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Petsmart vs. Petco – Which Is More Affordable?

The following is a guest post by Jacob with My Personal Finance Journey.

My Personal View of Pet Expenses

For many of us, our pets can be just as much a part of the family as a child (I am a dog-lover myself). As a valued member of the family, it can be very easy to spend large amounts of money on toys, clothes, bedding, food, and health care products for your pets. After all, you want them to have the best life possible!

However, I am a firm believer that giving your pets a good life should not come at the detriment of your own personal finances. For example, even though it might sound a little cold-hearted, I am a believer that someone should not go into $100,000 of 20% APR debt to pay for a year’s worth of chemotherapy for their favorite cat, Felix.

(Crystal’s Comment:  Our pet emergency fund can cover big one-time expenses like lab work or fixing a broken lab, but we have to draw the line at expensive long-term treatments like chemotherapy too…)

Going along with this same idea of giving your pets a good life while trying to optimize your own personal finances is the idea that where you shop for your pet supplies can have a big impact on the amount that you spend.

It truly amazes me the ENORMOUS price range (and going along with this, quality) that exists in the realm of pet products. For example, you can feed your dog with a $10 30-lb bag of dog food from Aldi’s, or you can spend $142 for a small 16 lb bag of Only Natural Pet EasyRaw Dehydrated Grain-Free Turkey & Sweet Potato Dog Food.  Also, when looking for a specialized item such as doggie doors, you will want to search online for the best niche item providers.

Now, while I definitely believe a certain level of quality of the food/products is crucial, I feel that most of the HIGH priced products are simply out of control. 

Petsmart and Petco

However, a happy medium can be found in two pet stores that I think we all know and love – Petsmart and Petco.  Petsmart and Petco seem to be everywhere! They were all over the place in the three places I’ve lived in the past 2 years or so – Arkansas, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, so I think I can safely say that most people have been exposed to both stores.

These stores have a reputation for delivering quality, but at the same time, not being too out-of-this-world expensive that all customers are driven out the automatic double doors and directly to the nearest Wal-Mart.

However, one question that my friend brought up recently was rather perplexing:

Is Petsmart or Petco More Affordable?

When my friend asked me this question, I admit that I did not have any resemblance of an answer! I had definitely shopped both stores, but would usually just go to the store that was nearest to my current location (according to the Garmin GPS “shortest route” option).

What Data Is Currently Available On This Question?

When I started researching this question, I found the following:

Because the analysis on SlyMiser.com was much more extensive and a Dollar is not very much at all, my initial feeling from these results was that Petsmart probably would be cheaper.

My Cost Comparison Findings

However, I also wanted to check on the answer to this question using some of my own personal findings with current data as of April, 2011. To do this, I decided to compare the online prices (excluding shipping) of 10 of the most common pet products to see if any significant differences could be found.

My findings are listed below:

  • Purina Dog Chow (34 lb bag)
    • Petsmart = $23.99
    • Petco = $21.99
    • Winner = Petco = $2 less
  • Science Diet Cat Food – Light Version (17.5 lb bag)
    • Petsmart = $32.99
    • Petco = $34.99
    • Winner = Petsmart = $2 less
  • Midwest 42″ LifeStages Two-Door Dog Crate
    • Petsmart = $89.99
    • Petco =  $109.97
    • Winner =  Petsmart = $19.98 less
  • Arm and Hammer Super Scoop Cat Litter (28 lb container)
    • Petsmart = $11.99
    • Petco = $14.97
    • Winner = Petsmart = $2.98 less
  • Dingo Flavor Blast Mini Dog Bones (12-pack)
    • Petsmart = $6.99
    • Petco = $9.59
    • Winner = Petsmart = $2.60 less
  • Frontline Flea/Tick Medicine Plus – Cats (6 pack)
    • Petsmart = $104.99
    • Petco = $84.79
    • Winner = Petco = $20.20 less
  • Premier Pet Products – Gentle Leader Leash – Large Dog Size
    • Petsmart = $19.99
    • Petsco = $17.97
    • Winner = Petco = $2 less
  • Aqueon 5-gal Mini Bow Fish Aquarium Kit
    • Petsmart = $59.99
    • Petco = $47.99
    • Winner = Petco = $12 less
  • Miller’s Forge Dog Nail Clippers
    • Petsmart = $12.99
    • Petco = $15.97
    • Winner = Petsmart = $2.98 less
  • Fiesta Bird food Mix for Parakeets (4.5 lb bag)
    • Petsmart = $15.99
    • Petco = $11.26
    • Winner = Petco = $4.73 less

