Can Priceless be a little less expensive?
July 6, 2009 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Dog/cat food filter: our priceless animals are eating us out of house and home, but that's because we feed them super expensive food. Help me find food that is good quality (or even suggestions on food I can make), but won't break the bank.

We have a 7 yo Golden Retriever that we adopted a year ago from a rescue organization. At the time, the rescue group had him on Solid Gold Hudenflocken, which while super high quality is also super high expensive ($52.99 for a 33lb bag at Petco). We've had him on it for the entire year and he's been fine (but gassy). Is there a good substitute that isn't as expensive? Are there any other foods that I can give him to supplement so that maybe I make the dry food go a little longer? He gets 2.5 cups per day (he's 65lbs).

We also have two cats who are on Prescription Diet W/D because one of them had a urinary issue as a kitten. The other never had any urinary issues but we fed them together so it was easier to give them the same food. I want to try giving the one that doesn't have a urinary tract problem 'normal' (read less expensive) food - he gets dry and wet food and will eat just about anything. Any suggestions on good quality cat food from cat lovers out there?

Many thanks!
posted by Leezie to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Our rescue labs (8 and 10) eat Science Diet Mature formula. I think it was in the $45 range for the largest size bag at PetSmart. They were eating Royal Canin at their foster home which cost a bit more than the Science Diet. They seem to like the Science Diet just fine, but you know labs, they'll eat just about anything.

Our rescue kitty eats Iams Hairball formula. She's super picky though and will turn her nose up when we put it in her dish, then meow pitifully if her dish is empty. She also refuses treats of any sort, gags at canned stuff (including tuna!) and any variety of cooked meat, so I'm not sure she's the best source for recommendations.

Target often has sales on Iams and you might check Walmart, too. I've seen coupons for Iams, but not for Science Diet.

Good luck!
posted by socrateaser at 12:15 PM on July 6, 2009

We feed our cats Friskies Dental Diet. They don't like it as much as regular Friskies (I think because they actually have to chew — they can't just scarf it down), but the vet has commented that they're both healthy and have clean teeth.

Previously, one of our cats was having plaque buildup and gum problems (and bad breath!) with regular Friskies dry food.

They also get a bit of wet Friskies in the morning and evening, but that's probably not the bulk of their daily calories.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:21 PM on July 6, 2009

If you can find a butcher that is willing to give you the trim for free or nearly free, then the raw meaty bones diet is one option. It is not without some controversy, though.
posted by jedicus at 12:21 PM on July 6, 2009

I can't help with the cats, but I've been impressed with the Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul foods (I know, they sound cheesy and gimmicky but they actually have some high quality ingredients.) It's still not as cheap as something like Iams, but it's significantly better and should be at least a small step down from the price of your current food.

Also, this site will teach you more than you ever wanted to know about what to look for in a dog food, and they also have reviews and ratings of various foods. While the more expensive foods usually get higher ratings, it can at least help you compare some of the cheaper options and know what to avoid.
posted by thejanna at 12:25 PM on July 6, 2009

I feed my (6!) dogs brown rice (I buy it at GFS in 50 lb. bags) and ground beef, dinner gets a spoonful of plain yogurt. You can add brown rice to your dog food to extend it, but I find that they are healthier on the rice/ beef combo than they ever were with dog food.

Cats are trickier. I like regular Science Diet, but I had a cat that lived to be 29 (he really did) on Friskies.
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:33 PM on July 6, 2009

When we adopted our dog, we started out on fairly expensive foods. Then, I went to Costco and compared the ingredients and nutrition facts on the Kirkland (Costco-brand) dog food, and it appears to be a top notch food. It has everything it's supposed and doesn't have the things it's not. This is, to anyone who shops at Costco, not a huge surprise, as Kirkland-branded stuff is generally quite good. The price is definitely right.

Our dog has been eating Kirkland food for nearly 2 years and has been happy/healthy. He does prefer the lamb and rice to the chicken and rice.
posted by JMOZ at 12:42 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My elderly cat was prescribed the expensive urinary diet stuff, but he hated it... so I dug around a bit and found that Nutro MAX Cat Gourmet Classics Food Pouches For Senior Cats were a virtual match to what was in the prescription stuff, and tried those when the vet agreed it would probably work as well. Kitty shot back up to healthy weight and activity levels inside of a month, vet's happy, and it's cheaper... so I'm happier now than I was when paying over $2/day to feed a cat that does nothing but grump at me (we'll see if I'm still happy when he's living long enough to do so an extra year or three, however).

