How Much Does it Cost to Feed My Dog?

How much should it cost to feed my dog?

half the spreadDoes it really “break the bank” to feed your dog a premium 5-star commercial food? How does that cost compare with feeding your dog a home-made real-meat diet? Doesn’t it cost a fortune to feed your dog real chicken every day? What about those fancy grain-free high-quality ingredient dog foods?

You think it is as simple as comparing price per pound labels in the pet food aisle, but it isn’t.

Lets completely forget about ingredients and focus purely on calories. We’ll play pretend, because if we start discussing ingredients we’ll never get through this post! We will likewise forget all about various macronutrients (ie, protien, carbs and fats) and again just stick with calories as our major focus.

Even with ingredients magically equalized all dog kibble is not created equally. Each dog food brand has its own moisture content, calorie content per cup, “Metabolizable Energy” listings (meaning how much energy your dog can actually get from eating the food by a measurement)… it goes on and on. You practically need a PhD to read these darn labels!!

First things first, we need to know how many calories your dog requires per day. We’re going to use a model of a 20 pound adult cockapoo (over 12 months of age) with an average activity level. So how many calories does this dog require per day?

Of course, this is no easy number to figure out either, since different sources site different amounts and gosh darn it, not all calories are created equal. Just because your dog consumes a pile of corn worth 300 kcal does not mean he will actually metabolize and absorb 300 kcal… BUT for simplicity’s sake we are going to use an average of accepted calorie requirements here. (Gosh, why does everything have to be so complicated?)

So, our model cockapoo, we’ll call him “Rusty” requires 576-592 calories per day. How much kibble does he need each day (since none of my measuring cups have lines that read in calories-I wish!)?

Can we just measure how many cups per day “Rusty” needs, then decide how many cups are in a bag of food and decide what the cost is? Let’s try it that way, shall we?

On average a 30lb bag of dog food has 120 cups of kibble in it. Or so they say. The problem with measuring dry kibble is that it is just going to depend on how large each kibble piece is. And of course that varies per brand, doesn’t it. And to make things more complicated you can’t feed the same amount of kibble for every type of food out there, since they have different calorie amounts and moisture amounts per cup… it’s really like comparing apples to oranges.

BUT let’s say the average food has 390 calories per cup. Then “Rusty” needs about 1.5 cups per day of this dog food (rounding for convenience).

So, if it costs $55 for 30 pounds of “By Nature Organics: Chicken” (a five-star rated dog food) & we have 120 cups of food in that bag, divide the 120 by 1.5 and we get approximately how many daily servings are in that bag of food: 80. That means this bag of food should last approximately 80 days and would cost $0.69 per day to feed “Rusty”. That doesn’t seem too bad.

That’s really not that much more expensive than the $0.40 per day on average it would cost to feed “Rusty” corn and corn gluten meal from Pedigree or Ol’ Roy brands of “cheap” dog food. You can even pretend you might not get a dose of recall-able poison in that food. (Yum!)

I didn’t throw in the math for that so you’ll have to trust me. However, less of this food is digestible so therefore you must feed your dog a lot MORE of it so that he/she actually absorbs enough calories and nutrients to survive, so it really cannot be compared in the same way as the others. But I did anyway, and there you go.

Do you really think saving $0.29 a day is worth your dog’s health & longevity? That’s a whopping $105.85 a year… I’m sure you’ll make that amount up in the saving of veterinary bills you’d otherwise be forking out in the long-run when you have a dog fed a low-quality crap food like Kibbles N Bits or Pedigree…  You’re really not saving that much money by switching to a cheap brand like Pedigree. And after the shortened life-span and increased vet visits you’re actually just putting yourself in debt in the future.

Now let’s leave all those “averages” and estimations behind us. I’m not a fan of estimating, to be honest. So let’s take it further, shall we? (Ok, Annette, you’re the crazy dog lady, here.)

It is MUCH more accurate to calculate the cost of dog food using the ME or “Metabolizable Energy” listed in the form of kcal/kg that some higher quality dog food manufacturers put on their labels. Here are the costs per day of some of the five-star foods on my list according to the diet requirements of our average adult 20 pound cockapoo, “Rusty”.

