US Vet picks the 9 Best Budget Dog Foods in 2022

A Budget-Friendly dog food, if selected correctly, doesn’t mean you have to settle on low quality nutrients. While most dog food brands add low-nutrient and low-cost fillers to reduce the retail price, there are some brands that maintain high-nutrient formulas at an affordable price.

I used my 12 years of Veterinary experience to review over 100 dog food products to find the best budget-friendly dog food.

After evaluating over 100 dog food recipes, I found that “Nutro Natural Choice Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food” has the best overall combination of nutrients and quality sources. 

But I understand that no two pups are alike, and your doggie might have a different life stage or have different needs, such as a sensitive stomach or an active lifestyle. That’s why I prepared a shortlist of the best affordable dog food that addresses these common conditions.

Before you pick the best budget-friendly dog food for Fido, it’s always important to consider whether it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I explained what are the potential traps in budget-friendly diet.

After you decide that a Budget-Friendly food is right for your doggie, you can check out these 9 Affordable dog foods that I shortlisted for you

If my shortlist doesn’t cover your doggie’s needs for some reason, I prepared a quick checklist that would assist you in finding the best budget-friendly dog food for her. I wrote the checklist in plain & simple English so that you can follow it easily.

Finally, I answered popular questions patients have asked me regarding affordable dog food diets.

Always remember that the recommendations in this review are not intended to replace a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult your veterinarian before making significant adjustments to your furbaby’s diet.

Let’s get started.

Is a Budget-Friendly diet safe for your dog?

small dog is surprised to find his new tasty food is budget friendly

Take it from someone who likes to keep a tight budget, inexpensive does not necessarily mean low quality. Some foods will bring the price down by adding fillers that aren’t as nutritious. The key to finding a safe and healthy dog food that’s also inexpensive is to pay close attention to the ingredients. 

Whether you’re evaluating budget-friend canned or dry dog foods, first look for products that list meat as the first ingredient. But don’t stop there. You should also make sure that the formula does not include these materials that are commonly found in budget foods:

  • Meat by-products and generic meat meal
  • Corn and wheat gluten
  • Artificial colors or flavors
  • BHA and/or BHT
  • Rendered fat

If you see any of these ingredients, keep looking.

When it comes to wet food in particular, a common mistake that some people make is assuming that canned dog food is better for dogs. They see the claim, “real ingredients” and observe that the product looks like meat. But that’s not always true… 

Budget canned foods may be processed or packaged under conditions that put them at higher risk for contamination. The soft consistency also tends to leave food residue on the teeth and may contribute to dental disease. While quality canned food with healthy ingredients can make a special treat, we recommend feeding kibble unless your pooch can’t handle hard foods or she is a picky eater.

As long as you do your homework and find a budget product that uses real, quality ingredients, you can feel safe about feeding it to your furbaby.

Provide all the Nutrients with an Affordable Dog Food

dachshund eats a healthy affordable red berries

When picking a dog food that fits your budget, you still have to choose from various recipes, formulations for different life stages, and many brands. So how do you know which food is the healthiest choice for your dog? 

For your convenience, we’ve created a rule of thumb checklist to make it easier for you to choose the right affordable dog food formulation that fits best for your doggie:  

