While premium dog food brands have proliferated, it’s still possible to provide a nutritionally complete diet to your dog without exploding your grocery budget. While there are great dog foods available from boutique manufacturers and subscription services, it’s often best to turn to bigger brands when shopping for dog foods on a budget.
“My recommendation is for a national brand because there are more states monitoring whether the pet food companies are obeying the rules,” says Richard C. Hill, PhD, DACVIM (medicine), DACVIM (nutrition), associate professor and board-certified veterinary nutritionist at the University of Florida. “I also recommend a large manufacturer because they have the resources to check their supply chain and test their foods more than smaller companies.”
We’ve looked at a wide range of brands for dog foods that are complete, balanced, and won’t require you to wear a monocle or take out a second mortgage. While it’s always advisable to speak with your dog’s veterinarian before making a dietary change—especially if your dog is older or has a sensitive stomach—our reasonably-priced picks are a great place to start your own research.
Our overall favorite is Purina ONE, which offers comprehensive nutrition while providing a wide variety of formulas. Plus, it includes both crunchy kibble and chewy pieces of meat, so most dogs love it. But we also have several other dog foods to recommend that your dog might like even more.
Here are the best budget dog foods.
Best Overall Dry
Purina ONE Smartblend Natural Dog Food
Real meat first ingredient
Trusted brand, with many of the same advantages as premium line
Multi-textured food with both chewy and crunchy textures
Wide range of formulas and sizes
Purina Pro Plan is one of our most recommended dog foods, and we especially like their puppy formula, but you can get many of the same advantages with Purina’s budget line, Purina ONE. Purina ONE is available for as little as $1.26 per pound (for a 40-pound bag), while Purina Pro Plan costs closer to $1.70 per pound.
Real chicken is the first ingredient in Purina ONE Smartblend Natural Dog Food Chicken & Rice Formula (just as lamb is the first ingredient for the Lamb & Rice formula, etc.). It’s made without fillers, and has prebiotic fiber designed to foster a healthy microbiota. It also has glucosamine, which is commonly recommended by veterinarians for joint health (hard evidence demonstrating glucosamine’s connection to joint health is limited so far, but it’s a safe addition to your dog’s diet while research is ongoing).
But Purina ONE doesn’t just offer complete nutrition, it’s also likely to be a hit with your dog, thanks to its combination of crunchy kibble and tender meat morsels.
Purina ONE doesn’t have probiotics, unlike Purina Pro Plan. While probiotics have been demonstrated to have some benefits, they’re probably not necessary for healthy dogs, and data on their efficacy is still fairly limited. Purina ONE also has slightly less fiber and fewer natural ingredients. If you’re just looking for a basic dog food for an adult pet without specific dietary needs, you’re saving money without giving up too much by opting for ONE over Pro Plan.
Purina ONE Smartblend Natural Dog Food is available in Chicken & Rice, Beef & Rice, and Lamb & Rice flavors, in addition to tailored formulas for puppies, senior dogs, large breeds, sensitive stomachs, and more. It’s also available in a wet food formula.
Best Overall Wet
Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Chicken Dinner Canned Dog Food
High quality meat ingredients
No artificial colors or preservatives
Wide range of flavors
Medium-small dogs may find small breed portions are not enough, while the full-size can portions are too much
Chicken, chicken broth and chicken liver are the first three ingredients in Blue Buffalo’s Homestyle Recipe “Chicken Dinner with Garden Vegetables” formula, but you can actually see chunks of carrots and peas too. Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe is a pate-style wet food that contains zero corn, wheat, or soy.
Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe also offers a wide range of flavors, including Turkey Meatloaf, Beef Dinner, Fish & Sweet Potato, Lamb Dinner, and more. There’s also specialized blends for small breed dogs, which come in smaller, 3.5 ounce portions, compared to the standard 12.5 ounce can.
Best for Puppies
Purina Pro Plan High Protein Dry Puppy Food
Available in several formulas including large breed
No artificial colors or flavors
Available in smaller kibble size for little breeds
Larger bags more cost-effective but can go stale quickly with small breeds
Puppies are growing fast and have about twice the energy needs of an adult dog of the same breed, and this vet and breeder-recommended brand has everything your growing pooch needs. Puppy blends are typically higher in fat content and protein content to help them grow. It also contains ingredients such as DHA for brain and vision development.
Purina Pro Plan Puppy is also available in several variants, targeting specific young dog age ranges and needs.
