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.
19 thoughts on “What Price Is Right?”
Hi Linda, I feed my dog Willy a homemade recipe formulated by Cheryl Morris, Ph.D. –Evolve Animal Services. I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Morris for homemade consultations.
My cost is higher because all the ingredients I use are grass-fed, pastured, and organic, I buy them at the same grocery stores where I shop for myself.
Willy weighs 78 pounds
6 pounds. of grass-fed ground beef or organic ground turkey $42
12 ounces of chicken liver $4
24 ounces of organic veggies $10
3 ounces canned oysters $4
12 organic pasture eggs $7
a few supplements, a vitamin, cod liver oil about $3
$70 makes 9 meals for Willy, one meal is one pound = 800 calories
Willy eats 2 meals per day.
That is about $8 per meal = $16/day = $480/month
The cost could be lowered by not using all organic, and buying in bulk.
In the past I have fed Willy Ziwi Peak air-dried beef,
the cost of that would be $330/month = $11/day
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Hi Mark! Thanks for this – it is really helpful! I agree that Cheryl is a great resource for dog folks who wish to feed homemade and am so happy that you and Willy have found a recipe that works well for you! Thanks for sharing it and your experiences! Best, Linda
I do a homecooked food for mine. Prefer not to feed raw for a wide variety of reasons, but the primary one is that I have parents near 90 years of age, and do not want to risk their health by potentially contaminating the environment. We all know dogs slobber when they eat! I think I may actually come out ahead of the numbers you cite, partly because I belong to a meat cooperative, and we bulk buy (as a group) up to 5-6K lbs of food each time. That means I get ground turkey for approx a dollar a pound (as compared to $4+ a lb in the local grocery store), and beef for about 50-75% less per pound. The savings on vet visits is also considerable. Before I switched her to homemade, I had huge difficulty in avoiding the three main allergy-causing meats for her, even finding turkey kibble that had chicken fat as one of its components. She was so allergic to chicken that we were visiting the vet on a regular basis (ten vet visits in two months) to try to keep her anal glands from rupturing and then to clear up the infection. The vet didn’t think changing her diet would help, but it worked within just a few weeks. No more anal gland problems since then, so grateful about that. And grateful for avoiding surgery on her anal glands.
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Hi Kim, Thanks for this information about your experience. I completely agree with your decision regarding feeding raw and having vulnerable family members living with you. Are you using a recipe for your food? If so, would you mind sharing the source? I think the more that properly sourced, balanced recipes can be shared, the better for folks who wish to feed homemade safely! Thanks for whatever you are willing to share! Best, Linda
I used the ketopet’s sanctuary’s calculator for Rosy to calculate her food. Would be happy to share that formula with anyone who needs it, but as I understand it it is not a complete dietary recipe. They recommend buying ANSWERS which is a mix in and putting that with the raw food and raw vegetables, saying that it helps complete it better. I don’t know enough about ANSWERS to know if that is accurate, although I think they are AACVO (sp?) approved.
Background info: Rosy had surgery in July to remove an adenocarcinoma from just inside her vulva (spayed at 8 years of age, she’s now 12 years old), so I put her on a ketogenic diet for that reason. So far, so good! Since the ketogenic diet is not a balanced one, I made sure to supplement with a good canine multivitamin, collagen, calcium. I also added in several cancer fighting supplements recommended by people, one at least does have some science behind it. And I also found science based articles that backed up doing ketogenic diets to fight cancer, so that reassured me on that point as well. I have a friend whose dog had an operation for spinal cancer, whose prognosis was 3 months. She’s now in her 12th month after surgery, still playful, and still thriving. Dianne credits the ketogenic diet for that.
For the ketogenic diet, Rosy eats 155 grams of meat per day (turkey or other lean meat), and 185 grams of a leafy green vegetable or (my preference) cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussell sprouts, asparagus, but I also add in spinach, green beans, etc. She got a little skinny on this, so I had to bump her up to 400 grams of food per day, approximately half meat and half vegetable. My goal is to contract with a canine nutritionist to make sure that what I’m doing is the right thing, but right now, I don’t have the extra money (on SSA disability). I’m gauging her health by how she looks and acts, and she is healthy, bouncy, and acts like a much younger dog. Grateful every day that I have her.
