11 Best Cheap Dog Food: Your Buyer’s Guide (2019)

cheap dog food

The reality of paying for our pets sometimes falls well short of our willingness and capacity to love them. There are plenty of circumstances outside of our control that can negatively affect our ability to provide for the canine members of our families — job loss, injury, sudden spike in food costs, and so on. To that end, we’ve put together this list of relatively inexpensive options when it comes to dry dog food. For one thing, dry food itself is economical, packing more calories into a smaller volume. For another, these are made by the big companies that specialize in large-volume production to keep costs low. For the budget-conscious dog owner, here are the best cheap dog food brands.

What are the best cheap dog food brands?

  • Three real-meat protein sources
  • Lower carbohydrate content
  • 4 rating on Dog Food Advisor
Price: $39.99 Shop now at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Diamond cheap dog food Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Real meat is the first ingredient
  • No corn, wheat, filler, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
  • Blend of probiotics to promote gut health
Price: $36.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • No corn, wheat, by-products, or artificial ingredients
  • Real meat as the first two ingredients
  • 4 rating on Dog Food Advisor
Price: $44.64 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • No corn, wheat or artificial colors and flavors
  • Real lamb as the first ingredient
  • 3.5 rating on Dog Food Advisor
Price: $31.93 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Real meat is the first ingredient
  • Easily digested
  • 3.5 rating on Dog Food Advisor
Price: $52.92 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Chicken is the first ingredient
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Wheat free
Price: $31.43 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Real meat is the first ingredient
  • Highly digestible
  • Antioxidant blend
Price: $52.37 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Real meat is the first ingredient
  • Prebiotics aid digestion
  • 3.5 rating from Dog Food Advisor
Price: $31.64 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Size and breed specific formulas
  • Highly digestible
  • No recent history of recalls
Price: $40.49 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
  • Real meat is the first ingredient
  • Added glucosamine for joint health
  • U.S.-sourced ingredients
Price: $49.98 Shop now at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Very inexpensive
  • Palatable
  • Good mix of meat and vegetables
Price: $61.97 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. Whole Earth Farms Adult Recipe Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Three real-meat protein sources
    • Lower carbohydrate content
    • Good 4 rating on Dog Food Advisor
    Cons:
    • Only one flavor available at this price
    • Not grain free
    • Not non-GMO verified

    Whole Earth Farms is the value line from Merrick, whose grain free dry food landed on our best grain free dog food post and ranks as one of Dog Food Advisor’s Top Ten Best. That line comes in over $50 for 25 pounds, which is pretty steep. By switching to meat meal and dialing down the protein content, they’ve brought to market this relatively-affordable option which is made in the U.S.A. and contains no ingredients from China.

    The cheapest version is this, the Adult Recipe, which isn’t grain free. However, for a little more, grain free versions are indeed available. All in all, a reasonably priced option from a reputable food maker that happens to operate as a subsidiary of Nestle.

    First Six Ingredients (Adult Recipe variety):

    • Chicken meal
    • Turkey meal
    • Oatmeal
    • Pearled barley
    • Brown rice
    • Whole barley

    Flavors Available:

    • Adult Recipe
  2. 2. Diamond Naturals All Life Stages Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Real meat is the first ingredient - cage free or pasture raised
    • No corn, wheat, filler, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
    • Blend of probiotics to promote gut health
    Cons:
    • Not grain free
    • Some dogs don't go for the flavor
    • Packaging occasionally breaks in transit

    Diamond Pet Foods make a range of solid dog foods at prices lower than competitors. This even includes their grain free food, which we put on our best grain free dry dog food post. The food in their least expensive offering relies on real meat from cage free chickens and pasture raised cows and sheep. These are complimented with a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as a blend of probiotics that help support your dog’s gut health. Each of the flavors comes in at less than $1 per pound.

    Diamond Naturals is produced by family-owned Schell & Kampeter, Inc., which does business as Diamond Pet Company. Their facilities are all located in the U.S.A.

