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
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…