We Americans have always loved our dogs, but a dog has never had it this good. The average cost of man’s best friend is somewhere between $10,000 and $14,000 over the course of its life, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Consumer Reports says that Americans spend $20 billion on cat and dog food annually, making it the biggest, most predictable expense during your pet’s life.
The cost adds up quickly, and yet many people don’t factor in how pricey it will be, particularly if you choose to feed Fido a gourmet brand.
According to a 2011 Consumer Reports study, dog food can average $36 a month. It is the biggest ongoing cost of owning a dog.
But you can save money on this expense if you’re using coupons, buying in bulk and, most important, buying less-expensive dog food.
We looked at some tips for shopping and did our own price comparison.
Here’s what you can save over the course of your dog’s life if you budget his or her meals well.
Know what you’re paying for
What separates premium dog food from regular, everyday nutritious food? Consumer Reports says that there’s no legal definition for “premium” blends or strict requirements for nutritional quality. Although some pets have sensitive skin or dietary needs that require a certain food, most pets are fine with any blend that says “complete & balanced” or meets the minimum requirements of the Association of American Feed Control Officials. If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid to ask your vet about less-expensive varieties that satisfy nutritional needs.
Prices vary dramatically
Even when types of dog food don’t necessarily vary in nutritional content — although they may vary in flavor — there’s a wide range of prices among those that meet the minimum health requirements. According to Consumer Reports, Ol’ Roy sells for 34 cents a pound at Wal-Mart. At the other extreme, Purina Chef Michael’s Rotisserie Chicken flavor sells at PetSmart for $2.22 a pound — 6 1 / 2 times more expensive than Ol’ Roy.
Before you adopt
Pet food is an ongoing expense that you’re likely to have for a decade. Dogs are creatures of habit, eating what they’ve eaten before, so the foods you buy early in your dog’s life matter. So start your dog on store brands or moderately priced varieties. If you start them on the premium brands, they’re not going to willingly switch to lesser varieties.
Buy in bulk from big-box stores
Consumer Reports sent secret shoppers to 21 retailers and found that Target and Wal-Mart often have the lowest prices on dog food, while supermarkets and specialty pet stores — including such retailers as Petco and PetSmart — tend to have higher prices. Also, Costco and other warehouse clubs tend to have great deals on dog food.
Don’t shop online
Consumer Reports also determined that prices online were much higher. Its 2011 study found that online sites were 50 percent higher, before shipping costs. Skip the convenience of online shopping and just pick up the 50-pound bag yourself.
We compared three of the leading brands: Ol’ Roy, Pedigree and Beneful. We also looked at canned food vs. dry food. Using the prices found at the time of publication and a hypothetical consumption of two cups of dry food a day, here’s how much a year of dog food varies by brand. (Note: To get the most accurate conversion rates, one would need to measure out cups in the bags of dog food, which are measured in pounds. We did not do this. Instead, we assumed that four cups of dog food equal one pound.)
Ol’ Roy High Performance
One 50-pound bag cost $23.88 at Wal-Mart (at the time this piece was written). That will give you approximately 200 cups of dry food, since a pound of dog food roughly translates to four cups. For two cups a day, you’ll need about four bags of Ol’ Roy each year.
Annual total: About $95
Pedigree Large Breed Nutrition
A 36-pound bag cost $20 at Wal-Mart. To feed your dog two cups a day, you’ll need five bags a year.
Annual total: About $100
Purina Beneful Healthy Weight
A 31-pound bag costs $24.60 at Wal-Mart and will give you about 124 cups of dog food, which works out to about six bags a year.
Annual total: About $148
Our comparison of canned dog food demonstrates how much more expensive wet food is (it’s also smelly). For our purposes, we assumed we were feeding a small dog. Here’s how much a year of canned dog food can set you back. (Be sure to visit Web sites of specific brands for suggested feeding instructions.)
Purina Mighty Dog: Loaf Variety Pack Canned Dog Food
This comes in a 12-pack of 5.5-ounce cans. Mighty Dog says that adult dogs need about one can per four to five pounds of body weight daily. Assume your dog eats two cans a day. A 12-pack sells for $7 at Wal-Mart. You will need about 60 packs a year.
Annual total: About $425
Holistic Select Adult
This comes in a case of a dozen 13-ounce cans. The feeding recommendations for this variety are between three-quarters and 11 / 2 cans a day. Assume your dog needs one can daily. A 12-pack sells at Petco for $26. You will need 30 cases each year.
Annual total: About $790
THE BOTTOM LINE There’s a wide variation in prices of dog food, and many contain similar nutritional value. Start your dog on inexpensive brands, buy in bulk and avoid buying pet food online. Also, don’t feel the need to feed your dog the filet mignon of dog foods when he’ll eat the ground beef. Your dog will love you no matter what you feed him.