I have home cooked for my animals for around 10 years. It started when my papillon made it very clear that she only liked kibble when it was absolutely fresh; once the bag had been open for a few days she was reluctant to eat it. I then started feeding a premium wet food which she loved, but when I did the arithmetic on the price per gram of meat I worked out that I could be feeding pheasant breast and and fillet steak and save money…
After considerable research I moved to home made. Typical cost was around £0.35/$0.45 per animal per day at current prices, using complete minced meat/bone/offal with fish, eggs and vegetables. More recently one cat developed early CKD – not unexpected at 16 years old, so I have adapted the cats’ recipe to be low phosphorus and I also buy a commercial renal food for her. And early this year my toy poodle was very ill with acute liver failure, probably caused by an infection, so she is now on a canned hepatic diet with extra chicken breast. In the throes of trying to get her to eat in the early stages of recovery she refused the commercial food, and would only eat home cooked – I consider it a great compliment that when I asked my vet to check the recipe I had concocted he said that while it looked fine to him he knew how much research I would have put into it, and I probably had a better idea than he did of her exact nutritional requirements and how to meet them! Ten months after I thought I was losing her she is happy, hungry, and cheerfully walking several miles a day. Rattling with pills and supplements, but I count every day a blessing.
One huge benefit of a home made diet is that you can adjust it for the needs of individual animals. My poodle always needed low fat; my papillon needs rather less bone than usually advised – she also cannot tolerate turkey. Both dogs would gain weight rapidly with anything more than minimal carbohydrates. The cats as they have got older need additional highly digestible protein. Cooking for them myself means I know exactly what they are eating (and can avoid turkey for example), and can add a few more green beans, skim off more fat, make treats that I know will not cause upset stomachs – and, of course, get that huge oxytocin buzz that comes from preparing delicious food for those I love!
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Thanks for your note regarding your experiences, Frances. Your estimate regarding cost is definitely on the low end of what we are hearing! (Of course, there is the size issue of small dogs!). Your point regarding the ability to modify to individual needs is a good one – and something that nutritionists who provide recipes often say as well. Best, Linda
I have been feeding my large dog homemade dog food for over 7 years now. It is cheaper than using the dry kibble Blue Buffalo… I make my mix with beans and beef or chicken, or fish or even pork which probably cuts down the cost and the bean protein works very well. I also add yams and carrots and broccoli and oats. My dog used to have a lot of diarrhea before I started making him homemade food. I still use the Blue Buffalo but instead of giving him 4-6 cups a day which they recommend I give him 2 cups. The homemade food is like a mixer. My husband and I have checked the cost and it is cheaper to do this half and half instead of just dry kibble. He is a good healthy weight at 75 pounds and is almost 9 years old. Everyone thinks he is still a puppy by the way he acts. When we got a second dog we continued on with this form of feeding. He has more health issues at 6 years of age.. arthritis in his elbows… I personally think because he was neutered at 8 weeks of age. I was able to wait until my bigger dog was 14 months before I had him neutered. Both are shelter rescues from opposite sides of the country.
Hi Linda, thank you for this article. While I’m prepared to pay a canine nutritionist for a recipe, I’m reluctant to if they aren’t able to give me an indication as to how much it’s going to cost to make their formula (which seems to be my biggest obstacle so far) – because if it works out to be too expensive, paying a canine nutritionist will be a poor investment. I’d therefore be very interested to know what the sources are that you refer to in this paragraph, ‘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.’ If the recipes are sold for a reasonable price, then I don’t mind taking the risk but I can’t afford to spend too much more in this area, having invested a lot of money already in online nutrition courses which haven’t really helped me (not your courses, I should add. I’m sure yours are very good!). Grateful for any leads you can give me for reasonably priced balanced recipes for a healthy adult dog that aren’t going to cost a fortune to make (i.e. within the approximate price brackets that you detail above). Thanks Linda!
