Feed the Family Dog for Less

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High angle view of a girl feeding her dog

Pet food manufacturers are embroiled in a dogfight. In May 2014, Nestle Purina, an alpha dog in the industry, filed a suit against fellow pet foodie, Blue Buffalo, claiming false advertising. At the crux of the lawsuit is the claim that all kibble is more or less created equal. Purina claims Blue Buffalo isn’t as “true blue” as the manufacturer promises and its food is essentially the same as any other bag of kibble found on the shelf: feed grade, highly processed extruded dry dog food that is preserved and put in bags.

Full disclosure: I feed my mini herd of three Bichons Blue Buffalo, but I admit that the thought of feeding my furries the equivalent of junk food makes me sick. Then again, so does the thought that I’m overspending on premium dog food.

To supplement their diets and ensure my dogs eat the best possible food, I fill their dishes with lots of people food in addition to their kibble. No, I don’t give them my leftover pizza crust or mashed potatoes. There’s no lasagna or mac and cheese going into their bowls. To sidestep the hefty price of all-natural, frozen and organic dog food while doing all I can to protect their health, I spend less time at the pet store and more time at my grocer picking up baby carrots, grape tomatoes, blueberries, pumpkin and other foods for our dogs.

In addition to perfecting my chopping and dicing techniques, feeding my dogs fresh, whole foods provides peace of mind that we know exactly what they are eating. The added bonus is we can make their food at home for about the same price as a bag of kibble.

Think you’re ready to whip up a paw-fect DIY doggie dinner? These tips will help you protect your budget and your pet’s health.

Talk to your vet.Veterinarians with a dog
Foods like grapes and raisins, chocolate, apple cores, raw eggs and others are dangerous to dogs. Avoid accidentally giving your pooch a case of food poisoning — or worse — and the expense of hefty vet bills by talking to your veterinarian about pup-approved people food before making any changes to your dog’s diet. Your vet can also suggest the best way to prepare people food for your pooch.

Use whole foods.Man in grocery store
Recent research at Cal Poly Pomona in California says feeding whole food diets to dogs improved markers of immune health after one year. To ensure your pup’s health and reduce the chance of paying vet bills, research suggests sticking to whole foods (those that haven’t been processed or altered), such as fresh ground beef, chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots, and steering clear of processed people foods such as pasta, bread and cereal, which can cause a variety of health issues for dogs.

Buy and cook in bulk.Woman cooking in suburban kitchen
Affordable pet food is all about volume. Making large amounts at a time is more economical when you buy proteins in bulk at warehouse clubs like Costco and BJ’s and store extras in the freezer.

“Buy your potatoes and starches in large 5- to 10-pound bags you store in a dry, cool, dark place until needed,” says Sayaka Nakamura, a veterinary assistant in Southern California.

Nakamura first bit into the DIY dog food concept because her dog, Bella, has inflammatory bowel disease. “I was advised to make a homemade diet using fish and sweet potatoes, and my dog has had excellent results. Bella also loves the food!”

Boil your furry’s food in large quantities so you only have to make the main ingredient once or twice a month, for added time savings. Cooking the veggies with the protein makes cleanup very easy to also saves time. Any food your dog won’t eat in one week can be frozen in week-sized portions to speed up feedings. I pre-chop zucchini, green, red or yellow peppers, carrots and other veggies at the beginning of the week and store them in plastic containers in the fridge. This saves time pulling out the cutting board and makes feeding a snap, especially when I’m pressed for time.

Shop around.Grocery vegetables
When Nakamura first bought the ingredients for her dog’s food, she spent about $45; most of that on proteins of cod and tilapia. However, by the time she made her second batch, she was able to get the cost down to $25, almost half, with a little shopping around. The cost of Pacific cod fillet is about $9 per pound in her area, but at a Trader Joe’s near her, Nakamura found wild caught cod pieces for $3.99 per pound. “That’s a huge savings for the same quality fish. And since the fillets are cut up anyway, the chunks are a bonus,” she says.

Ask for deals.Shopkeeper serving a customer
“I recommend asking the butcher for manager’s specials, which are meats they may have in large quantities that must be used that day or the next day but are otherwise of great quality,” she says. “Because the food will be cooked immediately and then frozen, these largely discounted meats are perfect for this use.”

Save yourself a step.Two Butchers Preparing Meat In Shop
“Most butchers will grind ingredients like liver, chicken, etc., at no additional charge,” says Laura Searle-Barnes, a veterinarian at Estrella Veterinary Hospital in San Clemente, California. That step whittles down the amount of time you spend in the kitchen and makes the ingredient more of a value.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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