“To you, your dog may only be a part of your life, but to him, you are his whole world.” – Unknown
You love your dog like family. You know he depends on you to make the right decisions about his health and wellness. You also know that all his nutritional needs must be met by his food.
For most of us, we need to find a happy medium between a quality dog food and affordability. We really need to find the best dog food for the price. Luckily, there are a lot of options out there that means we don’t have to choose between our dog’s food and our rent money.
While we all want to give our dogs the world, the truth is we can’t always afford it. The pet care market is booming, meaning that we are bombarded with choices on what to feed our furred family. What’s more, it also means that the once niche market for gourmet foods is a lot wider as more people are willing to pay the extra price. Raw-infused or raw-based foods that nail the ‘wolf diet’ trend are available at every pet store for those able to pay the sometimes exorbitant cost.
The raw options are just part of a trend towards the most ancestral diet that has really taken off in the last few years. The philosophy is to create foods that mimic what your dog’s wolf ancestors would eat. Companies offering pre-packaged raw diets based on this concept are able to charge sky high prices because, in truth, this is the best you can feed your dog.
Natural, wholesome food in ratios that reflect what their bodies were built to eat is simply scientifically healthier. Just like with humans, the more natural our foods, the more nutritious. As a general rule, the closer your dog’s diet can reflect that of what he would consume in nature, the healthier it is.
What key elements can you look for to determine if a dog food is a high quality?
Protein, protein, protein.
The first ingredient(s) in a quality dog food must be protein sources. Moreover, this must be some identifiable source like chicken, beef or salmon, not just ‘poultry’ or ‘meat.’ This ensures that it is muscle meat in the food, not only random by-products. This will often be followed by ‘chicken meal,’ ‘salmon meal’ or something similar.
‘Meal’ is a protein concentrate that is produced by removing water from the meat source and adds valuable protein to the food. Just like in nature, wolves consume the majority of their calories from their prey. Next time you are looking at dog food labels, check out some of the more popular – and expensive – brands.
Healthy complex carbs, in moderation.
Complex carbohydrates, not just starchy unhealthy fillers. Think of the healthy choices you have to consider when it comes to carbs in your own diet. In your dog’s food, you want to see whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and barley, or nutrient-rich tubers like sweet potatoes. Again, take a look at some of the brands you may see in commercials and you will frequently find a lot of corn, wheat, and soy. A quality food will add only healthy options, which also add vitamins and fiber as well as complex carbs.
Fats and oils.
Although something like chicken fat may seem unappetizing and unhealthy, your dog needs fats for digestive, skin and coat health. Quality foods with include either chicken fat or fats from seeds or fish. The latter two are preferred because this adds essential omega fatty acids which are also needed for heart and brain health. It would be ideal to find all of the above, but at least one or two is critical.
Fruits and vegetables and/or vitamin supplements.
You need to find fruits and vegetables, along with additional vitamins to supplement the nutrient value of the food. Our dogs’ ancestors are omnivores who gain a lot of nutrients from foraging, not just hunting. These are critical for adding fiber to your dog’s diet along with a good level of antioxidants for immune health. Even if the food only contains two or three fruits or veggies, if it is good quality there will be a long list of fortified vitamins that were added to bolster its nutritional value.
Minerals are just as critical as vitamins, but in a quality food, they will add what is called chelated minerals. These are molecularly bonded with proteins and will be more readily absorbed by your dog’s digestive system. If you think of mineral particles you probably think of something with the consistency of sand, which is fairly accurate.
When minerals are chelated they are less likely to just pass through your dog’s system without benefiting him at all. If minerals have gone through the chelation process, they are likely to have suffixes such as chelate, proteinate or glycinate. If the dog food has already demonstrated other qualities of being a higher grade, you can usually assume that when they supplemented it with vitamins and minerals they used this high-quality option.
These are the fundamental ingredients of any top-notch dog food. While a quality dog food should have all of the above, what does this leave for the best cheap dog food?
Here are our top five choices for your consideration:
Diamond Naturals adheres to the grain-free philosophy and produces several formulas for large and small breeds. Their food features quality protein from sources like chicken, lamb, and salmon. They choose complex carbohydrate sources such as barley and brown rice. This is a nutrient rich selection, with ingredients like kale, chia seed, pumpkin, blueberries, oranges, quinoa, dried kelp, coconut, spinach, carrots and papaya making an appearance on the label.
The addition of flaxseed oil provides those wonderful omega acids for heart and brain health, as well. Diamond Naturals uses chelated minerals and includes their own ‘antioxidant formulation,’ for immune system support. This food also features probiotics for healthy digestion. For a 40 lb. bag, Diamond Naturals is probably the most cost-effective choice here.
Nutro Ultra is also packed with quality protein sources including chicken, lamb, and beef, with complex carbohydrates including oatmeal and brown rice. This brand uses chicken fat along with salmon meal and sunflower oil to satisfy the need for essential omega fatty acids.
Nutro Ultra also features a great antioxidant blend that includes pomegranate, blueberry, spinach, carrot, and pumpkin. This combo, especially the pumpkin, adds great fiber and digestibility. This food is also well-supplemented with additional vitamins and chelated minerals that will be more readily absorbed by your dog’s system.
Taste of the Wild offers some of the best unique protein sources such as venison, lamb, egg, duck, and fish in their recipes. Complex carbohydrates like garbanzo beans, lentils and tapioca are high in fiber and nutrients. Tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, and peas are great antioxidant sources and add even further fiber to this recipe.
Taste of the Wild’s food is well-fortified with additional vitamins and chelated minerals and features plenty of healthy fats and oils from multiple sources including fish and flaxseed. This food includes probiotics to this already fiber-rich formula, making it highly digestible, as well.
Fromm Gold started with a base of protein like duck, chicken, lamb, and egg. They used only complex carbohydrates like brown rice and barley in their foods along with a good blend of alfalfa, tomato, carrots, and celery. These all add essential fiber and vitamins, while flaxseed and salmon oil provide vitamin E, omega fatty acids and everything your dog needs for a healthy skin and coat.
Fromm is also well fortified with vitamins and chelated minerals. Probiotics are also added in Fromm’s recipe, always a welcome addition for added digestibility. It can be one of the pricier options but since this is a smaller family-owned operation, so you can expect that to be reflected in the cost.
Victor Performance dog food is another grain-free choice that uses only high-quality protein like beef, chicken, and egg. These provide excellent, above-average levels of protein in this food. Complex carbohydrates are found in sources like chicory root and sweet potato.
Chicken fat and flaxseed are used as sources of necessary fats, supporting skin, coat, digestion, heart, and mind. Victor also features an antioxidant-rich recipe. Carrots, watercress, and peas are well supplemented with extra vitamins and chelated minerals to support immunity.
Dog food prices range from incredibly cheap to almost ridiculously expensive. It’s hard to make the right choices in a market flooded with options, all claiming to offer the best for your beloved pup. Always review the label on your dog food. More often than not, it is contradictory to the bold claims they make as part of the marketing campaign.
This article is for those that are seeking a high-quality food that is on the lower end of the price scale. These are not the cheapest dog foods; these are a selection of some of the cheapest top quality dog foods. It is not exhaustive, as there are new dog food lines coming out all the time to meet the rising needs of concerned pet owners.
We can only hope that these foods are produced by manufacturers that love their dogs as much as we do and want them to lead long healthy and happy lives. It would be great to see more dog foods feature wholesome, real ingredients for lower cost in the near future. Right now, most of us are willing to pay a little bit more if it means we are taking the best care of our entire family.
At the end of the day, you and your veterinarian know what is best for your individual dog. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s diet, consult your pup’s veterinarian