Feeding your dog well on a budget:
There is a lot of emphasis today about feeding our dogs better diets. Articles on the benefits of feeding dogs grain free diets, raw meat diets, and organic meats abound. What is often glossed over though in the quest to feed out beloved friends better is the fact that many people can’t afford these specialty diets, as they often have little money to buy their own groceries. Being a good pet owner does not require one to go broke at the pet food store or at the supermarket. Below are some tips on feeding your dog when you are on a budget.
Feed dry food (If feeding a commercial diet):
Canned foods have the benefits of moisture, higher meat contents (usually), and palatability, but quality canned foods are also considerably more expensive than dry food. Dry foods that meet AAFCO nutrient profiles will provide your dog with complete and balanced nutrition just as canned foods will at a much lower price point.
To compare the cost of wet food vs dry food, we will take a look at Wellness. Wellness Complete Health Adult Deboned Chicken & Oatmeal Recipe Dry Dog Food cost about $32.00 on Chewy.com for a 15lb. bag (not including tax). This amount seems consistent with the price of this food in store near me, so it is the figure we will work with. The package recommends feeding a 45 lb. dog 2 1/3 cups of food a day. Assuming there are 4 cups of kibble in every pound, it will cost roughly $1.28 per day or $8.96 per week to feed a dog of this size this diet. This same size dog eating only Wellness Complete Health Chicken & Sweet Potato Formula Canned Dog Food will cost between $7.34 and $8.97 per day if feeding the recommended 3 cans a day. This works out to being between $51.41 to $62.79 per week! Clearly, unless feeding only one small dog, canned food is way out of budget for most people, even many people not necessarily tight on cash.
For small to medium size dogs, a good compromise is to feed mostly dry food with a little canned food. This improves palatability, and also the protein content of the diet (if using quality canned food, some low quality canned foods are actually pretty low in animal protein). It would cost a pet owner $2.60 per day to feed a 45 lb. dog the Wellness dog food listed above if feeding 6 oz. of canned plus 2 cups of dry food. This works out to $18.20 per week. This is more expensive than feeding dry alone, but considerably cheaper than feeding canned alone.
While dry foods are much cheaper, they also tend to have lower amounts of animal protein and higher amount of grains or starchy carbs. Kibble is also less palatable, and has very little moisture, which can be a problem for dogs who don’t drink enough water to compensate. There are ways to improve a dry food diet. These include soaking the kibble in water or low sodium broth and adding meat or other animal proteins. Use broth or water in the ratio of half to equal amounts of kibble. So, if you feed 1 cup of kibble per day, soak it in ½ to 1 cup of broth. We will look at ways to economically add meat and other fresh ingredients later in this article.
Feed food with grains:
While some dogs cannot tolerate grains in their diet, most do just fine as long as they are also getting high quality protein. Often, people assume that grain free = high protein. Many grain free diets cost more without actually having more animal protein. I have noticed many foods that are grain free are filled with peas and other legumes. These foods will inflate the crude protein content on the bag, making the food appear to have a higher meat content than it actually has. It seems to me that pea protein has become the new corn gluten meal in dog food. Its not that peas are necessarily bad, but I don’t see the point in paying more for a food to be filled with legumes instead of grains if the dog is not allergic to grains. If you think grain free always means high meat and high quality, you may want to read the label and see what is really in the food. If the first ingredient is meat, but the next four are a variety of legumes and pea protein concentrates, the food is high in vegetable content, not meat, so why pay more money for it?
Shop for Bargains:
I would not recommend feeding foods that have passed their expiration date, but many stores mark down foods that are close to expiring. If you have a large dog and go through food quickly, this can be a great way to save money, as you can easily use all of a bag before it expires. For smaller dogs, I would be a little more careful to make sure you don’t buy a bag that will expire long before you can feed it all. Many smaller pet food stores have frequent buyer programs. Generally, after purchasing 10 – 12 bags of food, you can get a free bag. Ask your store if they offer such programs.
