Raw Feeding on a Budget
By Jonathan Self with additional tips and advice from Dr Charlotte Gray MA (hons) Vet MB MRCVS
You may have heard that a natural or raw food diet is more expensive than feeding, say, kibble or tinned food. This simply isn’t true! Of course, the cheapest kibble will cost you a lot less than the most expensive raw food. But if you compare the real cost of feeding a typical, highly processed dog food to feeding a healthy, raw food diet you’ll find they are very similar. It isn’t just the cost per kilogram of the food and the recommended feeding amount that must be taken into consideration. There is plenty of hard, irrefutable evidence that raw fed dogs are healthier and, therefore, need fewer visits to the vet. There is no point, after all, in saving money on your weekly grocery bill, if you end up spending it (and maybe more) on veterinary bills. At some future date I plan to write more about the hidden cost of not feeding raw, but in this article I just want to focus on how to raw feed on a budget.
Since I was born (1959, if you are curious) I have experienced no fewer than seven recessions. I can remember when the interest rate on my mortgage shot up to 17%, inflation hit 24% and more than one in ten adults was unemployed. In a nutshell, I am no stranger to the sort of economic downturn we are experiencing at the moment. At such times, many of us need to review our expenditure and look for savings – sometimes very substantial savings indeed.
One of the hardest areas when it comes to economising is that of food. What we eat gives us pleasure and provides us with comfort (much needed at the moment!). Perhaps more importantly, it determines how healthy we are and how we feel. Cutting back is even trickier if one is responsible for feeding others – whether they have two or four legs. Still, as my mother would have said (she was a great one for proverbs): ‘Needs must when the Devil drives’.
Some good news
Yet, the news is not all bad when it comes to raw feeding your dog on a budget. To begin with, there are lots of options. With a bit of ingenuity it is possible to save a very substantial amount of money by switching to DIY. Depending on where you source your ingredients you may be able to cut the cost by as much as 50%. If your dog is healthy and not prone to digestive issues then you can save money by feeding a combination of DIY ingredients (such as meaty bones and chicken wings), leftovers and a complete food (such as Honey’s). Whilst the ideal and most nutritious diet for a dog is raw meat, raw bone and raw vegetables and fruit, made using the highest quality ingredients, it also has to be said that most dogs are remarkably resilient. In the wild they eat prey and carrion. They are scavengers and frequently fast for days on end. Changing their diet, especially if it is only temporary, won’t necessarily have any effect on their health.
Two important points
This brings me to two really important points.
First, not all raw food diets are equal. It is important to avoid low cost raw ingredients or complete food made with low cost ingredients. Both can easily lead to health issues and deficiencies. The better the quality of ingredients, the higher the nutritional value. Also, don’t feed the same thing day after day. A healthy diet for a dog is a varied diet.
Second, even occasional healthy meals will bring real and tangible benefits for your dog. In other words, don’t stop feeding high quality raw food completely. Rather, feed it as often as you can afford to do so. The more you can manage, the better. It will make a huge difference over the long term.
A general word of advice
As mentioned above, there are some dogs with health issues where switching to a lower quality diet may result in a deterioration of their health. Clearly, in such circumstances one needs to proceed with caution and develop a sustainable approach. There is no point in saving money on dog food if you end up spending the same amount on vet fees and medication.
We are here to help
Before I offer some detailed suggestions as to how to save money, I want to emphasise that Honey’s is here to help. We can advise you on how to reduce the cost of feeding. We can offer advice on how to make your own raw food. We can offer nutritional advice. Our Healthcare Team is available, free of charge, as often as you need them – whether or not you order from us. I do hope you will take advantage of this service. You may also be surprised by the value we offer. We are a small, family owned business and we have taken the decision to hold our prices for as long as possible rather than trying to make a profit. I know that in the past Honey’s has had a reputation for being more expensive than other firms (and it is true that we use fresh, British, seasonally sourced free range, wild and organic meat) but nowadays we are somewhere in the middle when it comes to cost.
Honey’s top cost cutting tips
- Save by changing the recipes you serve and ordering less often. Use more of the less expensive recipes (such as chicken) and fewer of the more expensive recipes (such as game). Save on delivery by ordering higher quantities, less often or combine orders with other customers.
- Save by making your own food. How much you save will depend on what ingredients you can get. If you source from Honey’s, we would expect you to make savings of around 20%, maybe more. However, if you can find an abattoir, meat wholesaler or butcher to supply you the savings could be anything up to 50%. We are happy to advise you and have lots of information and fact sheets to assist you if you decide to go the DIY route.
- Save by feeding leftovers and table scraps. Dr Charlotte Gray, see below, says that it should make no difference to your dog’s health if up to 10% of the diet is leftovers and table scraps.
- Save with ‘boosters’. Eggs, tins of sardines, a spoon of live yoghurt… there are lots of inexpensive ingredients that will help boost your dog’s health. Again, we can provide a detailed list.
What about kibble?
I have spent the last fifteen years of my life researching and writing about the adverse health effects caused by kibble and other highly processed foods. I wouldn’t – couldn’t – recommend kibble or tinned food under any circumstances. But what if you have already made the decision (or been forced to make the decision) to feed your dog something other than a raw food diet? What, for example, if kibble is already and unavoidably on the menu? The answer is to combine it with as many raw food meals as you can manage using the highest possible quality of ingredients.