  • Life Stage Appropriate – Even with budget foods, you can find varieties for different life stages. As your dog ages, they have different nutritional needs, so choosing a life-stage appropriate food is essential. For example, puppies require higher concentrations of some key nutrients like protein and minerals to ensure proper growth and development. So, feeding your youngster a dog food formulated for seniors may not provide the building blocks to ensure strong bones and muscles.
    • Puppies (up to 1 year) – Puppies have higher protein and energy needs than their adult counterparts. These ingredients promote proper growth. Always choose a product that’s formulated for a puppy when you have a dog that’s less than one year old.
    • Adult (1-6 years) – Adult dog food will have a balanced blend of key nutrients including animal-based protein, fats, minerals, and vitamins. It won’t need as much energy as a puppy unless you’re dealing with an active animal such as a working or sporting dog. 
    • Senior – Older dogs usually have a slower metabolism and need lower calories and fat than most adults. They can also benefit from supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin, and probiotics to support aching joints and digestion. 
  • Individual Dietary Needs – While you don’t want to pay for unnecessary supplements, you may choose some ingredients to meet your furbaby’s special needs. For example, if you have a dog with joint disease, look for an affordable product with glucosamine and chondroitin. Dogs with sensitive stomachs or food allergies might benefit from limited-ingredient food. 
  • Protein Tops the Ingredients – Dogs are carnivores by nature. Therefore, the first ingredient should always be quality animal protein like chicken, beef, or fish. That helps ensure that your pup gets the essential amino acids he needs to support his muscle mass.
  • Essential Ingredients- When you look for budget-friendly dog food, there’s no need to compromise on nutrition. Your pup has basic needs to promote lean muscle mass, provide energy, and support other body functions. The ingredients that you should look for in any dog food include:
    • High-Quality Protein – The top ingredient in any food should be quality animal-based protein. These materials provide essential amino acids that your pooch requires to build and maintain muscle mass. Avoid generic meat meals or meat byproducts.
    • Fatty Acids – While dogs can produce some fats, there are others that they must get from their diet. These essential fatty acids promote body health and help foster immunity and other functions. Omega fatty acids to support skin and coat health are among the nutrients you want to see in the product.
    • Antioxidants – Antioxidants are found in many whole-food ingredients including fruits and vegetables. These nutrients promote cellular health and support the immune system. Some helpful antioxidants include beta-carotene, carotenoids, and vitamin E.
    • Minerals and Vitamins – Essential vitamins and minerals help support a variety of functions in the body. They work as catalysts and promote things like strong bones and vision. Key minerals and vitamins include vitamins C and E for immune support and the minerals calcium phosphorus for strong bones.
  • Ingredients To Avoid- To keep costs down, manufacturers may turn to fillers and low-quality materials that don’t provide the nutrition your pup needs. So, check the ingredient list and avoid:
    • Foods With Unidentified Meat Meals or By-products – generic meat meals and by-products can include other animal parts such as hooves and feathers. Another potential problem is that you don’t know what species the meat meal includes. If your pup has a food allergy, you could be feeding a substance that he won’t tolerate.
    • Artificial Additives – Artificial ingredients like chemical colors, flavors, and preservatives can be hard on a sensitive stomach, and some substances may be linked to cancer. Avoid products that contain artificial additives and look for natural preservatives and flavors instead.
    • Avoid Fillers – These are foods that add bulk but have low to no nutritional value. Materials like corn, wheat, cereal byproducts, and oat hulls may add fiber and bulk but not much more. Additionally, some pups have sensitivities to these materials.
  • Complete and Balanced – Budget or not, the food you choose should provide all the essential nutrients your pooch needs. Look for a statement that indicates the food is complete and balanced. For example, many products will show that their formula meets AAFCO nutritional requirements.
  • Made in a Country With Rigorous Safety Standards – You want to know you’re feeding your four-footed friend a safe and wholesome diet. But some imported products may have substandard or harmful ingredients. Check the label to determine the manufacturing country. Nations with safety standards and good manufacturing practices include the United States, Canada, France, Great Britain, and Australia.

Our 2022 Review For 9 Best Budget-Friendly Dog Food

3 dogs waiting to eat their dry food

We reviewed over 100 products by following the abovementioned process and classified the best for your doggie’s everyday essential nutrient needs. 

We considered each pick’s life stage and common health issues and ensured it has the best nutrient sources.

Nutro Natural Choice Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Chicken, Brewers Rice, Chicken Meal, Whole Grain Brown Rice, Whole Grain Barley
  • Key feature: Non-GMO Ingredients
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 22% crude protein; 14%crude fat; 3.5% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 343 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Best Overall
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

With chicken as the top ingredient and chicken meal in the top five, this formula is protein-rich and supports healthy muscles. Flaxseed and chicken fat provide healthy sources of essential fatty acids including omegas. These nutrients support immune function and promote healthy skin and hair.

Whole grains offer digestible carbohydrates that are gentle on the gut. Garden vegetables offer a rich source of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. The formula is supplemented to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

The formula includes a prebiotic fiber to promote digestion. There are no artificial ingredients or GMO products in the food. It also contains no fillers, corn, soy, or wheat.

Merrick Grain-Free Puppy Chicken & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes, Salmon Meal
  • Key feature: Grain-free
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 28% crude protein; 16%crude fat; 4.5% crude fiber; 11% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 401 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry puppy food
  • Life Stage: Puppy
  • Best for: Puppies
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and lactation

Three of the top five ingredients in this puppy food come from chicken and salmon and provide rich sources of protein. The higher fat content includes healthy omega fatty acids and other essential nutrients to support an active, growing pooch.

With balanced nutrition that features antioxidant-rich whole foods, this product has high-quality ingredients. Natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin provide support for joint function.

The formula includes a cocktail of probiotic microorganisms to aid healthy digestion. Supplementation with vitamins and minerals helps to ensure your furbaby is getting all its essential nutrients. This formula is available in different package sizes.