Petsmart vs Petco Results

Of the 10 products studied, Petsmart and Petco were tied in that each offered the lower-cost item exactly 50% of the time. Truly amazing! By doing some simple arithmetic averaging, we see that when Petco is cheaper, the average savings over Petsmart is $8.20. However, when Petsmart is cheaper, the average savings is $6.12 over Petco (slightly less).

While the results were slightly less definitive than I was hoping for, I think we can still draw meaningful conclusions. Since Petsmart and Petco featured the lower-priced item exactly half of the time, we can conclude that both are good options. Furthermore, if you are going on a general pet-supply-buying trip (planning to purchase multiple items), probably the best strategy is to do a quick Google Maps search and find out which store is closest to you and go there.

However, if you are in the market for a specific item (especially if it is high-dollar) that you don’t need to buy frequently, the best approach would be to compare prices online between the two stores to decide which to buy from. For example, a dog crate or something like flea medicine that you only buy once a year would good candidates for this specific price comparison.

How about you all? Do you shop at Petco or Petsmart? Which do you prefer? Does store layout play a role in which you prefer? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

Crystal’s Comments:  Based on the Science Diet and Blue Buffalo dog food prices I had seen when first shopping around a few years ago, I just assumed Petsmart was always cheaper than Petco.  I hadn’t even entered a Petco since 2007.  Now I might take a look at their site as an option when researching pet item prices for Mr. Pug and Miss Doxie.  Thanks Jacob for the very thorough post!

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42 comments to Petsmart vs. Petco – Which Is More Affordable?

  • I don’t have any pets, but I would definitely reference this post often if I did. Very informative!

  • They are both more expensive than my local grocery stores…

  • I used to go to Petco all the time because they were the only ones that carried the food I fed my dogs: Natural Balance. Now I don’t use either. I switched the dogs to a comparable food that a local small businessman carries. For the same price I was paying for Natural Balance, he delivers the food to my door. It’s nice to support a local small business and not have to drive to the pet store and lug big bags of food around. Win/win!

  • It’s funny because one time I went into a Petco, and I don’t even remember what the products were, but the stuff I was looking at was way more expensive (20% or thereabouts) than what I was used to paying at PetSmart. It actually sent me into a rage where I walked out of the store. Had I done a more thorough comparison, maybe I would have felt differently, but since then I really haven’t gone back to PetCo.

  • @ Crystal – Thanks so much for letting me guest post!

    @ Amanda – I would definitely agree that Petco and Petsmart are more expensive than grocery store prices. The grocery store is a good source too for non-specialized foods, toys, etc.

    @ Money Beagle – It’s interesting that you mention how you felt in the store. One thing I was thinking of including in my findings was “store experience.” However, the post was getting too long already. However, I essentially found that just judging from the online stores, Petsmart had a much more positive feel than Petco’s website.

  • I don’t own pets (though I like animals), but if I did this would be a really good reference post. Nicely done!

    Also – I agree with your assertion that one shouldn’t sacrifice his or her own long-term financial security for a pet to have a great life. That’s my view anyway, that a line should be drawn, though I’m sure some might disagree.

  • I don’t have pets, but this is a fantastic article. It fascinates me how stores are deliberately cheaper on different items to not start price wars. I also see this strategy at the supermarket too. Different stores have different low price niches.

  • I have been going to Petco for a while now, but I’ll check the price at Petsmart again to make sure. The Petco we go to is close to our grocery store so we keep the car trip to minimal. Good post!

  • @ Squirrelers – I couldn’t agree more. It pains me to see people go in to DEEP debt over a pet. It is a tough call though.

    @ 1st Gen American – Thanks for reading! If you find out those specific low price niches, I’d love to hear about them! I could save some money on all the food I buy!

    @ Retireby40 – From the looks of the prices, for just your average shopping trip to the pet store, going to the one that is closer will do you just fine.

