It is rather an oxymoron to put these words together, but in this month”s newsletter we will explore how to pinch pennies and still feed our dogs a nutritious diet. This question came up recently on my K9Nutrition list and seems to be a question many folks have at this time.
For saving money on cooked or raw diets, I look at the following criteria:
- Bargain Hunting
- Learning how to “do it yourself”
For the best buys for preparing home cooked or raw meals, volume is often the key. Generally the more you buy, the better the price. Of course, this also means having storage space, such as a freezer. While the initial price of a freezer may seem daunting, it will pay for itself over time. While a used freezer may seem like a bargain, a new unit can usually be purchased fairly reasonably during sale season. Having good freezer space means you can buy in volume, which brings us to the next criteria.
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Buying in volume often means a better price. And it can mean being able to stock up on food items when they are on sale and during seasonal price reductions. For instance, I buy large quantities of pork during the summer and early fall, when the prices can be lower. And turkey necks are often less expensive during the holiday season. And when chicken leg quarters go on sale, it is nice to be able to stock up knowing I have plenty of freezer space.
Meat can keep a long time if packaged and frozen properly. I buy freezer zip lock bags on sale, and these are invaluable for long term storage. Home cooked meals can be made up in large quantities and frozen in reusable Tupperware or zip lock freezer bags. These can be easily marked for identification and date of packaging.
If you have friends who also feed raw or home cook, it can be advantageous to buy meat in large quantities in groups, to get a better price. Some cities offer “food co-ops” for just this reason, so be sure to check your area for such groups.
Buying meat in 30 or 40 pound boxes is usually the most cost effective. It doesn”t matter if the meat is frozen, as these can be thawed, repackaged and refrozen with no problem. I use large rubber tubs or large ice chests to place and thaw the meat. This generally takes a day or two and is less messy than using the bathtub (yes, I have done this in past, but I don”t advise it!). I thawed 90 lbs of meat last week which included turkey necks, chicken necks and pork ribs. I simply wait until they are loose enough to separate and package. I buy these in case lots from a local raw food outlet (Bones2go in Houston, Texas) and if you don”t have such a place where you live, your local meat manager at your grocery can often order some of these items for you. Sometimes all you need to do is ask! Most meat departments are used to custom ordering for their customers. I have also shopped at ethnic supermarkets, such as Oriental or Hispanic stores to find certain types of meat not found at most main stream grocery stores.
Also, I always make an attempt to be nice to the meat manager. It usually pays off, as they will oftentimes call me if they are “long” on certain meat products or they let me know of a certain sale that is coming up.
“Do it yourself”
This topic can cover a variety of areas. For those feeding cooked diets, it means learning to prepare meals in large quantities to save time and money, but that still offer a wide assortment of foods. During my Bean”s last months in renal failure, he needed a special diet of low phosphorus foods. His condition caused him to have nausea, and I had to change his meal selection frequently as he wouldn”t eat the same thing twice in a row. I cooked up about eight different varieties (you wouldn”t need to do this for a healthy dog, probably more like 3 or 4) and I would package them into meal size portions and freeze them. The night before, I remove the selections for the next day to thaw. While it was time consuming to do this, it saved time in the long run as I made enough for two weeks at a time. Plus, I was using enough quantity to save money by buying the ingredients in bulk. Another time saver was to freeze the vegetables and then put them in a bowl to thaw. They simply turned to mush, and could be used “as is” without grinding or pulverizing.
For recipes on making home cooked diets, go here:
Raw diets are less expensive if you make them yourselves. Often we use premade in the beginning, until we gain more confidence. They are also more convenient. Large dogs do fine on whole raw meaty bones (leg quarters, chicken necks, pork neck bones, turkey necks, chicken wings and pork ribs to name a few). But dog owners with smaller breeds often prefer ground raw meaty bones. If this is the case, it may be time to look at investing in a meat grinder. And while I don”t have vegetables added in my recipes, you can add up to ¼ vegetables to a raw diet to help cut some costs. Vegetables that can be used include cabbage, zucchini, dark leafy greens, yellow squash, broccoli and cauliflower. *If* you need to add weight, and your dog doesn”t have any yeast problems, you can also use sweet potatoes and carrots.
Meat grinders can vary in price, according to size, capability and durability. The more expensive models are faster, and often have reverse speeds and a larger throat (chute) opening for volume. You can also grind vegetables in many of these. For folks looking to grind large bones and large amounts, you will need to go for a larger chute opening, larger plate (at least #8 to #12) and stainless steel for cleaning. Wattage power is also important for large volume use. I am going to list websites for some of the more popular models and I would advise studying these with consideration to the amount of use needed.
Some sites offering grinders include:
Cabelas (Food & Food Preparation Section)
For recipes on making raw diets, go here:
Another way to save some pennies is to make your own yogurt. It is an animal protein and is counted in the protein part of the meal. This is good for raw and home cooked diets. The recipe is:
Take one gallon of milk (preferably whole milk) and bring to a light boil. Put the milk in four quart containers (plastic or glass) and add about three tablespoons of readymade yogurt or add active cultures. Cover the containers and place on the stove or refrigerator and let sit for 24 to 48 hours and the yogurt will be ready to serve!
You can also use leftovers from your own dinners to add to your dog”s meal. This would include any meat or vegetables. Occasionally if I have found a good buy on a roast or large cut of meat and I make enough to have leftovers for my dogs.
This article is geared towards fresh food diets (home cooked and raw) but let me also address the issue of commercial diets. When it comes to commercial pet food, in either dry kibble or canned, I would not recommend skimping on quality to choose price over content. Ingredients are always important in commercial diets. This includes not only looking for brands that offer high quality animal proteins, but also the least amount of ingredients on the label. Avoid foods that contain fillers, such as beet pulp, peanut hulls and numerous grains. Rather than reduce quality, reduce the amount fed and replace with yogurt, canned fish, meat and eggs. You may add up to 50% of the diet in fresh foods to kibble. If adding fresh food to the diet isn”t an option, then switch protein sources every month or so. An example would be to feed a beef based diet one month, and then switch to lamb, and then chicken. Variety is important in any diet, and switching helps your dog to receive a good selection of amino acids and minerals that can vary from protein source to protein source. Limiting to one protein source (or food source, such as commercial dog food) can also lead to food allergies in some dogs. For tips on mixing fresh with kibble:
I hope everyone finds the tips in this newsletter useful. If anyone has any additional tips or suggestions, please email me with your ideas and I will include them in future newsletters. I know that most of the B-Naturals newsletter subscribers would enjoy hearing any suggestions on this topic.
Happy Thanksgiving! Be sure to give thanks to all your furry companions with a big kiss and hug!