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Affordable Healthy Diet for Dogs Part 4: Healthy, Budget-Friendly Dog Food

This is the fourth and final part in our series on an affordable, healthy diet for your dog. Catch up on the full series here:

Now that we’ve covered the fun stuff (treats and desserts!) it’s time for the main course. We all want to give our dogs the best food we possibly can, but sometimes the budget is tight and we want to save some money. And yet, we don’t want to compromise our dog’s health in the process.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss the characteristics of good quality dog food and what are the most important things to look out for.

Guidelines for High Quality Dog Food

When choosing a food for your dog, there are a few overall guidelines you should follow.

  • Only choose a food made in the USA, Canada, Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand. These countries have stricter standards for food safety, so there are far fewer recalls of these dog foods.
  • Avoid food with artificial colors and flavors. A good quality dog food will appeal to your dog without these unnecessary ingredients.
  • Choose a dog food where the first ingredient is a whole meat that is unprocessed. For example, a good dog food lists whole chicken as the first ingredient. A bad dog food lists corn or chicken meal (which is processed) as the first ingredient.
  • Avoid dog foods with vague-sounding meat meals or byproducts. Meat meals and byproducts are not necessarily bad ingredients in dog food as long as they aren’t the first ingredient and define what exact animal they come from. For example, chicken meal and chicken fat are good ingredients, but poultry meal is a bad ingredient.
  • Look for a variety of fruits and vegetables in your dog food. Fruits and vegetables provide healthy carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and can improve the taste for your dog.

Affordable Healthy Diet for Dogs Part 4: Healthy, Budget-Friendly Dog Food

Where to Make Compromises

High-priced premium dog foods include every possible ingredient that could improve your dog’s health. Many of these ingredients add a lot to the cost of the food. If you are trying to save money on dog food, there are some areas where you can skip these expensive ingredients and make some cheaper substitutes.

Compromise 1: Avoid Grain-Free

Unless your dog is allergic to grains, you can avoid the more expensive grain-free dog foods. In fact, the FDA has issued a warning that these diets are not necessarily healthy for some dog breeds.

However, you should still be picky about what grains are in your dog’s food. First, make sure that a whole meat is the first ingredient in your dog’s food. Then, you want to choose a food with whole grains instead of processed grains. Whole grains contains fiber, which aids in digestion, and has fewer calories per pound than processed grains.

Healthier grains include brown rice, oatmeal, and barley.

Avoid low quality grains such as wheat, corn, and brewer’s rice.

Affordable Healthy Diet for Dogs Part 4: Healthy, Budget-Friendly Dog Food

Compromise 2: Skip the Probiotics

Many premium dog foods include probiotic ingredients that aid in digestion and regular the dog’s colon. Probiotics are helpful for breeds that are known to have digestive issues, such as German Shepherds and Dachshunds.

Added probiotics can add a lot to the cost of the dog food, so it is one area you can compromise on. If your dog needs extra digestive help, you can add a spoonful of plain, unsweetened yogurt to their meal.

Compromise 3: Embrace Identified Meat Meals and Byproducts

Meat meals and byproducts can sound pretty unappetizing on a kibble label, and many dog owners avoid them. However, real meat meal can cheaply and cost-effectively increase the protein content of the food.

Just remember with any meat meal or byproduct, you want to make sure that the meat source is specifically identified on the label. For example, you want to see chicken meal but not poultry meal. More generic meat meals may contain meat from some unsavory sources such as roadkill.

Compromise 4: Skip Supplements such as Omega Fatty Acids and Antioxidants

Many premium dog foods are supplemented with ingredients that provide dogs with omega fatty acids, antioxidants, chondroitin, glucosamine or other nutritional supplements. While these ingredients offer a number of positive benefits, but they are also expensive.

It is less expensive to skip these extra supplements unless your dog has a specific health problem and your veterinarian has recommended  a particular ingredient to combat it.

Looking for more help on reading the label on dog food? Check out the video below:

So what brands are healthy?

All these guidelines are great, but with so many dog foods on the market, it can be overwhelming to try to research all the brands yourself.

Personally, I have found Costco’s dog food to be healthy and affordable, especially if you avoid the more expensive grain-free varieties. However, it does require a membership.

I also highly recommend the independent review site DogFoodAdvisor as a good source of well-researched information on dog foods. They even have a list of budget-friendly foods.

What is your favorite healthy dog food? Leave a comment below!

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