    First Six Ingredients (Chicken & Rice Formula):

    • Chicken
    • Chicken Meal
    • Whole Grain Brown Rice
    • Peas
    • Cracked Pearled Barley
    • Pea Flour

    Flavors Available:

  3. 3. Eagle Pack Natural Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • No corn, wheat, by-products, or artificial ingredients
    • Real meat as the first two ingredients
    • Good 4 rating on Dog Food Advisor
    Cons:
    • Somewhat small kibble size for larger dogs
    • Bag is not resealable
    • Not grain free

    We included Eagle Pack on our best dry cat food brands post and it deserves consideration here. Despite being reasonably priced, there is no corn, wheat, by-products, or artificial ingredients. Several probiotics are included, antioxidants are provided by green tea extract, and protein-heavy meat meals make up the first two ingredients.

    Eagle Pack is made by Wellpet, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Berwind Corporation. They make their food in Indiana.

    First Six Ingredients:

    • Chicken meal
    • Pork meal
    • Ground brown rice
    • Dehulled barley
    • Oatmeal
    • Rice

    Flavors Available:

  4. 4. Nature’s Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • No corn, wheat or artificial colors and flavors
    • Real lamb as the first ingredient
    • Solid 3.5 rating on Dog Food Advisor
    Cons:
    • Limited flavor options
    • Above average carbohydrate level
    • No added probiotics or glucosamine

    Not to be confused with the vastly more expensive Nature’s Variety we put on our grain free dry dog food post, this is a very straightforward, traditional dry dog food on the cheaper end of the spectrum. Nevertheless, this food is made without corn and wheat, which other brands on this list rely on for volume. Grains are still present here, but the oatmeal and rice are usually well-tolerated by most dogs.

    That said, if you have a few more dollars to spend, there is a grain-free variety, too. There are no by-products nor artificial flavors, making this a solidly mid-tier food in the grand scheme of things. The packaging doesn’t make this clear, but Nature’s Recipe is owned by Big Heart Pet Brands, Inc., which itself was acquired by The J.M. Smucker Company in 2015 and was previously held by Del Monte Foods.

    First Six Ingredients (Lamb Meal & Rice variety):

    • Lamb meal
    • Barley
    • Oatmeal
    • Brewers rice
    • Poultry fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols)
    • Natural flavor

    Flavors Available:

  5. 5. Nutro Wholesome Essentials Adult Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Real meat is the first ingredient
    • Easily digested
    • Solid 3.5 rating on Dog Food Advisor
    Cons:
    • Somewhat pricey
    • No probiotics or glucosamine
    • Not grain free

    The last of the Mars products on this list, Nutro is closer to Royal Canin than Iams or Pedigree in the family tree. The ingredients lists on these are a touch cleaner, as well. Indeed, that’s the brand’s motto: “Feed Clean.”

    Pasture-fed lamb is the first ingredient, and there’s no corn nor wheat included. Even better, the grain-free variety is comparably priced, so if you’re already prepared to spend just a touch more, these are solid options that are still below nosebleed territory.

    First Six Ingredients (Lamb variety):

    • Deboned Lamb
    • Chicken Meal
    • Brewers Rice
    • Rice Bran
    • Whole Brown Rice
    • Whole Grain Oatmeal

    Flavors Available:

  6. 6. Rachael Ray Nutrish Natural Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Chicken is the first ingredient
    • Made in the U.S.A.
    • Wheat free
    Cons:
    • Not as inexpensive as some other options
    • Not grain free
    • Corn used as a filler

    Even considering the celebrity endorsement angle, this Rachael Ray branded cheap dog food is actually a solid contender. Real, U.S.-grown meat is the first ingredient, which is more than can be said for other brands in this arena. Again, there are no artificial flavors, and this food goes the extra step of adding prebiotics and is nutritionally complete with the inclusion of chelated minerals. Corn and soybeans are used as fillers here, but otherwise there are no meat by-products or wheat.

    If you wanted to be even pickier about ingredients, the Nutrish line also offers Just 6 limited ingredient feed and a Zero Grain formulation.

    Nutrish is made by Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, which is a maker of private label retail foods, too.

