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How much does raw dog food cost?
Some people would like to feed their dogs a raw food diet, but the cost is often a barrier.
Many of the commercial raw dog food brands cost more than $175 per month to feed my 70-pound Lab mix Ace. He needs roughly 1.5 pounds of raw food per day.
If you buy your own ingredients for a homemade raw dog food diet, you should be able to spend less, but you may need to stock up while the meat is on sale. It also takes time to cut and portion the meat into meals or “recipes.”
I'm used to feeding my dogs a homemade raw diet, so I thought I'd share some money-saving ideas. These are geared towards people who are new to raw feeding or are interested in getting started. Please share your own suggestions in the comments if you are already feeding your dog raw. I am always still learning!
Do your own research and talk to your dog's vet before switching him to a raw diet. I am not a vet or a nutritionist.
Affordable raw dog food – how to save money on raw food for dogs
1. Talk to others who feed their dogs raw food.
Find someone in your area who feeds her dogs raw food. Raw feeders generally love to share their experiences with others, and you might be surprised how many raw feeders there actually are. Put out a Facebook post to see if any of your contacts know someone who feeds raw and what their ideas are for affordable raw dog food.
You could post a message in the pets section of Craigslist, or get in contact with some of the rescue/shelter volunteers in your area. The members of dog obedience clubs are another good resource. Many training clubs are associated with the AKC, and some of the members will likely be breeders or owners of working dogs. Chances are, one of them feeds her dogs raw food.
Once you find a few others who feed their dogs raw food, ask them what protein sources they use, where they shop and how they save money.
Want to learn more about raw feeding? Click here to download my guide + 10 easy recipes.
2. Invest in more freezer space.
I recommend doing at least a four-week raw feeding trial to make sure you are up for raw feeding long term. It's not for everyone. After that, it's well worth it to invest in more freezer space so you can buy meat in bulk and store it.
Craigslist is a great place to search for used freezers. I checked my local listings, and there were some freezers listed for around $100-200 ranging from 8 to 17 cubic feet. You may even want to check the classifieds section of this thing called the newspaper.
Larger retail stores may also have reasonably priced freezers, and make sure to ask about price matching.
3. Buy large quantities of meat while it's on sale.
Once you know your dog does OK with a certain protein source, take advantage of sales. Buy as much meat as you can reasonably afford and store, especially when it's on sale.
Turkeys are often on sale after Thanksgiving, one reader mentioned on That Mutt's Facebook page. Chicken and beef are often on sale after the Fourth of July, another reader suggested.
My husband even noticed how the price of supermarket beef goes down in our area at the start of Christmas break. We assume this is because 15,000 college students leave town and therefore stores have fewer people to buy the meat.
Also, take advantage of specials and sales from commercial raw dog food companies. Sometimes they offer free shipping or 10 or 15% off or buy-one-get-one deals. Join my raw feeding community and take advantage of all the deals I find from raw dog food companies such as Raw Paws and Balanced Blends. Sign up here.
4. Whole carcasses are generally a better deal.
It's generally cheaper to buy whole chickens or turkeys than it is to buy chicken thighs or chicken breasts or organ meat separately. You can chop the carcass into smaller portions yourself. You may want to invest in a good knives.
5. Take notes and shop around.
When you are first buying your meat, check out all the options in your area. Don't forget local butcher shops, ethnic markets and places such as Target, Wal-Mart and Costco. If you visit the same grocery stores regularly, you will see patterns for when the meat is on sale.
Jot down some notes each time you shop so you remember where the best deals were, the quality of the meat, how much you bought and on which day of the week you bought it. Maybe one store has a sale on chicken every Friday, for example.
Also, just ask the workers when you can get the best deals. Grocery stores often get their shipments in on a regular schedule and sales may follow a pattern.
Here are some of the prices I found at my local grocery stores for non-organic meat:
- Whole chicken: $1.85 per pound
- Whole chicken, cut into eight pieces: $1.85 per pound
- Chicken organs (like hearts): $2.25-$2.44 per pound
- Whole turkey: $1.29 per pound
- Turkey parts (necks, gizzards, organs): $1.39 per pound
- Pork ribs and neck bones: $1.49 per pound (See my post: is raw pork safe for dogs?)
- Ground beef: $3.79 per pound
6. Get a Costco or Sam's Club membership.
It's worth it to pay the $40-55 annual membership to a warehouse-style “club” such as Costco where you may find some good opportunities to buy meat in bulk for less money overall.
Here are some of the meat prices I saw at Costco – definitely the best deal so far:
- Whole chicken: $0.99 per pound
- Chicken thighs: $0.99 per pound
- Ground beef: $2.99 per pound
7. Keep your dog's meals as simple as possible.
Don't worry about buying several protein sources or extra supplements for now. Stick to one protein source such as chicken and give your dog a few weeks to adjust. This will allow you to buy one type of meat in bulk. If you decide to add veggies, introduce them one at a time and keep things simple.