  • As far as Petsmart v Petco goes, I went to Petsmart for a long time before I realized there was a Petco much closer to me. I not only save money on gas, but Petco seems to carry the Blue Buffalo dog food I need for my Charlie at a couple dollars cheaper than Petsmart.

    Also: I noticed yesterday when picking up Charlie’s monthly supply of food, that Petco is having this Buy 10 Bags of Food Get 1 Free special for P.A.L.S. members (their free “club”). You have a year to buy the 10 bags and redeem your free bag. This is a great deal for me, since Charlie will definitely go through 10 bags by the time the year is up! Hurray for saving $45 more dollars!

  • Thanks for putting this together. I will need to look more closely. I can hardly tell the difference, but my wife is a firm believer in PetSmart.

  • Nicely done article, Jacob. Like Amanda though, we buy dog food at the grocery store. Although both stores are within driving range, it would need a dedicated trip to visit either one.

  • @ Becca – That’s great! I would definitely encourage you to make use of those “store club card” programs, as long as there is no membership fee.

    @ Robert – Thanks for reading. Does your wife find that Petsmart is a better shopping experience or that it is cheaper?

  • I used to shop at Petco, but that was just because it was closer to my house.

  • Check out Trader Joe’s premium dog food. Its ingredients are comparable to the most expensive high-quality kibble, it contains no corn, and it’s MUCH cheaper than either pet store’s offerings.

  • @ Funny about Money – I bet that is good! Trader Joe’s is an awesome store. In fact, I am drinking some of their Two Buck Chuck Charles Shaw wine as I type this!

  • Amanda Liu

    Petsmart is a lot cheaper than petco!! Wellness dog food will be on sale once in a while at petsmart, with wellness coupons, i only paid 7 bucks for 4lbs small breed dry dog food!

  • Thanks for reading Amanda! Do you find that the majority of items you buy are cheaper at Petsmart? Or just that one item mainly?

  • Breaking down the costs of what I spend on my dogs each year, it is starting to look like I’m spending an absolute fortune, but it has not put me in debt. I have 2 dogs that are very dear to me, but I will agree with drawing the line at getting into debt for chemotherapy treatment for either of them, although it would break my heart to see them go if they had cancer. They are both older dogs anyways, and I have been planning my retirement and trying to save money, so I can’t imagine forking out that kind of money when I’m so close to retirement. Thank you for the tips on pricing between the two pet stores; I will keep them in mind!

  • @ RetireonTime – Thanks for reading and commenting! Seems like you’ve got a good perspective on things when it comes to your pets. There’s no way around it – having a pet is fairly expensive. However, as you’ve probably experienced, I believe it is worth the expenditure.

  • Monique

    Petco is ALWAYS cheaper. Although it is not advertised ANY Petco I’ve ever been in will match prices with ANY local competitor. That includes the big box retailers like wal-mart or petsmart. They also offer you’re 11th bag of dog or cat food free with a Petco pals reward card (which is just a customer rewards card, not credit card). So with the price matching on top of every 11th bag free, petsmart prices do not hold a candle to petcos.

  • @ Monique – Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t know about Petco matching prices of competitors. My girlfriend right now buys the Blue Buffalo dog food for her Greyhound, Charlie, and uses the buy 10 – get one free deal! Quite nice!

  • donna

    though it’s not the cheapest place to buy our bird food (or the cat food, when our cat was still alive), we patronize a locally owned feed-store chain (only 3 stores) that carries stuff for pets as well as farm animals. We like supporting our local folks, the service is excellent (small-town service!), and we figure we’re doing our part for the hyperlocal economy, though we’ve been known to hit the PetsMart when the local store is closed on Sundays.

  • @ Donna – Thanks for sharing those experiences. Have you ever compared the prices between the local store and Petsmart on the same products? How much more expensive is the local store? I’m just curious what sort of large-quantity discount Petsmart is able to give compared to a smaller store..

  • i say PetSmart has way cheaper prices but both have a good selection and quality.

  • Internet Driveby

    Please use local small businesses. The prices and service are usually way better. In addition Petco is well documented in its abusive practices with animals. For instance if they run out of food for an animal before the week is over they simply won’t feed the animals because it’s not in their budget.

