Which Is Cheaper Homemade or Commercial Dog Food?

Don't forget to add your time into the cost of making Buddy's meals.
Don't forget to add your time into the cost of making Buddy's meals. (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Balancing Buddy's diet with your pocketbook isn't cut and dried. Although you want to give him the healthiest diet possible, dog food can get pretty pricey, particularly with all the choices on the shelves. Whether commercial or homemade, ingredients make a big difference in overall cost.

Portions and Nutrition

Buying the cheapest food on the shelf isn't necessarily going to save you money. If your diet choice is based on the lowest price per meal for Buddy, you'll need to read the label and do some math. Ingredients can make a big difference; if the dog food tends to rely on grain fillers, then Buddy will need a larger portion to meet his daily nutritional requirements. Look for feeding instructions to provide information about portion sizes appropriate for your dog's weight.

Calculating Commercial Costs

When you find a food that meets Buddy's needs, a little math is necessary to figure out its true cost. If the food costs $12 for eight pounds, the per pound cost is $1.50 (cost divided by weight). If the serving portion is in cups, figure two cups of food per pound, which in this example is $.75 per cup. If feeding guidelines recommend Buddy needs one cup per day, it costs $.75 a day to feed him; if he needs 2 1/2 cups per day, the price increases to $1.88 per day. Canned food can be calculated similarly. If a case of 24 cans costs $20, the per can cost is approximately $.83; multiply the number of cans Buddy needs each day for his serving cost. If he'll eat three cans per day, it's about $2.50 per day to feed Buddy.

Calculating Homemade Costs

The ingredients in Buddy's homemade food make a big difference in the cost. Organic meats and vegetables can drive up the price, and pastas and grains can add volume to his meals and help keep costs lower. The kind of meat you choose will also make a difference. Determining the cost of homemade food is a matter of totaling the cost of all ingredients, including supplements, and dividing the number of portions you'll have after your work. For example, using average retail prices from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the basic ingredients of chicken breast, rice, eggs and broccoli for a serving of food for a 20 pound dog runs about $2.00 a serving. However, this doesn't account for supplements, such as bone meal powder and multi-vitamins.

Cheap Isn't Always Cheapest

There's no obvious winner in the race to be the cheapest food. There are many "cheap" options on the market, but they may be empty calories and require significantly larger portions than more expensive foods. The Dog Food Project did a cost comparison among a "grocery store brand", "popular pet store brand" and "high quality brand" and found that the annual cost of feeding a healthy 50 pound dog was cheapest with the high quality brand of food. Keep in mind if Buddy's diet isn't healthy, you may end up spending your savings at the vet.

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