    First Six Ingredients (Real Chicken & Veggies variety):

    • Chicken
    • Chicken meal
    • Soybean meal
    • Whole grain corn
    • Dried peas
    • Dried plain beet pulp

    Flavors Available:

  7. 7. Purina One SmartBlend Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Real meat is the first ingredient
    • Highly digestible
    • Antioxidant blend
    Cons:
    • Claims zero fillers, but still uses corn, wheat and gluten meal
    • Only a 2-star rating on Dog Food Advisor
    • Uses glycerin as a sweetener

    Purina has roots dating back to 1894, so they’re old-hand at the pet food game. They have many formulations to choose from, but the ONE line strikes the balance between natural nutrition and accessible pricing. At one time, I lived with a roommate who fed this to her dog and the dog had a beautiful coat, stayed trim, and had plenty of energy. The ingredient formulation means your dog gets a full dose of glucosamine and omega-6, and the formula on the whole is very digestible.

    You could also consider the True Instinct variation, which increases the minimum protein to 30 percent of calories.

    Purina is owned by Nestle; go here to learn more.

    First Six Ingredients (Lamb & Rice Formula variety):

    • Lamb
    • Brewers rice
    • Whole grain corn
    • Whole grain wheat
    • Poultry by-product meal
    • Corn gluten meal

    Flavors Available:

  8. 8. Iams Proactive Health Adult Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Real meat is the first ingredient
    • Prebiotics aid digestion
    • Respectable 3.5 rating from Dog Food Advisor
    Cons:
    • Artificially colored
    • Uses brewers rice, beet pulp and sorghum as fillers
    • Slightly elevated carbohydrates

    Growing up, we had cats. One spring, we noticed that they were shedding much more than usual even though nothing had changed. On a hunch, my mother decided to change their food and chose Iams as the replacement. Pretty quickly thereafter, the shedding declined considerably and never returned. True, this is merely anecdotal and about cats, but it goes to show that a change in their diet can improve your dog’s health, even if it isn’t to one of the more expensive varieties.

    I’ve seen Iams work on a few dogs I know personally, so it could be a good option for you. Chicken is the first ingredient (lamb comes a bit later down the list, but still in the top five), and probiotics are added to aid digestion. In addition, they offer breed specific formulations, such as this one for German Shepherds.

    Iams is owned by Mars, like Pedigree and a couple of others on our list.

    First Six Ingredients (Lamb & Rice variety):

    • Lamb
      Ground Whole Grain Sorghum
      Chicken By-Product Meal
      Ground Whole Grain Barley
      Brewers Rice
      Chicken Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols)

    Flavors Available:

  9. 9. Royal Canin Size Health Nutrition Adult Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Size and breed specific formulas allow for tailoring to your dog
    • Highly digestible
    • No recent history of recalls
    Cons:
    • First ingredient is rice
    • Uses by-product meal
    • Somewhat expensive

    Another Mars product, Royal Canin is among the pricier options at this level — though most are comfortably less than the options on our best grain free dry dog food post. What sets Royal Canin apart is their wide variety of size- and breed-specific formulations.

    First, there are the standard size options, including X-Small, Small, Medium (featured above), Large, and Giant. There are a number of variations depending on age and sensitivity needs. All that is fairly standard, so in addition, the brand also offers breed-specific foods. There is some variation again in terms of nutrients and calories, but the kibble shape and size are also varied to suit the tendency of each breed. You can read more about their approach here. A sampling of breeds covered in this line include:

    The prices do vary considerably from breed-to-breed, so unless you feel strongly about it, we find that the weight class versions are better value for money.

    First Six Ingredients (Medium Adult variety):

    • Brewers Rice
    • Chicken By-Product Meal
    • Oat Groats
    • Wheat
    • Corn Gluten Meal
    • Chicken Fat

    Flavors Available:

  10. 10. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Dry Adult Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Lamb is the first ingredient
    • Added glucosamine for joint health
    • U.S.-sourced ingredients
    Cons:
    • Approaching pricing of grain free foods
    • Brand previously faced lawsuits over misleading ingredient claims
    • Uses barley as a filler, which adds unnecessary carbs

    To be fair, Blue Buffalo has become something of a lightning rod for controversy in the last few years. Partly this is down to their aggressive attacks on the larger brands and their penchant for (perhaps unearned) elitism when it comes to their products. They’ve had a few setbacks in the form of recalls, too. All that aside, since the company’s ethos is focus on competing against supermarket brands, the price point is relatively affordable for the ingredients list.