Best Bulk Buy
Pedigree Adult Complete Nutrition Dog Food
First ingredient listed is corn
Kibble is too large for very small dogs
If you’ve got a big eater, then Pedigree Adult Complete Nutrition is a bargain bulk buy, available in bags up to 44 pounds. It’s complete and balanced, containing no artificial flavors or added sugar. The kibble comes in three different sizes, offering a varied texture for your dog.
Best for Seniors
Iams ProActive Health Mature Adult Dry Dog Food
Small size nuggets easier for older dogs to chew, especially if they have dental issues
Also available in large breed formula
Sometimes difficult to find
Senior dogs need protein to maintain muscle mass and also may benefit from food that contains supplements for brain and joint health. Iams Proactive Health Healthy Aging Dog Food has real chicken as the first ingredient and contains nutrients to support aging joints and fiber for healthy digestion. This may help senior dogs more regular bathroom habits.
Nature's Recipe Grain Free Dog Food, Chicken, Sweet Potato & Pumpkin
Reasonably-priced for grain free food
Real chicken is first ingredient
Sweet potato and pumpkin are easy on digestion
Sometimes difficult to find
Grain-free diets are meant for dogs who have been diagnosed by a vet with dietary sensitivities, not for the average dog. Despite the increased availability of this food in recent years, it’s not recommended to give your dog a grain-free diet because it has been associated with an increase in cardiac disease, or dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. However, if your dog is on a grain-free diet as recommended by your vet, this reasonably-priced brand is a good option.
We recommend Purina ONE Smartblend Natural Dog Food as our top pick, because it has many of the same advantages as one of our favorite premium foods, including both chewy and crunchy kibble, in addition to a wide range of flavor and formula options. For puppies, we recommend Purina Pro Plan Puppy High Protein Dog Food, because it’s designed to support growth and also is available in large breed formula to meet the special nutritional needs of large and giant breed dogs.
What to Look for in Budget Dog Food
AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement
The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, identifies safe ingredients and recommends nutrient profiles for pet foods based on the most recent research in pet nutrition. However, they do not inspect, approve, certify or regulate pet foods. Instead, the organization provides a standard for each state’s feed laws. But in order to be marketed as “complete and balanced,” foods must meet nutritional standards outlined in AAFCO’s minimum requirements.
Complete and Balanced
“The label should state that the food is ‘complete and balanced’ for the life stage the diet is designed to feed,” says Richard C. Hill, PhD, DACVIM (medicine), DACVIM (nutrition), associate professor and board-certified veterinary nutritionist at the University of Florida. “Many dog foods meet the bill."
Pet foods are developed for specific stages in your dog’s life. Diets are formulated for Growth and Reproduction (puppies and pregnant dogs), Adult Maintenance (adult dogs), or All Life Stages. In addition, a puppy’s breed also plays a role in what life stage food is recommended. For example, large breeds, based on an adult weight of 70 pounds or more, can be more susceptible to excess calcium in their diets as they grow.
Therefore, “It’s important to feed large or giant breed a diet which has fairly constrained amounts of calcium throughout growth,” says Hill. Look for packaging that specifically says “growth” and is specified for large breeds.
Dry Versus Wet
Dry foods contain 10 to 12 percent moisture content, while wet foods contain 75 to 78 percent moisture. Dry foods, which are typically less expensive, prevent tartar buildup because your pet has to chew them, while wet foods may be more appealing to picky eaters, senior dogs, or dogs who have difficulty chewing due to tooth loss. It’s fine to mix types, too. More importantly, consult your vet for your dog’s calorie needs so you don’t overfeed. As with people, obesity can affect your dog’s health and lifespan.
Should you feed your dog raw food on a budget?
Actually, raw food is not recommended for any dog. Despite what you may have read on various websites advocating such a diet, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest raw pet food is better than any other kind.
“Raw foods commonly contain potentially pathogenic organisms that can affect the animal and those who handle the animal,” says Dr. Hill.
Another real risk? Nutritional imbalances.
How much should I budget for dog food a month?
One recent owner survey listed monthly dog food expense as ranging from $17 to $195. Obviously, it depends on your dog’s size and type of food you purchase. Little dogs will eat less, while the big guys and gals are going to take a larger chunk out of your budget.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This article was written by Arricca SanSone, a lifelong dog lover, who shares her home with two papillons who adore plush toys, snuggling, and barking at bunnies and delivery people. She researched the market based on an interview with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and criteria from the American Veterinary Medical Association, American College of Veterinary Nutrition, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, and the Pet Food Institute. She is a health and lifestyle writer for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, House Beautiful, PureWow, and many others.