  • Intersting

    I have been to Petsmart before and have found that many of their items are a lot cheaper than Petco.

    Also, Petsmart does price matching too. They’ll even mat poundage of smaller bags to larger bags (like 3 4lb bags of dog food for 1 large bag of 12lb food) and will only charge you the price of the large bag.

    Not only that, they also have thousands of items on sale every week, constantly gives out coupons in the mail (havent seen much from petco!), and my petsmart has even been gladly able to refund the cost of an item that wasnt even bought from their store!

    As such, I havent seen Petco come out with a coupon savings book for puppies either. I bought two of them and often use the coupons for my puppy AS WELL AS my 10yr old dog. Even the customer service has been much more friendly and helpful there than Petco.

    Overall, I feel like Petsmart is the better store. Another thing too, a study once conducted had a petsmart store ratio to petco store ratio and it found that for every one petco store that exists, there are 2 petsmart stores.

  • juliana

    Petsmart I prefer because they have more choices on small pets and I’m looking for people who sell winter white hamsters if ur selling any contact me on Facebook or my name is Julie Ramirez galleogos message me first

  • Harlowe Thrombey

    What about the fact that Petsmart has a limited selection. They are happy to sell the grain-heavy junk from Hill’s. But they are reticent to carry anything by Natural Balance. At least they have some good stuff. But they should stop playing favorites with what they carry.

  • Christine

    This is very interesting. I have shopped at both Petco and Petsmart, but mostly Petco because it is closer to home. However, I recently went to both stores to do a comparison of dog items, since we are adopting a new dog, and I found that almost everything is cheaper at Petsmart, including food, toys, treats, apparel, beds, etc. It’s worth to drive the extra few minutes for the lower prices.

  • Naomi

    Petsmart recently opened in my shopping town. I went in today to see how prices compare with Petco, which is a half-mile away. I found prices on items I would be interested in, or would use, to be generally cheaper than Petco. However, none of the three employees, (one being a manager), could tell me correctly how to sex a Society Finch! I already knew the answer, as I am a Finch person, but I wanted to see how the question would be answered. The manager even called another store to ask, and came back with the same, wrong answer! The prices on fish were reasonable, and with the Petsmart Rewards card, the sale prices were great! But, the fish were put into a bag that was too small, had less than the ideal amount of water, and not enough air to keep the bag from getting squashed in the shopping bag. I believe I will continue to maintain my long-term, very helpful relationship with Petco unless there is an item I need that is significantly cheaper at Petsmart.

  • dennis

    So this is more than likely different from city to city but I find petco alot cheaper for example a fancy rat at petsmart is about 12$ and at pet co they are nearly 6$ and better taken care of so at least for small animals petco is the place to go

  • Jester

    I honestly prefer buying stuff from local pet stores..it supports the community and I’ve actually found that most of the things on a local pet store is cheaper (at least in my area) and some of the petco or petsmart employees seems to have no idea about what they’re talking about -.-

  • @ Allie – Thanks for your comment. What items do you tend to buy at Petsmart that tend to be cheaper?

    @ Internet Driveby – I would totally prefer to support a local business. However, from what I’ve seen, the local shops are just flat out more expensive. Do you find that they are cheaper in your area?

    Also, it is interesting that from reading the other comments from the last year on this post, Petsmart seems to be preferred and is cheaper. I’ll definitely keep that in mind!

  • Eric

    I found out that my local petco goes on a one week one week off sale cycle. It depends on the week you go but petco sometimes is cheaper than petsmart. However, petsmart’s sales are consistent week after week. If you can keep track of petco’s sale you can save a bit, but if you don’t know what week it is for petco or simply do not want to keep track, petsmart is the better bet. Also, carrying a smart phone and checking amazon or price grabber while at the store will be worthwhile when purchasing bigger ticket items $50-$60+.

  • @ Eric – Thanks for sharing that info! Are the sales schedules at Petcos advertised online at all, or do you just have to go to the store to get a feel for their routine?

  • ian neaho

    if you are looking for pets PETCO
    if you are looking for supplys PETSMART
    at petco they treat animals well at petsmart not really

  • suz

    From my experience, if you want to shop in person not by online, you cannot price compare online bc petco online us much cheaper than in store.

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