    The Life Protection Formula is their entry-level dry food and isn’t grain-free, but still has real meat as the first ingredient. You can browse the entire line here, which includes formulations for large and small breeds, as well as puppies and seniors. Also, all their ingredients are U.S.-sourced, which explains the price difference to some degree. They’re pretty good about dutifully reporting their recalls on their news page and are also part of the California Transparency Act.

    Blue Buffalo is owned by Blue Pet Products, Inc. out of Connecticut.

    First Six Ingredients (Lamb & Brown Rice variety):

    • Deboned lamb
    • Oatmeal
    • Whole ground barley
    • Turkey meal
    • Whole ground brown rice
    • Peas

    Flavors Available:

    • Chicken & Brown Rice
    • Fish & Brown Rice
    • Lamb & Brown Rice
  11. 11. Pedigree Complete Nutrition Adult Dry Dog Food

    Pros:
    • Very inexpensive
    • Tends to be palatable to a wide range of dogs
    • Omega-6 fatty acid supports coat health
    Cons:
    • Corn is the first ingredient
    • Only 20 percent protein
    • Plenty of added fillers

    Almost certainly an obvious and ubiquitous choice. One of the staple so-called “supermarket brands”, Pedigree offers one of the least expensive options out there. Their foods contain no high fructose corn syrup nor artificial flavors and offer complete nutrition, though fillers are relatively abundant.

    Made by Mars, you can read more about their supply chain here, if that’s a concern. All their foods are made in the U.S. using ingredients sourced around the world.

    First Six Ingredients (Roasted Chicken, Rice, and Vegetable variety):

    • Ground whole grain corn
    • Meat and bone meal
    • Corn gluten meal
    • Animal fat
    • Soybean meal
    • Natural flavor

    Flavors Available:

All three of my dogs are around 60 pounds and two of them are under the age of three. They're fully able-bodied and active, enjoying sprints around our back yard as much as challenging hikes. Dogs fitting this general description get hungry and, it seems to me, my three are working together to render my household penniless.

Feeding three good-sized dogs is no easy feat. I offer my condolences to those of you with more or bigger dogs. My youngest, a monster husky mix, tends to lose weight even when he's eating four cups a day. Between their kibble and treats, we're well into three digits per month. I'm familiar with the economics of dog ownership, to say the least.

That being said, the question of whether these are objectively the best dog foods remains open. We try to represent a variety of use cases and priorities in the breadth of our posts, but dog owners tend to be savvy label readers of late. By and large these days, veterinarians are more likely to suggest grain-free foods, responding to a growing obesity problem among pets and to skin allergies that can occasionally accompany feeding more traditional foods.

Unfortunately, the very best foods tend to be expensive, so there is always a balance to be struck. Better to be able to feed your dog at all than hold out for an unsustainable diet. The purpose of this list is finding value in nutritionally complete dry dog food, not declaring a winner in the world's best dog food debate. On that note, these are not ranked, merely numbered for ease of reading.

Further, we advise discussing with your vet and consulting Dog Food Advisor for a clear picture of what to feed your pup. To be fully transparent, we've listed the first six ingredients of each of our picks so you can evaluate what will make up the greatest proportion of these foods. If there's something truly objectionable to you, you'll know straight away and can move onto another option.

A note about recalls: To some extent, recalls on pet foods are inevitable. The scale at which these companies operate make them prone to mistakes, though typically these aren't of the life-threatening variety. Short of making all your dog's food by hand at home, we're at the mercy of the industry to some extent.

The most common recalls are issued for things like elevated levels of beef thyroid hormone, which may only have a short term effect that is reversed once the dog stops eating that product. Recalls on the whole tend to be rare, but if you're concerned, keep an eye on the Food & Drug Administration's Animal & Veterinary Recall page or sign up for Dog Food Advisor's Recall Alert emails.

See Also:

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