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Choosing the right dog food can be tough. There are so many brands out there, and between diet trends and commercial fads, it’s hard to know what’s best. One thing everyone can agree on: dogs thrive on high-quality foods. According to Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, author of the Ultimate Pet Health Guide and member of Rover’s Dog People Panel, “The single biggest thing you can do to keep your dog happy and healthy is to provide them with optimal nutrition.” For many dog lovers, that means looking for natural dog food, and in some cases, organic dog food formulas.
While high-quality might seem like a shorthand for natural and organic, it can also seem like a shorthand for “expensive.” Don’t worry! As it turns out, it’s possible to feed your pet a high-quality, natural dog food—even an organic dog diet—on a budget.
What do “natural” and “organic” mean on dog food labels?
Before we get to the list of affordable natural dog food brands, let’s talk about what “natural” even means. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines natural as “a feed or feed ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources…not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic.”
Of course, a whole lot of substances are “derived from plant, animal or mines sources” but shouldn’t show up in dog food. In general, dog foods marketed as “natural” are free from corn, wheat, soy by-products, and artificial colors. But it’s important to read the label in full, as there isn’t actually regulation around using the “natural” label.
Organic, on the other hand, has a more strict definition. To be certified organic, plant ingredients in pet foods must be grown without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, genetic modification, irradiation or sewage sludge, according to The Bark.
Animal ingredients in organic dog food, including meat and eggs, must come from animals raised on organic feed, given access to the outdoors, and not treated with antibiotics or hormones.
Because the organic certification process is complex and the regulations around organic labeling are stricter, organic dog foods, or pet foods made with mainly organic ingredients, are usually on the higher side of the price spectrum.
Choosing an affordable natural dog food
When searching for the right food for your dog, consider your priorities. Do you want them to eat food produced by organic farming? Pet owners most concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases are often interested in organic dog food.
On the other hand, if your main worry has to do with your dog’s sensitive stomach, you may be focusing on other aspects of the dog food formula. Perhaps you’re looking for a food with limited or no preservatives. You may also be searching for a dog food made with only high-quality, single-source proteins. Whatever your top priority, be sure to look past the flashy bag design and check out the ingredients and source listings.
For our purposes, we’re defining “natural dog food” as foods that are preservative-free and made from high-quality ingredients. We checked with top veterinarian Dr. Richter for his take on what defines quality dog food. In general, he emphasizes to look for whole, named ingredients (“chicken” vs. “meat,” for example,) including fruits, veggies, animal protein, and fish. He notes that when it comes to food allergies in dogs, it’s usually the protein that’s the culprit, so if your dog doesn’t do well on beef he may be fine on fish. If you have any concerns about your dog’s diet, be sure to check with your vet.
Read on to learn about some of the most affordable natural and organic dog foods on the market. (Note that prices are subject to change.) When looking for the best prices, we considered price per pound on dry food bags, as this is typically the most affordable way to buy dog food.
Best affordable natural dog food brands
Price per pound from highest to lowest
Natural Balance is grain-free and made from a short list of premium ingredients with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Best of all, it comes in many different formulas to meet your dog’s specific protein needs. The price is a bit higher than some on this list, but the top-notch, limited ingredient formula is likely to be great for dogs with food allergies or sensitivities.
Chewy has some very good deals on Whole Earth Farms food on occasion, and even without a daily deal, this high-quality brand gives you good bang for your buck. Their recipes are free of corn, wheat, and soy, plus skip any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Whole Earth, which is owned by Merrick, makes most of their flavors in both regular and small breed versions, the only difference being the size of the kibble. This brand is a nice option for Yorkies, Maltese, Chihuahuas, and other little guys.
Castor & Pollux makes premium, organic pet food from natural ingredients sourced and processed in the USA. Their Ultramix formula has all the vitamins and minerals your dog needs.
Taste of the Wild has been a popular choice in affordable natural dog food since 2007; it’s owned by Diamond, who also make Diamond Naturals. This brand is usually a great option for dogs with allergies and has six different protein sources to choose from.
Blue Buffalo always features real meat as the first ingredient. The rest of the ingredients include wholesome vegetables, fruit, and grains. Of course, there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
This grain-free grocery store brand is made from “real, recognizable ingredients.” And of course, it’s free from artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
Celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s Nutrish brand is a high-quality grocery store brand. Made with no artificial flavors or artificial preservatives, it has whole chicken as its first ingredient, although the standard formula does contain some corn and pea protein. For even more high-quality, all-natural deliciousness, try the grain-free type (a bit more expensive at $1.50/lb).
This bargain natural brand contains no corn, no wheat, and no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Diamond also makes grain-free formulas at a higher price point. We love that they include probiotics for better digestion in all of their foods, too. Dog Food Advisor gives this brand an average 4-star rating and calls it “highly recommended,” which is more than many bargain natural dog foods receive.
Affordable organic dog food brands
The Organix line from Castor & Pollux is a truly organic formula, in that it’s packed with certified organic ingredients. That means organic protein, meat or chicken meals, veggies, and fruits, oils, and herbs. This is marketed as “America’s #1 organic pet food” with good reason. With an autoship discount from Chewy, you can get the chicken and sweet potato formula for around $3.8 / pound, which is pretty much as affordable as this brand gets.
Tender & True is a small brand launched in 2014 that produces premium dog food with an eye to quality sourcing. This formula uses organic chicken as the first ingredient. Not only that, but they promise that their chicken is antibiotic-free, sourced entirely from U.S. farmers—and certified as humanely raised. Note that this food is formulated for small, medium, and large breeds, but it’s not formulated for large-breed puppies below 70 pounds. You can also find it on Chewy for a slightly lower price per pound if you sign up for an autoship.
Costco’s in-house brand offers up an affordable, well-rated dry dog food that members can try. Find it here from Costco. If you don’t have a Costco membership, it’s also possible to buy this brand from third-party sellers on Amazon, though the price rises to around $2/pound there.