How Feeding My Dogs Raw Meat Saves Money

Since my dogs – two 30-pound beagles – came home with me five years ago, they’ve had exactly three bowls of Kibble. I fed them those bowls on their first day with me, before they made the transition to the prey model raw diet they’ve enjoyed ever since.

A prey model raw diet is somewhat controversial – it’s based on the idea that dogs are descended from wolves, so you feed dogs as close to what they would eat in nature as possible.

That means a diet of all raw meat, including organs. As you might guess, buying meat can be expensive, especially when my small dogs eat a pound a day each. (Dogs are fed around 2 to 3 percent of their body weight.) However, there are plenty of ways to save on a raw diet – and plenty of ways a raw diet can save you money.

So here are my three best tips for saving money on a raw diet, which I’ve learned over five years of trial and error…

1. Visit your local deer processor

While it’s illegal to sell venison meat in most states, it’s not illegal to give it away. Many people donate deer that they don’t want, and most deer processors will allow you to take those deer home if you’re willing to pay a fee for processing the animal.

If you let the processor know you are interested – and interested in large deers only, so you can maximize your value – you can get a great price on a huge amount of meat. Even better, deer are naturally free-range, so you can rest assured you’re feeding your dog the type of meat a wolf really would eat, rather than meat from the grocery store that may have been fed hormones and processed food.

While getting a deer for the price of processing saved me some money, my best bargain from visiting the deer processor came when I asked him what he did with the scraps and the unwanted parts. The answer: He paid to haul them away.

When I asked if I could take some with me, he was eager to say yes. While the job was a bit gross (wear gloves!), I was able to take two giant rubbermaid totes with me of unwanted “deer parts,” including rib racks and necks that still had a considerable amount of meat on them.

For an entire winter, my dogs ate for free and tired themselves out in the process, working to strip the bones clean. I’ve never seen tails wag more and my pocket book was happy.

This idea isn’t a new one, and in fact a bill was sent to the South Carolina Senate proposing that the laws be amended to allow deer processors to sell unwanted parts for use as pet food.

2. Small or ethnic markets

RawFed.com recommends local butchers, meat purveyors, and ethnic markets as good sources of raw dog food. I’ve had great luck with these sources, as have many members in the Dogster raw food forum.

Most local markets, especially Asian markets, will sell foods you can’t find elsewhere – including chicken feet, whole ducks, pig or pork hearts, livers, and kidneys. Many of these foods are not only much cheaper than the meat you’ll find at grocery stores, but they’re also things you can’t find elsewhere – and they’re an essential part of feeding your dog what he would eat in nature.

When you frequent small local stores, you can also get to know the owners. They might sell you meat that’s near or past its expiration date at even deeper discounts. The butcher at my downtown market, for example, gave me a call when he accidentally ordered too many beef ribs. He sold me 50 pounds at 59 cents a pound. The owner of the small fish market next door also sells me freezer-burned salmon or mackerel for under $1 a pound.

3. Holiday sales

Almost all grocery stores put meat on sale over the holiday season. At Thanksgiving, for example, stores will generally sell turkeys for under $1 a pound and sometimes even give a turkey away for free when you earn a certain number of points or accrue a certain size bill. Every year, I take advantage of these holiday sales, and you can usually find two or three turkeys in my freezer come November.

The true savings of feeding raw

While all of these sources help save me money on feeding my dogs the healthiest diet I can, ultimately the real savings comes from the decrease in cost of veterinary care. Because my dogs clean their teeth on the bones that they eat, I don’t have to spend money on expensive teeth cleanings. They also suffer from fewer allergies and are healthier overall – which any dog owner knows is something you can’t put a price on.

For another perspective on feeding your dog, check out Should You Make Your Own Dog Food? And here are some other ideas for your pets…

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7AIQTRNJZKEOI2UGREYAXDIP6Q John

    I have to say I am highly disappointed to see a one-sided article. While raw food may help clean teeth, it is by no means a complete diet and feeding raw diet only is not always the safest – as it could potentially harbor toxins – after all it is raw, uncooked food.

    What one feeds his animals is his/her own choice, but they should have been made aware of the other side of the coin as well.

    If saving money is that much of a big deal (potentially at the risk of putting toxins in your pet) – here’s a sure way to save money – DON’T HAVE ANY PETS!!

    Same case may be made for having children too!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NXSCJHWXS7KEZ446DCNDRWSEQU Tina Maria

      The article plainly stated what the intentions were to the reader in the title.  If you are not in favor of feeding a raw diet then you probably should not have read the article.  I understand that you feel strongly about the “toxins” in raw meat, however, being that dogs are carnivors and also have the DNA of a wolf, their bodies have been scientifically proven to react the same way as a wolf in the wild to raw meat.  Humans have chosen to make dogs part of a human society and to also feed them as such, when in reality they are part of the wild and are after all dogs. 

  • Ellen Baker

    http://www.tufts.edu/vet/nutrition/faq/#5

    I’ve heard that raw diets prevent and or solve a lot of health problems in pets. Is this true?

    Despite anecdotal reports from pet owners and even some veterinarians, there is currently no evidence that raw diets offer any benefits over cooked diets. However, there is substantial evidence that these diets may be associated with dental fractures, bacterial and parasitic infections and other health concerns in pets. There is also potential risk to people, especially those that are immunocompromised such as young children, the elderly and patients with immune mediated diseases or cancer. Pets that eat contaminated raw diets have been demonstrated to shed viable pathologic organisms in their feces and it is likely that areas that they frequent are also contaminated. As numerous recalls and some pathogen surveys in the last few years have proven, all raw meat, regardless of source, should be considered to be contaminated until proven otherwise. For these reasons, the Delta Society has banned raw fed pets from participating in their pet therapy programs.In addition to food safety concerns, nearly all home-prepared raw diets and many commercially available raw diets are deficient in essential nutrients. It is also common for commercial raw diets to be very high in fat, which may not be tolerated by some animals.

  • E Brown

    I would never feed my dogs raw meat as it can carry parasites. My veterinarian said not to feed the dog raw food. My German shepherd has a once a day feeding (she’s 10 years old) of 1/2 can of Alpo with lamb and rice and dry food that is either chicken or beef by Kibbles and Bits. She prefers the smaller package sizes that run less than $5 (plus the packaging is lighter). My mother and I have had the conversation so many times where she tells me that if a dog is hungry enough, it will eat anything, so go for the cheap stuff. I totally disagree as my Ginger will let any bad tasting (to her) dry food sit in her bowl for a week, without touching it. I had to switch her diet and the food I was feeding her was more expensive and she refused to eat it. and since she tends to eat outside on the deck, I got tired of all the ants, flies and yellow jackets that were hovering over her food. Eww, disgusting!  Once in awhile, I will make a mixture of chicken, rice and vegetables for her to eat and she loves that!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NXSCJHWXS7KEZ446DCNDRWSEQU Tina Maria

      Like the article says, your dog licks her butt too, but that can’t be as icky as parasites.