52 weeks of saving: Trim dog food budget

Pets are not people, but you might not know that from pet food advertising. If it seems like it’s much easier to bust your budget feeding Buster nowadays, you’re right. Companies are lining up to take the money of pet owners with premium pet food aimed mostly at dogs.

According to the American Pet Products Association, dogs are king of the pets with 56.7 million households housing at least one dog versus 45.3 million households with cats. Americans spent $58.51 billion on their pets last year, the association reported.

That leaves a lot of room for saving. Each week, one of Bankrate’s personal finance reporters is reporting on a new way to save and chronicling the savings journey. This week, I made my own organic dog food to see how much I could save and to share my experience with you. See what happened.

Why is my dog food budget so high?

Why is my dog food budget so high?

There is a wide variety of food options for Fido, and they all come with a price. Pet food sales are estimated to reach $33 billion by 2018, Packaged Facts reports. In 2014, premium pet foods accounted for 42 percent of pet food sales, regular pet food made up 30 percent, value pet food made up 12 percent and treats filled in the rest.

In a 2013 press release, David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts said, “As mass-market pet food sales stagnate, the action is in premium and superpremium foods, where growth has reached double digits in some segments.”

There are myriad reasons for the growth, but consumers’ willingness to pay premium prices for food may be linked to a number of recalls in pet food in recent years.

In 2007, there was a massive recall of dog food as one manufacturer, Menu Foods, sourced part of its ingredients from China in order to save money. Those ingredients were tainted with an industrial compound called “melamine.” Unfortunately, dogs and cats died from eating the food.

“Back in 2007, (the pet food industry) had the big recall from China. It affected 150 (brands). It was monstrous,” says Kim Brammer, co-owner of Animal House of Distinction in Jupiter, Florida. Her company focuses mainly on raw food diets for dogs and cats.

But that’s not the end of it. Food intended for pets and livestock is subject to less stringent quality standards than that of human-grade food.

“There are many, many, many recalls in this industry that you never hear about. Every other month, someone is getting nailed for aflatoxins in their food,” Brammer says.

That’s one reason for the upsurge in premium foods. But what can the cynical consumer do to cut costs while still buying quality food?

Can you get fresh food for less?

Is there a cheaper way to feed fresh foods?

There may be ways to feed your dog a fresh, healthy diet for less. Mary Straus, a contributor to Whole Dog Journal and owner of DogAware.com, says that dog owners interested in a healthy diet for their dogs can feed them fresh foods inexpensively.

“You can improve the quality of any diet by adding some fresh foods, which needn’t cost much,” she says.

“I suggest adding some fresh foods to the diet, no matter what you feed, including eggs and lean meat, canned fish with bones, jack mackerel, pink salmon and sardines packed in water, dairy — including yogurt or cottage cheese — and healthy leftovers,” Straus says.

“Healthy leftovers” are foods you would eat yourself, not fatty scraps, she notes. “These can be used to improve the quality of whatever diet you feed.”

Brammer recommends using a combination of raw, meaty bones and prepackaged raw foods if there are no farms nearby to order food in bulk or purchase leftover scraps.

I tried it

I tried it

In my house, it costs about $224 every month and a half to feed three small- to medium-sized dogs. That works out to about $1,790 per year. The usual diet comprises premade raw mixes and tripe.

And high-end kibble can run about $70 for a 24-pound bag.

“Seventy dollars is normal price nowadays; that’s like $2.80 a pound. Your chicken necks are $1.35 per pound, and the chicken and turkey blends work out to about $2.55 per pound,” says Brammer.

To bring my annual dog budget down a little, I resolved to substitute chicken necks for breakfast every other day and feed a meal of hearts, tripe and eggs or yogurt and a touch of liver for dinner that day.

My experiment was complicated slightly by the fact that the larger dog balked at eating chicken necks. She enjoyed them more with the application of warm chicken stock. First-world problems, right?

So far so good: The usual fare costs about $5 a day. I expect that the additional foods will cost $3 to $3.50 per day. Hopefully over time, the average will work out to around $4 for all three dogs — a savings of nearly $300 per year.