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Hi Victoria, Thanks for your note. Your hesitation is perfectly understandable! Scroll down in the comments to my discussion with Brennen McKenzie. I include several recommendations for readers. I cannot speak to what each nutritionist charges or what it would cost to prepare their recipes, but I imagine they could give you at least a rough estimate if you contact them. The Pet Diet Designer link is for the software program that we recommend (and have also used ourselves) for folks who would like to formulate their own set of recipes. It is very reasonably priced and the site provides excellent support services for their users. Hope this is helpful to you and thanks for reading The Science Dog! Linda
Many thanks Linda. This is very helpful.
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I started preparing home cooked about 3 years ago when my senior dog developed heart disease and there was lot of news about mercury in commercial dog foods. I sourced lots of different recipes, cooked and ground egg shells for calcium, added raw meaty bones to their diet (I also had a younger dog that I wanted to never develop any health problems!). I rotate poultry and beef/pork recipes and have tweaked over the years. I also supplement w/ some vitamins, raw commercial food and canned food in marrow bones, frozen for treats. It is an expensive diet, but neither dog had any allergy issues and my dog with heart disease lived 4 years before succumbing and was “healthy and active” up until his last day! I guess what I’m trying to say is I will pay more for what I consider a healthy diet, but truly don’t feel home cooked was more expensive than what I otherwise would have paid. I wouldn’t have fed pure kibble so they would have been at the more expensive end of commercial feeding anyway. Thanks for this article
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Hi Betsy, Thanks for your note and for the information about what you are feeding! I agree that rotating foods (regardless of homemade or not) is a great way to go. It sounds like you are doing a fine job with your dogs’ food and their health. So nice to learn that your senior dog did so well. Best, Linda
I feed a high quality commercially prepared diet, formulated by a team of animal nutritionists (yes, I feed one of the big five! no…I am not disclosing brand because it changes depending on my dog’s needs, but generally I stay within those major dog food companies). It costs about $4 per day to feed two German Shepherds; about 150lbs of dog.
I concur with the poster above; most of my clients feeding homemade diets are not feeding healthy diets at all. I have seen more behaviour cases completely turned around by switching to a middle of the road kibble than I care to say. Yes…feeding homemade CAN be good. And it is often a disaster!
Hi “Mrsbehavior”, Thanks for the comment and information. (See my response to Brennen below). Best, Linda
My only quibble here is with the vehemence with which you reject the concerns about unbalanced homemade diets. While such diets absolutely can be nutritionally appropriate, the vast majority of the clients I see who feed homemade are not feeding balanced diets. Most simply make up a diet, often consisting mostly of meat and a few vegetables, and many rely on recipes that do not come from nutritionists or valid source. There is a huge amount of bad information out there, and pet owners often can’t distinguish reliable from unreliable sources, so I think feeding commercial diets is still a safer choice for most owners who aren’t willing to seek (and pay for) guidance from a real nutrition expert such as yourself or a boarded veterinary nutritionist.
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Hi Brennen, Nice to hear from you and thanks for your comment! You make a valid point regarding the use of imbalanced diets by some clients/owners who are feeding homemade. (Hence the “Bacon, Bacon, Bacon” photo and my preceding paragraph in this piece; you and I are not in disagreement on this point at all).
However, while recommending that owners who are feeding a poorly formulated homemade food switch their dog to a commercially prepared food is one option for them, I would argue that this is not the only option available. For example, if an owner is already dedicated to putting in the effort, time and money to prepare a homemade food, then another option is to recommend a source for complete and balanced recipes for them. (We actually recommend purchasing several recipes and rotating these (or purchasing a recipe designer; see below). Another option, if human grade (i.e. edible) ingredients are the reason that the owner wishes to feed homemade, is to purchase one of the (many) options of commercially prepared cooked fresh foods (though these are definitely quite pricey).
My point in this piece is that there is nothing inherently wrong with feeding homemade diets and that this recent study shows that these diets may not actually be as expensive as we once thought them to be. That’s all.
Again, thanks for writing (love your blog and your work). Below are a few resources for support and recipes that we recommend when asked.
Pet Diets.com: https://www.petdiets.com/
Balance IT: https://secure.balanceit.com/index.php#
Evolve Pet Services: http://www.evolveanimalservices.com/home.html
Pet Diet Designer: https://www.petdietdesigner.com/en/
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Absolutely agree, and I recommend several of these resources often as well.
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