What's the Right Price for Pet Food? -- Savings Experiment

Savings Experiment: Save on Pet Food
Savings Experiment: Save on Pet Food

Your pets are like family, but are you seriously overspending when it comes to their food? Here are some tips to consider when picking your pet's nutrition.

Avoid Filler Foods

Early this year Petco created a new "Certified Nutrition" program that divides pet foods into three categories -- essential foods, natural foods, and advanced foods. Each of these groups fulfills a different requirement: essential foods include basic fillers like wheat or corn, while natural foods contain many familiar ingredients like meat, fruits and vegetables. Advanced foods, finally, are formulated for pets with special medical needs.

According to Petco dog trainer Somers Pierre, natural food brands like Wellness, Halo or Natural Balance are the best choice because they promote health and longevity for your pet. On the other hand, they cost a little more than the basic kibble with fillers. For example, a 30-pound bag of a filler-based essential brand like Beneful costs between $26 and $35, while a natural brand like Wellness costs between $46 and $54.

Pet expert Arden Moore emphasizes nutrition: "It is vital these days that the very first ingredient is a real protein -- not meat byproducts and definitely not wheat or corn," she says. "If you get high-quality, nutritional food, you're going to have fewer pet bills, and your pet is going to live a longer healthier life."

You can save on natural food by purchasing a less-known brand like AvoDerm. On average, that will save you about $10 to $15 per bag.

Pierre points out another great benefit of natural food: Your pet will eat a smaller quantity of it. This helps cut down on your bill as well as your pet's risk for obesity.

Shop at Pet Supply Stores

Consumer Reports

found that stores like Target (TGT) and Walmart

(WMT) had better prices than Petco, Petsmart (PETM), or online retailers like petfooddirect.com. However, you won't find natural food brands at general merchandise retailers. Stick with pet supply stores like Petco, which also offer price matching if you find the product cheaper at another store.

Petco has a points program that provides discounts to returning customers. And, if you buy 10 bags of food within a year, you'll get the next one free. There's even a Pet Birthday Club, which sends yearly discounts to celebrate your pet's special day.

Stock Up Safely

You may be tempted to stock up on pet food during a great sale, but Moore recommends you don't buy more than a month's supply at a time. "Don't go crazy and stockpile," she says. " You can buy a lot, but unless you have an airtight container, that food can become stale and not be as nutritious and cause stomach upsets."

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She also recommends supplementing dog food with leftover veggies from your dinner -- your dog will get extra nutrition and you won't have to feed him as much kibble.

So in the end, you'll have to pay more for natural food, but you'll be providing your pet with necessary nutrients. And in the long run, you'll have a healthier pet and lower veterinary bills.