The sorta-downside is that no way did I want the younger cats eating that, for both expense and diet reasons... so the two of them split one cheaper pouch a day so they get something when I feed old grumpy. The dry food is left out for them to actually fill up on, and the oldster mostly ignores it since he knows he'll get better. Luckily for me, the youngsters prefer the Meow Mix pouches (which even cheaper). So everyone gets something healthy that they like, and mostly everyone's happy.

I do have to watch them, though -- because they're cats and once and while want to steal each other's food just because. The results of that are either an old cat who doesn't eat much the next day because the bad stuff hasn't worked through yet, or a young cat with diarrhea.
posted by Pufferish at 12:53 PM on July 6, 2009

Hi Leezie - I'm going to refer you to a comment I made here that should help you with your decision making process.

I second Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul. It satisfies all the criteria in the post above and does VERY well on the palatability scale. Here in Seattle it's about a buck a pound for big bags.
posted by vito90 at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2009

By the way - the best way to stretch kibble in my opinion is mixing in potatoes. They are cheap and easy to prepare, good fiber, highly digestible and useful calories. DON'T STRETCH GOOD KIBBLE BY MIXING IT WITH CHEAP KIBBLE!!!! YOU MIGHT AS WELL JUST FEED THE CHEAP KIBBLE!!!
posted by vito90 at 1:30 PM on July 6, 2009

I used to feed Hundenflocken. Then I got another dog. And then another.

Eagle Pack is great food. My Golden is gassy as well, and Eagle Pack (for her) isn't a good choice. Lots of my SAR friends and other professional dog folks feed it.

Nutro is my overall favorite, specifically large breed lamb and rice, but again, it's shot up in price in the last year. Daily I got comments about the quality and shine of my dogs coats. Fabulous food. Cheaper than Hundenflocken, but still pricey. Buy 10 bags get one free, though.

The rule used to be (about 10 years ago, times might have changed), that there was no reason to feed Science Diet without a vet telling you to. It's High-Q food, but a little overpriced and very, very specific in its scope.

Eukanuba is (or was) a bulking food. True story. Feed it when you want your dog to get bigger.

Iams is junk now. Sad, because it was great before it was bought by Pedigree. You're better off feeding Purina One---which is about the finest of the grocery-store dog foods.

Sams club does actually carry a lamb and rice that is effectively similar to nutro natural choice, but it's only about $6 cheaper a bag. Decent food, though.

We had to feed nasty Dog Chow for about 2 months while I was jobless...that sucked. Their coats went downhill, I think my Golden is actually allergic to it. I tried to avoid it.

I've just recently switched to a food carried locally by "Southern States" farm supply. It's manufactured by Nutrena, and fwiw there are really only like 4 major dog food producers and a lot of labels. Anyway, it's a very small kibble lamb-and-rice, and my dogs love it and their coats and skin are (getting back to) awesome.

The big important thing is to read ingredients. Dogs don't digest corn, so it's useless filler. Rice is...filler, but better filler. You should see animal-based ingredients for at least the first 3 ingredients. Vitamin E via tocopherols are good for skin and coat, too.

Bone meal isn't food either, but it's better than corn. It should be a lower-down-ingredient.

Regardless of what you choose, make sure you phase into it over a couple weeks. Also, unless you switch to something else tres' expensive and of equal quality, you will need to feed MORE food than with hundenflocken, as it has 0 fillers. Maybe only 10-20% more, but you will need to feed more. More food means more poop, but it should be fairly innocuous if you get a good enough food.