Before Grain: Buffalo contains:

  • 383 kcal/cup
  • 3581 kcal/kg
  • Average cost is $20 for an 11 lbs bag

It would cost $0.65 to feed “Rusty” his required 1.5 cups of this food per day.

Blue Buffalo Wilderness: Duck contains:

  • 424 kcal/cup
  • 3600 kcal/kg
  • Average cost is $55 for a 24 lbs bag

It would cost $0.83 to feed Rusty the required 1.4 cups of this food per day.

Fromm Four Star Nutritionals Grain-Free: surf & turf  contains:

  • 419 kcal/cup
  • 4092 Kcal/kg
  • Average cost is $62 for a 26 lbs bag

It would cost $0.73 to feed “Rusty” his required 1.4 cups of this food per day.

EVO dog food: small bites contains:

  • 487 kcal/cup
  • 4370 kcal/kg
  • Average cost is $71 for a 28 lbs. bag

It would cost $0.73 to feed “Rusty” his required 1.2 cups of this food per day

Taste of the Wild: Puppy High Prairie Formula contains:

  • 364 kcal/cup
  • 3656 kcal/kg
  • Average cost is $50 for a 30 lbs. bag

It would cost $0.58 to feed “Rusty” his required 1.6 cups of this food per day

Timber Wolf Wild and Natural contains:

  • 564 kcal/cup
  • 3980
  • Average cost is $85 for a 33 lbs bag

It would cost $0.80 to feed “Rusty” his required 1 cup of this food per day

It is interesting to compare food this way. If you were standing in a pet food aisle all you would see are these numbers:

Taste of the Wild, 30lbs for $50  *cost is $1.67 per pound* but the true cost is $.58 per day or $4.06/week or about $17.64 per month

Before Grain, 11bs for $20 *cost is $1.81 per pound* but the true cost is $.65 per day or $4.55/week or about $19.77 per month

Blue Buffalo, 24bs for $55 *cost is $2.29 per pound* but the true cost is $.83 per day or $5.81/week or about $25.25 per month

Fromm, 26lbs for $62 *cost is $2.39 per pound* but the true cost is $.73 per day or $5.11/week or about $22.20 per month

EVO, 28lbs for $71 *cost is $2.53 per pound* but the true cost is $.73 per day or $5.11/week or about $22.20 per month

Timberwolf, 33lbs for $85 *cost is $2.58 per pound* but the true cost is $.80 per day or $5.60/week or about $24.33 per month

So it APPEARS that our cheapest to most expensive food ranks:

Taste of the Wild @$1.67 per pound

Before Grain @$1.81 per pound

Blue Buffalo@ $2.29 per pound

Fromm @ $2.39 per pound

EVO @ $2.53 per pound

Timberwolf @ $2.58 per pound

But there really is a slight variation in the true line up. Slight, but it is there.

Taste of the Wild @ $17.64 per month

Before Grain @ $19.77 per month

Fromm & EVO @ $22.20 per month

Timberwolf @ $24.33 per month

Blue Buffalo @ $25.25 per month

Blue Buffalo goes from mid-range in price to most expensive and that really expensive looking bag of EVO turns out to be not so bad after all. Even the pricey Timberwolf turns out to be cheaper than the Blue Buffalo.

Lesson: Prices and labels can be very misleading!!

So there is our quality line-up of food. Let’s average the cost per day and month to feed a 5-star food. These average out to: $0.72 per day or $21.90 per month.

I can’t give you the scientific comparison using the kcal/kg ME of crappy foods like Pedigree or Ol’ Roy because they won’t list this number on their labels. They give total kcal/cup on their labels but that doesn’t tell us what “Rusty” can actually get from that pile of corn and mechanically separated chicken fat, now does it?

Ol’ Roy claims that they cannot list this number because their sources and manufacturers and formulations for their products change too frequently. Mmm. Sounds like safe, quality food to me… (I’m being sarcastic here)

Now how do these numbers compare to feeding your dog a homemade diet of real, fresh, human-grade meat? Actually, the numbers are pretty darn comparable. Of course, homemade food is more labor intensive. But you work for free for you dog, right?

