NEW YORK - Pet food isn't cheap.
Americans are expected to spend $21.3 billion on pet food this year, up 3 percent from $20.6 billion in 2012, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Walk through any pet shop and you can see why. Store shelves are stocked with high-end meals, from organic cat food to frozen raw dog food. While pricier options might have less filler and more protein, and can be healthier, they are not always necessary, says Liz Hanson, a veterinarian at Corona Del Mar Animal Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif.
For most healthy pets, regular dry food and water can be fine. "Some people think that if it's cheaper, it must be less quality. That's not necessarily true," says Hanson. A veterinarian can help you check if the food will meet your pet's nutritional needs.
Deals can also be found online, but beware of shipping costs. Most sites will charge a shipping fee if your order is below a certain level. Some charge a flat shipping fee.
Here are five ways to cut down your pet food budget:
Follow big brands. Pet food makers and online stores often post coupons on social media sites and their website. Also check your weekly newspaper circulars.
Get automated. Set up a subscription online to get your pet food delivered to your door automatically on a regular basis. Amazon.com, PetFoodDirect.com, and Dog.com all offer discounts for that service.
Start searching. Dig up the lowest pet food prices online on new pet product search website DugDug.com. The website searches about 40 online pet retailers and 10,000 products.
Deal sites for dog treats. If a new treat gets your dog's tail wagging, discover them on a dog daily deal website. DoggyLoot.com updates its website every Monday to Saturday with new dog products at a reduced price. Other deal websites to watch are Coupaw.com and BarkingDeals.com.
Make your own. Whipping up a freshly cooked meal for your pet can offer up some savings, especially if the pet has an allergy or other medical condition. But specialty foods for dogs with a condition can be more expensive. Before switching, consult a veterinarian.