When Feeding a Homemade Diet:
Feeding your dog a homemade diet on a budget is possible, it just takes some planning. Up to half of a homemade diet can come from grains and starchy carbs. This leaves plenty of room for a variety of animal products, but also leaves a little more money in your wallet.
Shop for meat on sale, just be sure to cook and freeze it as soon as you bring it home so it doesn’t spoil. Oftentimes in the summer I am able to find good deals on chicken thighs and legs. Chicken leg quarters are usually a decent price, just make sure you remove the skin before feeding unless your dog requires a high fat diet (most house pets DO NOT need high fat diets). Thanksgiving time usually comes with very good deals on turkeys. While poultry is usually cheaper than red meat, red meat is nutrient dense and has a different fatty acid profile, so make sure it still makes up a good amount of the dogs diet.
Avoid buying the highest fat meat available. While high fat ground beef appears to be a good bargain, the fat content is way to high, and will create problems in the diet. If you drain the fat, you are left with less food, so it makes sense to pay more for leaner ground beef.
Buying grains in bulk can also save you money. A freezer is extremely beneficial when feeding a homemade diet, as it allows you to shop for sales better.
Adding fresh food to dry dog food:
As stated above, feeding dry dog food is the most economically way to feed a dog. The best way to improve a dry food diet is to add fresh foods. It is important to not add too much fresh food, as this can unbalance the diet. If you want to feed high amounts of fresh ingredients plus kibble, that’s great! Feeding this way will just require more attention to nutrient balance and will also require supplementation of certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium. For this article, we are going to look at adding fresh food to account for 10% of an adult dog’s daily caloric needs. This amount should not throw off the nutrient balance of the commercial food being fed.
There are many ways to calculate your dog’s daily caloric requirements. I like the calorie calculator on The Ohio State University’s Veterinary Medical Center’s website (here is the link: https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/companion/our-services/nutrition-support-service/basic-calorie-calculator). According to this website, my spayed dog who weighs 32 lbs. should get 832 kcal every day. If adding fresh food to account for 10% of her daily calories, I need to feed 83 kcal of fresh food and 749 kcal of commercial food. Fresh foods and their protein and fat amounts meeting close to these calorie amounts are given in the chart below.
|Boneless, skinless Chicken Thigh
|Egg, extra large
|90/10 lean ground beef
|Plain Greek yogurt
||2.5 oz. (raw weight)
Data from calorieking.com, fatsecret.com, and nutritiondata.com
*Liver is rich in nutrients, so while a very healthful food for dogs, too much can upset a dog’s stomach. For this reason, be careful not to over do it. Feed liver at most twice a week and stop feeding if your dog has problems with it.
Your own dog’s caloric needs will vary, so ask your vet if you are unsure how to calculate how much your dog needs.
When choosing meats for my dogs, I rarely if ever buy organic. Its not that I don’t think organic food is beneficial; I simply can’t afford to feed such products to my pets. Any fresh, human grade meat is beneficial to your dog, whether it is organic or regular meat.
If you want to add vegetables to your dog’s diet, that’s great too. Most non-starchy veggies are pretty low calorie, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about it unbalancing a commercial diet since you shouldn’t have to reduce the amount of commercial food fed to avoid weight gain. Steamed and finely chopped vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini and yellow squash are all good choices. Other options include parsnips, brussel sprouts, green beans, and romaine lettuce. Here are my recommendations for amounts of veggies to add; feel free to adjust this amount based upon what works best for your dog. Don’t add too much all at once, as this can cause loose stools.
||Amount of veggie
|Less than 10 lbs.
||3 tbsp – ¼ cup
||¼ cup – ½ cup
|90 lbs. or more
||½ cup to ¾ cup
When reading about ways to best feed your furry friend, it is easy to feel like a lousy dog owner. Many of the foods that are boasted to be the best are also the most expensive. Your dog won’t think less of you if you can’t afford the most premium food on the shelf, and you shouldn’t think less of yourself either.