One of the biggest costs associated with dog ownership is food. Some expenses are negotiable. Your dog will probably sleep just as comfortably on an old, folded up comforter as that expensive memory foam dog bed, but good food is a necessity.
To keep dogs happy and healthy, owners should provide them with food made from high quality ingredients that meet the lifestyle requirements of the individual pet (e.g., puppies need puppy food and overweight pets should be on calorie-restricted diets). There is an element of “you get what you pay for” with dog food, so higher quality foods do tend to be more expensive. But, with just a little bit of effort, owners can save a lot of money without compromising their pets’ health. Here’s how.
Pick Your Dog Food Wisely
Dogs do best when they are on a consistent diet. People like variety in their meals, but there is no benefit to constantly switching the type of food you feed your dog. This can also increase the risk that a dog will become finicky, always waiting for the next tasty tidbit that will come with tomorrow’s meal.
Most dogs thrive when they eat high quality, but not necessarily super-premium dog foods. If you don’t eat organic, does your dog need to? And some manufacturers spend an awful lot of money on marketing niche products, for example foods that are supposedly designed for particular breeds. You pay a premium for these formulations, but in all honesty, they are overkill for most individuals within the breed.
So look for a dog food that is moderately priced but still contains ingredients that sound like real food. Two brands that fall into this category are Iams and Purina One. These products also have the advantage of being widely available.
Comparison Shopping and Coupons
Once you have found a food that works well for your dog, comparison shop. Prices can vary widely between retailers. Consider becoming a member of a wholesale operation like Costco or Sam’s Club. These companies will usually let you into their facilities as a guest so you can check out what they offer. Walmart, Target, and Kmart also tend to have good prices on pet food, as can the large pet retailers like Petsmart and Petco. In general, you will pay more for food at the smaller pet boutiques, but they do tend to carry a wider selection of premium or specialty pet foods. Don’t forget to sign up for any reward programs that the stores offer.
Watch for advertisements run by your local retailers; dog food often goes on sale. And keep your eyes open for coupons. Online sites like retailmenot.com or couponcabin.com are a good way to keep on top of current offers. Simply Googling your dog food’s name with the word “coupon” is another simple way to see what’s available. The manufacturer’s own website is another excellent resource. Many offer coupons to encourage people to try their products.
If you’ve found an excellent price on your dog’s food, stock up if you have the storage space. Most pet foods have a shelf life of around a year. Check the expiration date on the bag, and buy as much as you think your pet will eat by that time. As a general rule of thumb, larger bags of food are much less expensive by weight and volume in comparison to the smaller bags, and dry food is always cheaper than canned.
Don’t Forget the Internet
While many of us use the internet to shop, buying pet food online is in its infancy. But, this can be a convenient and cheap way to get many of your pet supplies, including food.
The big comparison shopping sites like nextag.com and shopping.yahoo.com are a great way to find the lowest prices on food. Simply type in the exact product you are looking for, and voila, up pops all the information you need. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples, however. Look that the prices all correspond to the same size bag of food and don’t forget to add in shipping costs for those sites that don’t offer free shipping and tax, if applicable.
Amazon.com offers a wide selection of pet food, as do the major pet retailers petco.com and petsmart.com. Other options to consider include petfooddirect.com, petflow.com, 1800petmeds.com, and nationalpetpharmacy.com. If you are having trouble finding a website where you can order your dog’s food, go to the manufacturer’s website. Many have links to retailers that offer their foods.
Beware, however of fly-by-night websites. Shop only from reputable retailers to ensure you receive high quality products, not knock-offs. The websites should have a prominently displayed customer service phone number. Call and ask a few questions. You just want to get a feel for their legitimacy and customer service. You can also see customer ratings on sites such as Yelp.com or look up a company on the Better Business Bureau’s website bbb.org.
Some dogs do require very specific diets to manage medical problems, and these products tend to be more expensive than typical dog foods. If your pet is on a prescription diet, you can still shop around. You do not have to buy the food directly from your veterinarian; he or she must provide you with a written prescription if you ask for one. Many of the websites mentioned above (e.g., petfooddirect.com and nationalpetpharmacy.com) sell both over the counter and prescription diets.
If you feed your dog a homemade diet, use the same techniques to reduce cost that you use when shopping for your own groceries. When meat goes on sale, buy a lot and freeze it. Frozen vegetables can be used in place of fresh and stored for much longer periods of times. But don’t be tempted to buy low quality ingredients or make unapproved substitutions to what would otherwise be a nutritionally balanced recipe. These types of changes may save money in the short term, but often lead to health problems and expensive treatments in the long run.
In conclusion, you never want to skimp on your dog’s food, but there is nothing wrong with spending your money wisely.