VICTOR Purpose Senior Healthy Weight Dry Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Beef Meal, Whole Grain Brown Rice, Whole Grain Millet, Grain Sorghum, Chicken Fat
  • Key feature: Multi-protein
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 27% crude protein; 11.5%crude fat; 4.5% crude fiber; 9% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 360 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Senior
  • Best for: Seniors
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

Starting with beef meal, this nutrient-dense formula has essential amino acids to support healthy muscles. Menhaden fish meal and chicken fat provide sources of omegas and other essential fatty acids. The fat content is adequate to fuel your older pup’s activity level.

This food has natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin to support joint function. The formula includes probiotics and L-carnitine to aid digestion and boost metabolism. 

With gluten-free grains and no fillers, this food has appropriate nutritional density for your furbaby. There are no artificial additives or preservatives in the formula.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Barley, Oatmeal
  • Key feature: natural ingredients
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 24% crude protein; 14%crude fat; 5% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 378 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Active Dogs
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

Featuring real chicken in the top two ingredients, this food has essential amino acids to support lean muscle mass. Whole grains provide digestible carbohydrates for your pup’s energy needs. Flaxseed adds omega fatty acids to the diet for healthy skin and coat.

The formula includes a balanced blend of calcium and phosphorus to support strong bones. Additional vitamins and minerals in the life source bits help to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.

Glucosamine supplementation and natural sources of chondroitin help to promote joint function. There are antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and probiotic supplements that help to soothe the gut. 

Diamond Naturals Beef Meal & Rice Formula Adult Dry Dog Food, 40-lb bag

  • First 5 ingredients: Beef Meal, Grain Sorghum, Ground White Rice, Dried Yeast, Egg Product
  • Key feature: superfoods
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 25% crude protein; 15%crude fat; 3.5% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 329 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Adults
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

Affordable and nutritious, this formula from Diamond Naturals starts with beef meal as a source of animal-based protein. The moderate fat content features healthy omega fatty acids and other essential fatty acids. 

Digestible whole grains provide healthy carbs for energy. The formula includes fruits and vegetables for rich sources of antioxidants as well as minerals and vitamins. Additional supplements create a nutritionally balanced product. 

This food includes digestive enzymes and probiotic microorganisms to foster healthy digestion. There are natural sources of glucosamine and chondroitin to promote joint function. Taurine is added to support the heart.

Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Lamb & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Deboned Lamb, Menhaden Fish Meal, Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Barley
  • Key feature: whole grains
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 22% crude protein; 14%crude fat; 5% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 377 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Sensitive Stomach
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

Featuring two protein ingredients in the top five, this product offers rich sources of amino acids and omega fatty acids. These features help to promote healthy muscles, skin, and coat. Omega fatty acids also aid your pal’s body to control inflammation.

The formula features digestible ingredients that are designed to be gentle on the gut. With novel proteins and whole grains, the food is less likely to trigger food sensitivities in your pooch. Prebiotic fiber and supplementation with probiotics further support healthy digestion.

This product has a balanced blend of essential nutrients. There are no artificial additives or preservatives. It’s also free of fillers such as corn, wheat, and soy.

Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Grain-Free Salmon & Sweet Potato Formula

  • First 5 ingredients: Salmon, Menhaden Fish Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Cassava Flour, Potatoes
  • Key feature: Limited-ingredient
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 24% crude protein; 10%crude fat; 4% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 373 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Allergies
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

This Limited-ingredient food features omega fatty acid-rich salmon and menhaden fish meal as the top two ingredients. The materials provide all the essential amino acids your pup needs for healthy muscles. With healthy fats, the formula promotes a shiny coat and healthy skin.

With a limited number of ingredients, the formula is designed to help pet parents of dogs with food allergies protect their pups. There are no grains, fillers, or artificial ingredients in the food that could trigger a reaction.

This product has a balanced blend of essential nutrients for whole-body health. It also includes taurine to support the heart.

Rachael Ray Nutrish Zero Grain Natural Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Turkey, Chicken Meal, Whole Dried Potato, Sunflower Meal, Dried Peas
  • Key feature: Grain-free
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 26% crude protein; 14%crude fat; 5% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 345 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Grain-free
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

Starting with protein as the top two ingredients, this grain-free food offers the amino acids your furbaby needs. The sunflower meal and other materials add healthy sources of omega and other essential fatty acids. These substances support the coat, skin, and other body systems.

The formula is supplemented with the essential vitamins and minerals your pal needs for a complete and balanced diet. Taurine is also included to support heart health.

