Chris Slovick's pets are as cheap as she is.

The Blaine resident's cat, Sookie, doesn't mind when she switches to generic litter if money is tight, and her dog, Sadie, has never seemed to like the expensive food, anyway. So Slovick sniffs out the low prices just as well as her bulldog homes in on a stray chunk of Purina One. She finds Wal-Mart cheapest, then Target, PetSmart and Petco.

My own price comparison of dog and cat items proved Slovick correct. The difference between the regular prices on nine items at the most expensive store (Petco) and the least expensive (Wal-Mart) was about 25 percent.

According to an American Pet Products Association 2009-2010 survey, basic annual expenses for dog and cat owners include food ($229 on average for dogs, $203 for cats), vitamins ($64 for dogs, $28 for cats), food treats ($64 for dogs, $37 for cats) and toys ($40 for dogs and $19 for cats). So the savings can be significant.

By my calculations, you can save 5 to 25 percent by shopping at Target or Wal-Mart if the discounters sell the brand you prefer. That's a pretty big "if" for picky pet owners. Pet stores have a much larger selection and carry premium brands that the discounters don't.

You also can save money at Costco or Sam's Club if you're willing to buy larger sizes, but you may be able to find similar buy-in-bulk savings at the pet stores, too. For canned food, you can save by buying 12- or 24-packs or waiting for sales.

It's possible to buy many pet supplies cheaply online, but the weight of food makes shipping costly. If you're looking for an expensive, small item, try an online price comparison site such as Pricegrabber.com. For example, Feliway spray is an expensive, drug-free anxiety reducer. (The odorless pheromones are said to relax some anxious cats or dogs.) It costs $26 (on sale) at PetSmart and $36 at Chuck and Don's Pet Food Outlet. But EntirelyPets.com sells it for $16.

If you want to pick up a box of Milk-Bone dog biscuits, walk your dog past Petco. They cost more than twice as much there compared with Target or Wal-Mart.

To see our  price comparison chart, check the PDF under related content.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633 or jewoldt@startribune.com. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/blogs/dealspotter.