Also, if you find that your critters get upset stomachs, a few cups of pan-cooked ground beef (think tacos without seasonings) mixed with rice (slighly more beef than rice), spread out over a couple hours/days is a great way to smooth a stomach while getting them nutrients.
posted by TomMelee at 1:43 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I feed my dog and cat Canidae and Felidae, respectively. It's very high quality, no filler, and they both love it and do well on it. It's not as expensive as many of the other high quality foods -- Canidae runs a little over $1/lb. My 35 pound dog eats 1 cup a day; that's around 30 cents a day. Even at my poorest unemployed grad student level I could scrape up the money to buy it for her. There's been a recent reformulation and some people have reported trouble with it, but my dog (who has a very sensitive tummy) has been just fine and loves it more than a couple of higher priced premium foods I tried her on.
posted by katemonster at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2009

Many of the above-mentioned suggestions are great. I'm going to throw in a vote for Purina One Lamb and Rice. As a former vet tech and long time animal rescuer, I've learned that you don't always have to feed your dog the most expensive food, and what food works for what dogs is often highly individual. I have tried my dogs (2 adult dobermans) on:

1) Nutro - they had wonderfully shiny coats and no gas, but both of them porked up despite lowering the amount I fed. I ultimately took them off because I just couldn't get the weight off of them.
2) Iams - Gave them major gas issues, and really "bleached out" their beautiful rust markings.
3) Purina Beneful - Gave this a shot because I had heard somewhere that it was quality food at a low price. Didn't work well for my dogs at all - their coats thinned noticeably after only a few weeks.
4) Science Diet - Great food *if* your dog has a medical condition that requires it, but I don't recommend it long term unless absolutely necessary. Most vets may sell it out front in their clinic, but I've met more than a few that think it's overpriced garbage food. My male was on UD for a few months for urinary problems - I switched him off of it as soon as I could. Tried the regular adult formula on both dogs and was not pleased with the results.

The biggest signs that a food is not agreeing with your dog can include dry skin, poor coat condition/hair loss, poor coat color, stool issues, and wieight gain/loss. While I do think that the premium dog foods are good for your dog, I think you may also find a cheaper and easier-to-find brand that suits your dogs needs as well.

For the cats, I would get them off the WD and switch to regular cat food (I feed Iams Indoor Weight and Hairball with good results). If your kitty does ok on regular cat food, congrats, you've just found a way to save a bunch of money by not buying unecessary prescription food. If your kitty does start to have urinary problems again, you may have to keep that particular cat on the special food indefinitely and feed them seperate.
posted by tryniti at 2:53 PM on July 6, 2009

We did a great deal of research into dog food ingredients, and found that Blue Buffalo brand was the most affordable high-quality dry food for our purposes. It's available at PetSmart and most other big pet stores.

One resource we used was
posted by itstheclamsname at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2009

Not sure where you live, but we happen to have a couple of small "Feed Stores" here in El Paso. The breeder who sold us our Cairn Terrier uses Triple Diamond Green for all of her dogs, and recommended it to us. Luckily, we have the store here in town that carries it. It is great quality, and I can buy a 50 lb. bag for about $30 dollars. For my small dog this lasts quite awhile. Yours would go thorugh it much faster, but it still beats the "Name Brand" stores prices!
posted by snoelle at 3:20 PM on July 6, 2009

Healthwise is the best lower-price food on the market, IMHO, it's made by Natura, who make Innova.

Lower quality than Healthwise, but still reasonably decent, is Purina Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach (the only Purina food I would ever feed).

Blue Buffalo and Nutro Ultra are also OK.

Avoid Science Diet, Iams, any of that other crap, and avoid anything manufactured by Diamond, they use too many generic ingredients to be safe.
posted by biscotti at 4:13 PM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

My Dad was a life long dairy farmer as well as a dog owner and lover.

In his words, "When they get hungry enough, they'll gladly eat it and will be damned glad to have it."

That's why all of our animals, whether they were cattle, chickens, pigs, cats, or dogs lived and thrived on the best priced decent food available.

In my 22 years on the farm with him, I never saw any animal walk away from a full food dish.
posted by imjustsaying at 4:57 PM on July 6, 2009

We feed our adult Corgi Nature's Recipe (just the regular kind, not the "farm stand select"). It's higher-end but affordable. No by-products which I like.
posted by radioamy at 6:08 PM on July 6, 2009

Seconding Costco's Kirkland food. We'd been feeding Pedigree for years for we knew better. Once we made the switch, my three's health seemed to improve for the better. Their coats were nice and shiny, their breath didn't stink, and their gas got better. Their energy levels also increased quite a bit. They weren't as listless and I wasn't having to pick up so many dog presents.