Top tips from Dr Charlotte Gray MA (hons) Vet MB MRCVS
Fresh and raw foods are tastier, provide a wider variety of nutrients in natural forms, and are often more digestible. Gut bacteria are altered by feeding of fresh foods, and for many pets a switch to a food with fewer ingredients and minimal processing has been a cornerstone of supporting medical conditions like allergies. But good, high quality raw and fresh foods can be expensive. If we can’t afford it right now, what should we do? Below I consider the various options.
Should I switch to cheaper raw ‘completes’?
I’d recommend extreme caution with this option. As a veterinarian working in canine nutrition, I wholeheartedly support the feeding of raw/fresh foods. However, some of the most severe nutritional disease cases I have seen in the past few years have been to do with feeding poorly formulated, cheap and hazardously sourced raw complete foods. Super-budget minced raw completes (often from eBay, farmgate or cheap online companies) are cheap for a reason. Most contain huge amounts of bone and fat leaving very little room for positive nutrition and putting dogs at real risk of deficiency. The meat may also contain antibiotics and other harmful chemicals. Remember, there is no such thing as bargain meat. If it is cheap it will be very poor quality. As you will have gathered, I am not keen on low-cost, complete raw food or on meat that has been factory farmed. There are other options for saving money whilst still sticking to raw foods if this is what you and your canine companion prefer.
The ‘topper’ option
For adult healthy dogs, feeding up to 10% of their weekly food in what I call ‘toppers’ is considered very safe in terms of nutritional balance. Toppers do not need to be complete and balanced and could be made up from a variety of ‘bits and bobs’. 10% equates to 3 meals per fortnight. I know it doesn’t sound a lot, but at risk of sounding like a supermarket advert – every penny counts right now. What can you use? Raw foods on the bargain shelves in the supermarket or butchers can be great. Look for lean mince (aim for 10% fat or less for most dogs) or joints, hearts, poultry wings or thighs. Veggies are also a great source of nutrients like magnesium and potassium and provide bonus fibre and antioxidants to support general health and gut biome. Avoid using large amounts of liver (20-30g per day for a 20kg dog is more than enough), and dodge high fat and processed foods since these are likely to cause upset tummy or contain ingredients that are hazardous to your dog. Avoid members of the onion family, raisins and grapes as these may be toxic to your dog. If you are introducing something new, make sure to start with small amounts to give your dog time to adjust.
A combination of quality raw and dry or wet food
For me, feeding a combination of high quality raw/fresh food and either canned or dry food is the least bad option where money is tight. Just make sure that any change happens gradually – your dog’s gut and enzymes may need time to adjust to the change of food. Also, that you feed them in separate meals. Incidentally, social media concerns about combination feeding and stomach pH causing bacterial risk are overstated. It is normal and natural for stomach pH to change during and after meals and this does not leave your dog any more vulnerable to unpleasant bacteria. Remember, the more high-quality raw/fresh food (including DIY ingredients) you can feed, the better. If you are feeding kibble, I can’t overly stress that there are real benefits to adding raw or fresh food toppers.
Are there situations where you should not switch foods?
If you have a dog with a medical condition or an allergy that requires a particular type of food, it is important that you do not change the diet without consulting your vet or nutritionist first. If you are feeding a puppy it would be better to wait, if you can, until they are fully grown. Even in these cases there may be some other options to reduce monthly costs. You may be able to combine a commercially formulated processed prescription food with raw/fresh ingredients and toppers. Home preparation might be an option, too.
What about table scraps and leftovers?
It’s often heard that we should not feed our dogs leftovers. I disagree – within reason. It is important to take care of what you do and don’t give from your plate – and it’s important not to overfeed your dog, of course – but there are many things you CAN feed to your dog that might otherwise end up in the bin. Stick to the same rules as the bargain shelf foods above – try not to use unbalanced foods for more than 10% of the overall diet (the equivalent of 3 meals every 2 weeks). Lean meats, eggs, veggies and well-cooked carbohydrates are all fine. Don’t forget to avoid anything that may have onions in it (including MOST human gravy powders!) and avoid foods cooked in vegetable oils (like roast potatoes!) as high fat snacks may cause upset stomachs.
Even a small amount of raw/fresh food is vitally important
It is still great to continue to feed some raw/fresh foods – even if it isn’t very much in total. They will still:
- Improve gut biome/gut bacteria – this is likely to happen even if it isn’t the whole diet.
- Be highly digestible.
- Provide mental stimulation and variety for dogs (an under-rated benefit in my opinion!).
- Provide beneficial and health promoting nutrients and antioxidants that are not accounted for in the basic nutrient guidelines used to formulate dry and tinned foods (like beta-carotene, lycopene and healthy omega 3 fatty acids).
Dr Charlotte Gray is a vet who specialises in canine and feline nutrition. She qualified from Cambridge University, where she also did a Master’s Degree in Zoology (honours). Dr Gray has helped us with our formulations and you can learn more about her here: https://www.companion-nutrition.co.uk