Cut your doggone pet food expenses

— 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 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 Dr. 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.

“If you have a healthy dog, with no medical condition, there is no reason not to pick up a brand-name dog food,” says Hanson, adding that big retail stores tend to have better prices.

“The more boutique places are more expensive,” says Hanson.

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. But sometimes, even with shipping costs, online pet food can sometimes be a cheaper option, if you do your research.

Here are five ways to cut down the pet food budget:

FOLLOW BIG BRANDS: Pet food makers and online stores often post coupons on social media sites and their website. So follow your pet’s favorite brand on Twitter and like it on Facebook. Do the same with online stores. Also check your weekly newspaper circulars.

GET AUTOMATED: Set up a subscription online to get pet food delivered to your door automatically on a regular basis.

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 and lets you compare prices, including shipping costs. DugDug.com also seeks out coupons you can use on the product, helping you save money.

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, including treats. Shipping is free, and with some treats, you have the option of signing up for a subscription to get it delivered home automatically. Other deal websites to keep an eye on 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. Specialty foods for dogs with a condition can be more expensive than others. Before switching to a cooked diet, consult with a veterinarian or pet nutritionist to make sure your pet is getting all the nutrients it needs, says Patti Howard, a pet nutrition specialist at Seattle-based The Pawsitive Packleader, which helps train dogs and plan nutritional programs.