Homemade diets for dogs are increasingly popular. In a recent survey, 60 percent of pet owners reported that they fed their dog or cat homemade food for either part or all of his/her daily ration. While there are a number of arguments both for and against feeding homemade diets, a commonly held belief is that feeding homemade is much more costly than feeding a commercial product. Certainly, for owners of large breed dogs or in multiple pet homes, this can be a valid concern.
What do we Know? However, do we actually know this to be true? Is feeding a commercial food always less expensive than feeding a homemade diet? A study published recently by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil asked this question (1).
The Study: Fourteen different recipes for complete and balanced homemade dog foods were selected. These recipes had been developed by canine nutritionists, using a computer software program designed for balancing pet foods. Two of the recipes were formulated for maintenance feeding of healthy adult dogs. The remaining 12 were designed for various health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, kidney disease and food hypersensitivity. For the purposes of this review, we will examine only the cost of feeding a maintenance food to healthy adult dogs. For each of the two homemade recipes, two forms were prepared, each with a different primary protein source (chicken or beef). A group of 30 different commercial dog foods formulated for adult maintenance was selected. These foods were divided into the categories of super premium, premium and standard.
The Dogs: The researchers calculated the daily energy (kilocalorie) needs of adult dogs weighing 3, 15, 30 and 50 kilograms (6.6, 33, 66 and 110 lbs), to represent small, medium, large and giant breed dogs. They then calculated the volume of each food needed daily to maintain a healthy body weight for dogs of these weights. Average retail prices of the commercial foods and for ingredients of the homemade foods was used to calculate cost comparisons.
Results: The results were presented as a cost per 1000 kcal of feeding and also as cost per day for each size of dog. (Although the study was conducted in Brazil, units were converted to US dollars in the report. Their results were also similar to those provided by a small study conducted in the US in 2017 ). The researchers found that overall, feeding homemade was a bit more expensive than feeding commercial foods, but was not always more expensive:
- Commercial Dry Diets Are Cheapest: Overall, feeding a commercial dry (extruded) diet was cheaper than feeding a homemade food, across all three commercial food segments (super premium, premium and standard).
- Canned Foods are Most Expensive: By far. When compared with commercial dry foods, on a per 1000 kcal basis, wet (canned) foods cost between 8- and 15-fold more. When compared with a homemade diet, wet foods were 3 to 4 times the cost of feeding homemade.
- Homemade Ingredients Mattered: When different primary protein sources were compared, producing a homemade food using chicken as the primary protein source was significantly less expensive than using beef.
So, what does it cost per day?
Here’s the math:
- The wee ones: Naturally, feeding a tiny dog is the least expensive. Feeding a 6 lb dog a homemade food made with chicken or beef, cost between 56 cents and 81 cents per day, respectively. Feeding the same little fella a commercial dry food cost between (wait for it)……12 and 20 cents per day. (In other words, pretty much nuthin). Feeding a commercial canned (wet) food, on the other hand, was the MOST expensive (surprise!) at almost 2 dollars per day.
- Mid-size eaters: Feeding dogs who weigh between 30 and 60 lbs is a bit more costly. If you are feeding homemade (chicken), your cost per day would range between ~ two and three dollars per day. Feeding a dry food? Much less expensive – 50 cents to a dollar a day. Wet food again comes in the highest at 6 to 11 dollars per day.
- The big guys: Last, feeding a homemade food to a dog who weighs 100 lbs or more will cost between four and seven dollars a day. Commercial dry – a buck to a buck fifty and canned, up to 15 dollars per day.
On my Soapbox: The commercial pet food industry frequently informs pet owners that they should not feed a homemade diet to their dog because (they argue) most, if not all, recipes are not well balanced and so, over time, could prove nutritionally harmful to dogs.
This is a bunch of hogwash.
There are multiple sources for balanced and healthy homemade foods for dogs. These include recipes that are formulated and sold by qualified pet nutritionists as well as recipes provided via pet diet software programs available for home use. Homemade diets can be well-formulated and healthy, provided proper care is taken in recipe selection, ingredient choice, and food preparation.
Other benefits? We are also told that commercial pet foods are more convenient and less expensive than feeding a homemade diet. No argument on the first point regarding convenience. However, the data in this study cleary show that:
(1) Not all commercial products are less expensive than feeding homemade, and
(2) Feeding a well-formulated, complete and balanced homemade food to dogs is still pretty darn cheap – between 50 cents and ~ 7 bucks a day, depending on the size of the dog.
So, what would I pay, using these study estimates? My husband and I currently share our lives with two Goldens (Ally and Cooper) and a Toller (Stanley Short Pants). Collectively, this adds to about 145 lbs of dog.
Using the estimates provided by this study, we would expect to spend about 7 to 10 dollars a day (TOTAL) to feed all three dogs a homemade food that uses either chicken or beef as its primary protein source. Conversely, if we fed the most expensive category of extruded dry food (i.e. “super premium”), we would be spending only about two to two and a half dollars a day to feed our dogs.
To put it in perspective; I spend more than 7 bucks during a single trip to Starbucks for a coffee and pastry. Personally, paying up to 10 dollars a day to feed my three dogs, does not seem excessive.
The reality? Mike and I spend around the higher level of the study’s estimate (~ 10 dollars a day). This may be due to the fact that, rather than homemade, we select from and rotate a number of fresh, cooked and dehydrated forms of human grade, commercially prepared foods. So we are paying for both human grade ingredients (like a homemade diet) and for the convenience of someone else doing the cooking for us as well as the costs of packaging and shipping.
What do you feed and how much to you pay? So, Science Dog readers, what about you? What does it cost you to feed your dog(s) each day? What are you willing to pay and what do you think is a reasonable amount of money to pay for our best friends’ food (and nutritional health)?
Post your thoughts and contribute to the discussion!
- Vendramini THA, Pedrinelli V, Macedo T, et al. Homemade versus extruded and wet commercial diets for dogs: Cost comparison. PLOs ONE 2020: 15(7) e0236672.
- Casna BR, ShepherdML, Delaney SJ. Cost comparison of homemade versus commercial adult maintenance canine diets. Apstract. In: 17th Annual AAVN Clinical Nutrition and Research Abstract Symposium Proceedings, 2017.