaranteed Analysis
  3. The list of ingredients

Let’s start with the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy.

AAFCO Statement of Nutritional Adequacy

who approved

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is simply an organization which is responsible for monitoring the production and sale of pet food and animal feed. AAFCO has created a detailed nutrient profile for pets in various life stages (i.e. puppy versus adult) and they test every pet food product before it goes to market to ensure that it adheres to that nutritional profile. So, if a pet food product is deemed “complete and balanced” according to AAFCO, you’ll see something like this statement somewhere on the package:

“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures show that [Product Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [all life stages, maintenance, or growing puppies and gestating or lactating adult female dogs.”

If you see this statement on the product you’re looking at, you can rest assured knowing that it will meet your dog’s nutritional needs. What you need to remember, however, is that just because a product meets those needs, it isn’t necessarily a high-quality product. Many inexpensive pet food manufacturers load up their products with inexpensive fillers and then rely on synthetic supplements to create nutritional balance.

This is why you also need to take a look at the guaranteed analysis and list of ingredients.

Guaranteed Analysis

The guaranteed analysis on a pet food label is simply the section that tells you the percentages of protein, fat, moisture, and fiber. You may also see certain other nutrients listed such as calcium, phosphorus, or omega fatty acids.

The guaranteed analysis tells you exactly how much the product contains of each essential nutrient. Not only can you use it to confirm that the AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy is true, but you can also use it to make a direct comparison between two similar products. For example, if two products appear to be roughly the same but one contains a higher percentage of protein, you might choose that product over the other.

In order to make the most of the guaranteed analysis, you need to know the basics about your dog’s nutritional requirements. Here is a quick summary:

  • Puppies need at least 22% protein in their daily diet and adults at least 18%
  • Growing puppies need at least 8% fat and adults need at least 5%
  • Moisture levels in dog food should be around 10%
  • Fiber content for dog food should be around 3 to 5% (over 5% may be too much)
  • Calcium requirements for puppies are 1% and for adults are 0.6%
  • Puppies need at least 0.8% phosphorus in their diet and adults need 0.5%

Aside from protein, fat, moisture, and fiber, the other nutrients listed on the guaranteed analysis vary from one brand to another. Many brands only list the top four and, generally speaking, those are the only four you really need to pay attention to anyway.

List of Ingredients

Once you’ve taken a look at the guaranteed analysis, you should have a good idea how much protein and fat the product contains. The next place to look is the list of ingredients so you can judge the quality for the sources of those nutrients.

Something you need to remember is that dogs are largely carnivorous animals which means that their bodies are better adapted to deriving nutrition from animal than from plant sources. Simply put, dogs need a lot of meat in their diet, though they are capable of digesting and deriving nutrition from some plant products. Just keep in mind that higher quality dog foods use whole animal products for protein (things like poultry, meat, or fish) whereas low-quality dog foods use animal by-products or plant-based protein sources.

If you want to buy your dog a healthy dog food, look for a product that places some kind of animal-based protein at the top of the ingredients list. Chicken is a great example of an animal protein you’re likely to see in dog food – particularly the more affordable brands that still offer decent quality. If the product places some kind of grain (especially one derived from corn, wheat, or soy) at the top of the list, you should look for another product.

In addition to making sure the product contains animal protein, you should look for healthy animal-based fats and digestible carbohydrates.

While you may think of fat as a bad thing, it is actually a highly concentrated source of energy for dogs. Healthy fats also provide omega fatty acids to support his skin and coat. Chicken fat and salmon oil are two of the best fats to look for in dog food, though plant-based options like canola oil are acceptable as well. Just avoid unnamed sources like “poultry fat”.

For carbohydrates, grains are fairly cheap so many of the low- to mid-range dog foods use them. Things like rice and oats are generally pretty digestible for dogs and whole grains like pearled barley, whole oat groats, and wholegrain brown rice are good options as well. If you can find an affordable grain-free dog food, you’re more likely to see things like sweet potatoes or peas.

In addition to checking out the protein, fat, and carbohydrates on the ingredients list, you should also check to make sure there are beneficial supplements without too many artificial additives. Things like artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives have no place in dog food while beneficial supplements like vitamins, chelated minerals, and probiotics are good things to see.

Putting It All Together

Once you’ve taken the time to review the information on the dog food label, you should have a pretty good idea whether it is a high-quality product or not. If you’re on a budget, you may need to make some compromises but you should still be proactive about choosing a good product.

When it comes to cheap dog food, you want to buy the best thing you can consistently afford.

You should definitely look for something that lists an animal-based protein source first and avoid anything made with wheat, corn, or soy. You’ll probably have to settle for some plant-based fats and you may not see chelated minerals or probiotics on the ingredients list. In the end, however, the product will still meet your dog’s nutritional needs and you can make up for it a little bit with healthy snacks.

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