To feed your dog “real” food it could cost about $.050-1.50 per day if you don’t shop sales, buy in bulk, or look for good bargains anywhere. You can bring the price down (easily) to about 50 cents per day if you feed a lot less pure protein and incorporate healthy “fillers” of your own, like oats or brown rice and freshly steamed or boiled vegetables. In reality, feeding a home-made diet can be as cheap as feeding a crappy-dog food diet!! It just takes a little more effort and preparation.

It’s a lot more convenient than you think because, just as people have been doing since the dawn of time, your dog can actually eat the same food you eat, and can eat the refuse you don’t eat, but that comes from your own home-cooked meals. Fats and gristle, skin no one is going to eat, pan-drippings, etc. All this refuse can be fed to your dog and is not unhealthy for him, even though you’ve probably been told about a billion times that “table scraps” are bad for Fido. Well, domesticated dogs were living quite nicely off table scraps for centuries before commercial dog food manufacturers stepped in and decided to tell what our dogs “need”.

First, let’s discuss the price of feeding your dog pure, unadulterated meat. No recipes, no addition of cheaper fillers, just pure meat.

6 oz of chuck beef contains approximately 586 calories, that’s less than half a pound (16 oz=lb) and I buy beautiful fresh boneless chuck for regular grocery store price of $2.75/pound on a non-sale day. “Rusty” gets 2.5 meals from one pound of chuck, so I spend about $1 to feed “Rusty” pure red meat in one day.

One pound of chicken thigh meat with the skin is two days’ worth of meat at 1,120 calories total (560 kcal/day). These cost about $.77 per pound at my grocery store. There are some bones in there that have to be removed, but this gives me dog food for $.39/day. Increase it a touch more if you want to make up for the weight lost when de-boning the meat purchased. Even at $0.40 per day it is a steal compared to even the cheapest dog foods available.

Now look at all these main sources of protein, which can be easily found at any grocery store and used as the main ingredient in your dog’s food. Each serving of these can be used for several days’ worth of food, or in combination with other protein sources listed for really awesome recipes.

1035 calories in lb breast of veal, which costs about $1.60

650 calories in lb of pork roast/tenderloin, which costs about $1.99

526 calories in lb of chicken livers, which costs about $1.35

612 calories in lb of beef liver, which costs about $1.60

870 calories in one dozen eggs, which costs about $1.99

600 calories in 32oz container of whole, plain yogurt, which costs about$1.99

500 calories in 1lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, which costs about $1.99

Each one of these protein sources can be used in a recipe that would make two-three days’ worth of food. The rest of the ingredients would not total more in cost than $0.40-0.80.

All-in-all feeding your dog real, actual food is not that expensive.

Keep in mind that we equalized ingredients here and ignored macronutrients. We have a fairly even playing field for the five star dog foods, but it is unfair to assume that they are really comparable to real, fresh foods, because they are not even close. The estimations given here are based on kcalories, which is only one way (and inaccurate at best) to judge how much food to feed your dog. Clearly 300 kcal of corn gluten is NOT comparable to 300 kcal of fresh roasted chicken.

Dogs that eat dog food digest less of the food, that is why they have big, soft, bulky poop and dogs fed lots of real meat have smaller, firmer & quickly decomposing dog poops. Dogs fed real food digest more of their food, therefore getting more  nutrition and energy from a smaller amount of food. So can we really say that “Rusty” needs the same number of kcal from dog kibble as he requires from real meat each day? No, we can’t.

But, this was a start, a basic comparison, which shows you that AT BEST feeding your dog real, fresh food is no more expensive than feeding your dog 4 & 5-star commercial dog foods. This comparison also shows  you that AT BEST it is NOT that much more expensive to feed your dog a higher-quailty dog food as opposed to the bargain-brand foods out there.

Look at your label, see how many kcalories are in each cup of food and pay attention to how much you’re feeding your dog. You don’t want a fat dog or a starved dog and not all kibbles are created equally.

Hope I’ve helped! 🙂

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