If you want your dog to have more variety, introduce each protein source slowly. Eventually you may be comfortable feeding two or three different types of protein. Use these as “standard” meals for your dog and rotate them based on what you find on sale.
8. Don't spend a fortune on supplements.
People get too caught up on feeding their dogs a “balanced” diet. Yes, balance is important for overall health and nutrition. But that doesn't mean every single meal needs to be perfect. It's fine to add vitamins or supplements to your dog's meals, but don't worry about that so much when you are first starting out. Even if you give your dog supplements, he may not need them in every single meal.
I wrote an ebook on raw dog food, and it's a great guide to follow for those just starting out. It also includes 10 easy recipes.
9. Search for local meat delivery options.
If you live in a metro area, search online for local meat-delivery companies (such as Schwan's). A company in my area delivers regional, natural “meat by the box” right to your door. The meat is less expensive than it would be in most grocery stores, the quality is just as good or better, and you can buy it in large quantities such as 40-pound cases.
Meat-delivery companies can charge less because they obtain the meat in bulk, and they have less overhead costs compared to supermarkets. Some will even take custom orders.
Using this option in my area, the meat comes to about $1.25 to $1.75 per pound, depending on what you buy.
10. Talk with local butchers.
Reach out to local butchers and see if they can offer you a deal. There are just certain animal parts that humans don't want to eat (pig hearts, anyone?), but these protein sources are healthy and appealing to dogs! Butchers are sometimes willing to sell the “less desired” meat to dog owners for close to nothing, just to get rid of it.
11. Ask hunters for extra meat.
Hunters can be a great source for free meat. Use Craigslist or Facebook to get in touch with hunters in your area. Some have more meat than they know what to do with and will gladly give it away. You can feed just about any meat to a dog – deer, elk, duck, rabbit, moose, goose, pheasant, you name it!
12. It's OK to feed kibble every now and then.
I know some people are going to say you should never mix kibble with raw food. This is because kibble is generally harder for a dog to digest and raw meat is generally easier for a dog to digest. If you mix them or switch back and forth, some dogs will get upset stomachs.
On the other hand, every dog is different, and some people have success feeding one dry meal per day and one raw meal. I think that is great. It saves money, and the dog is getting a variety of nutrients. You will have to see what works for your particular dog. I plan to feed Ace dry food every now and then, just to save some money and time.
If your dog gets an upset stomach from a kibble/raw combo, try leaving 12-24 hours between the dry meal and the raw meal so there is more time for him to digest the food. Your dog might do best with one meal per day, rotating between raw and dry. This will work for some dogs, and not others.
It's nice to have a bag of high-quality kibble on hand for those days when you are just too tired or stressed to prepare a raw meal. We all eat fast food or frozen dinners every now and then. What's the big deal if our dogs eat some processed food as well?
Likewise, if you want to keep some commercial, pre-prepared raw food on hand, that would be OK, too. I plan to. It's just probably not going to save me any money 🙂
13. Don't worry about buying organic.
Ideally, you may want to feed your dog organic meat and veggie sources. However, if buying organic food for your dog will break your budget, it's OK to buy conventional meat and veggies. Heck, you are shopping for your dog at a grocery store for the hoomans! If the food is safe enough for us, it will probably be OK for dogs, too 🙂
Labels can be misleading, and the whole “organic” labeling has certainly helped marketers. For example, beef labeled “organic” does not necessarily come from grass-fed cattle, as some people assume. It most often comes from cattle that ate organic corn.
Personally, I would rather buy grass-fed beef (for the humans and the dog), whether it is organic or not. I also prefer to buy meat and produce from local or regional sources, even if it is not labeled “organic.”
Basically, just buy the highest-quality food you can afford. Don't fee guilty if you can't afford organic.
14. You will likely save overall on vet bills
The cost to feed a dog higher-quality food is generally going to be more expensive than processed kibble. However, you will hopefully save money overall on veterinary bills related to itchy skin, ear infections and allergies.
15. Feed your dog a little less.
A raw food diet for dogs is generally richer and more nutrient dense than dry dog food because it is high in protein and low in carbs. When you switch your dog to raw, you can generally feed him less! For more info, see this post on how much raw food to feed my dog.
It's best to start out by giving him less food than you think he needs, because too much new food too quickly may cause an upset stomach. You can always increase the amount in a week or two if your dog seems to need more calories. Just wait until his system is handling the new food OK.
The rule of thumb is to eventually feed your dog about 2 percent of his ideal body weight, but that is just a general recommendation. Start with less and adjust as needed.
Do you feed your dog raw food? Please share your money-saving tips!
To learn more about raw feeding (and save yourself time, stress and money), check out my raw feeding guide and recipes.