Best of all, the bag actually does contain 40 lbs of food. It's not advertised as 40 lbs and then actually says 33.6 on the bag. At about $20 a bag, that can't be beat. Also, since it's of pretty good quality, they eat less and you end up having to buy less. There is also a canned version of the food, which features 24 tins per package for about $24 or so (can't remember the exact figure).
posted by arishaun at 6:16 PM on July 6, 2009

Thirding Costco. I dont think ANY at Petco is better. My 100 pound lab is 13 and doing great.
posted by beccaj at 7:17 PM on July 6, 2009

I agree with imjustsaying. Uness you're animals specifically need a particular food, what's wrong with using Purina or similarly priced dog food? I have a feeling they know a thing or two about dog food (they have been making the stuff for around a century!) I would suggest asking your veterinarian if any of your animals have diet specific needs. We feed our cats Purina Indoor Cat formula (just dry) and both have never had any health problems (in fact, they both graze and neither is over-weight). We feed our 2 year old Shih-tzu poodle mix Purina Healthy Morsels with a spoonful of Mighty Dog wet food mixed in and she's healthy as a horse!

We both have to remind ourselves sometimes of a simple, indelible fact - (and you should remind yourself as well) - She's a dog. She'll eat what you give her and love you all the more for it. Don't spend $45 on dog food unless your vet tells you!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:20 PM on July 6, 2009

imjustsaying and thebombsheltersmith, the difference is palpable if you make the switch. When you start feeding a premium or ultrapremium, you notice your dogs moods improve, coats improve, odors improve, size of fecal matter decreases and usually is more solid and less stinky, energy levels improve...and you use significantly less food.

I mean, you can feed your dog Ol' Roy and he'll probably live a happy life. You could also eat McDonalds every day and likely survive. Actually, eating Ol' Roy is more equivelent to eating corn cobs and rotten beef bones. I mean, you'll live...but...yea.

The stuff that goes into big-brand dog food is pretty gross. Spinal cords and teeth and bones, rotten carcasses and whatnot. It's not entirely surprizing that overall health improves when you start feeding them real food.

I mean, I'd feed a sheep fresh grass because I'm just going to eat him anyway. My best buddy, my friend till the end? I'll give him the best I can afford, reasonably anyway.

I'm not picking a fight, but I bet you all the money in my wallet that if you fed your 2 year old Shih-tzu poodle mix some Nutro or Hunden for a'd see less freqent, less awful poops, better skin, better smell, all the stuff I said in the first paragraph. Wet food is...generally...awful.
posted by TomMelee at 7:40 PM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

These are the things I used to tell people when I worked in a pet store and they were deciding on a new food. Rather than recommending specific brands, these are more guidelines for you so you can make the decision:

1. If it is advertised on tv (exception Animal Planet) it isn't the best food food money can buy.
2. There is a difference between Chicken MEAL and Chicken (or Lamb MEAL and Lamb, etc). Chicken Meal has the water removed from it so when chicken is the #1 ingredient on the list remember there is a lot of water in that meat. _____ Meal being the #1 ingredient is usually what I look for.
3. Corn is not very digestible by animals (or people), so it really just goes straight through and comes out in poop. Rice or something else is a better bet.

Other Notes:
1. Science Diet is frequently recommended by Vets because they are extremely familiar with their Prescription Diet Line but Science Diet isn't the best fod out there - better than grocery store mind you.
2. Grocery store pet foods usually contain a lot of fillers that aren't digested, you'll sometimes notice that grocery store foods recommended amounts is higher than premium foods because it takes MORE food to get the same nutrients.
3. By-Products gross me out so I stay away from them, I don't like the ides of my dog eating ground up chicken feet.
4. Now in two dogs that I have had, Lamb has caused more gas than Chicken based foods. YMMV.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:40 AM on July 8, 2009

Putting in a word for DIY dog (and cat) food. I've been feeding my two rescued dogs, from recipes found in this book and my dogs are amazingly healthy, according to the vet, not just me. I make a batch of oatmeal and mackerel "gruel" approx once a week for the 45 lb and 35 lb dogs. The book also has cat recipes, but as I don't have any kitties, I can't speak to that.
posted by sarajane at 2:23 PM on July 8, 2009

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