Chicken and Menhaden fish meals provide sources of glucosamine and chondroitin along with other helpful nutrients. There are no artificial ingredients in this food. It relies on natural preservatives. 

Nature’s Recipe Grain-Free Salmon, Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Recipe Dry Dog Food

  • First 5 ingredients: Salmon, Garbanzo Beans, Peas, Menhaden Fish Meal, Pea Starch
  • Key feature: Grain-free
  • Guaranteed Analysis: 27% crude protein; 12%crude fat; 4% crude fiber; 10% moisture
  • Caloric Content: 336 kcal/cup
  • Type of Product: Dry food
  • Life Stage: Adult
  • Best for: Weight Loss
  • AAFCO statement: formulated to meet the nutritional needs established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance

Although not specifically labeled for weight loss, this formula from Nature’s Recipe features low fat and lower calories. The first ingredient, salmon, is an excellent source of protein and omega fatty acids. With these essential building blocks, your pooch has nutrients for strong muscles, a shiny coat, and healthy skin.

The grain-free food features garbanzo beans and other garden vegetables for antioxidants and fiber. Pumpkin is particularly helpful to firm up loose stools and soothe the digestive tract. 

Supplementation with taurine, vitamins, and minerals rounds out the food for complete and balanced nutrition. There are no fillers or artificial ingredients in the product.

Frequently Asked Questions

two days waiting to review new food recipes that are affordable

Dry Food Vs. Homemade and Canned Food: Which Is Cheaper? 

  • Homemade Dog Food vs. Dry Food  Formulas – You may be thinking that you could save money by making your pup’s food at home. But the reality is that commercial foods are usually more affordable. The manufacturers can purchase many ingredients in large quantities. Buying in bulk is often cheaper, and the producers can pass some of the savings to you.
  • Canned Food vs. Dry Food – Canned food and kibble can have equal nutritional value, but each type has pluses and minuses. Wet food adds moisture to the diet while dry food helps to keep the teeth clean. In terms of cost, kibble is generally less expensive than its canned counterpart.

What’s the Difference Between Premium and Budget-Friendly Dog Food?
You want the best for your furbaby, but that doesn’t necessitate spending a fortune. Affordable dog food isn’t automatically low quality. If you know what to look for, you can find products that offer the essential nutrients without breaking the bank. 

So, what is affordable for dog food? A general target for average adult formulas is about $1 per pound. If your dog has food sensitivities or is extremely active, quality food may run closer to $2 per pound. That means you should be able to find a quality, budget option that’s as much as 40% less than some premium brands.

Just remember, it’s always best to consult with your veterinarian before switching your pup’s diet.

What is the best budget dog food?

We have included our best pick in the reviews below. However, for your dog, the best budget food is the one that meets his individual needs and that he will eat.

How much does a 50 lb bag of dog food cost?

Even with budget foods, prices can vary. But if you target about $1 per pound, that’s a good ballpark figure for quality budget brands.

Is expensive dog food really better?

Many premium brands tend to be better than their budget counterparts. They can use more whole foods and digestible ingredients. But there are good and bad products in both categories. Your best bet is to pay careful attention to the ingredients and label to make sure you’re getting quality food.

How can I feed my dog healthily and cheaply?

You need to read the label on the food and find a product that meets your pup’s nutritional requirements. We have provided some pointers above to help you know what to look for in a formula. For some of the more expensive nutrients, you may be able to add less expensive supplements like yogurt and fish oil to your dog’s food to achieve a similar nutritional impact.

Is it cheaper to make homemade dog food?

It’s usually more expensive to make homemade food because you can’t buy your ingredients in bulk the way large producers can.

Which cheap dog food should I avoid?

The key to knowing what to avoid is in the ingredient list. Stay away from foods with meat meal, animal by-products, artificial additives, and fillers like wheat, soy, and corn.

Does it really matter what kind of dog food you feed your dog?

Yes. You want to feed your dog food that meets his nutritional needs and has quality, digestible ingredients.

The Final Woof

dog and his owner smiling at each other after serving him his dinner

Buying nutritious food for your furbaby doesn’t have to break the bank. There are budget-friendly options that contain quality protein and the essential nutrients your pup needs. 

After evaluating over 100 products on the market and comparing them to our criteria and key considerations for Best Cheap dog food, we recommend Nutro Natural Choice Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food as the Best overall pick.

The formula includes quality protein and whole foods that provide antioxidants and essential nutrients for your pup’s health. There are also natural sources of omega fatty acids. This product has a complete nutritional profile for the average canine. 

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