The True Value of Raw Pet Food
There are many perceived barriers to transitioning to a raw food diet from a standard kibble diet, but the one that we hear most consistently is in regard to cost – at first glance, raw pet food is more expensive than comparable kibble diets. In this article, we will be discussing why this perception might not be as accurate as it looks – essentially, why investing in a species-appropriate diet can actually save you money long term.
Save Money and Save Your Pet’s Health Through a Raw Diet
First, to define the scope of our claims, it is important to note that the cost of kibbles is immensely variable depending on the brand. For this article, when we talk about “kibble” we are talking about brands that you would see at a specialty pet store, not the 40 cents per pound behemoth brands common to mass grocery stores. Those foods are manufactured exclusively as an outlet for corn industry waste (over 80% of common “big bag” dog food ingredients are derived from corn) and are not suitable to be compared to brands using real food ingredients.
Raw Pet Food – The True Cost
There are three important distinctions to be made when determining the true cost of pet food (or any animal’s food). To arrive at a truly accurate assessment of cost, each of these factors must be considered.
Cost by Weight
This is the most common metric for considering the cost of a food or commodity item, as it is the easiest to gauge and recognize. Chicken costs $1.50 per pound, shampoo costs 0.50 per oz, etc.
Almost every consumable we encounter is sold by weight, and therefore, that is our immediate factor in determining cost.
Cost per Serving
While certainly a less recognized metric, this is a vastly more relevant one than cost by weight. While two items may cost the same per pound, one may require significantly less use, meaning that the cost per serving is less.
Practically speaking, this is the most useful qualifier for determining the actual cost of an item, as it shows what the “bang for your buck” is – how much you actually get out of your dollar.
This is very complicated to measure accurately since it analyses the cost of an item over many years of use, and many costs are not associated with the item directly but rather with lifestyle changes or other purchases that result from its use. This could also be termed “vicarious costs”.
Cost of Feeding Raw Diets vs. Processed Dry Pet Food
Dog Food Serving Size
Determining the cost per pound of an item is very simple – just divide the cost by the weight, and you have your answer. Doing this across several popular specialty kibble brands gives us an average cost of $2.75 per pound, which is significantly lower than the $5.51 per pound average of BJ’s Raw Pet Food blends.
If this was the only quantifiable metric, then the clear price advantage would go to your specialty kibble companies – our raw food is double the cost per pound.
However, if we do a little bit more figuring, we can see the picture isn’t quite painted yet. To find the cost per serving, you need to determine the number of calories per oz and then the amount of calories per serving.
For the purposes of standardization, we are basing all of our numbers on an average active 50lb adult dog. Since every dog is an individual, please understand that these numbers are averages and estimates and may not reflect your exact experience.
Not All Calories are Equal
This is where it gets interesting. Much of the dietary literature over the past couple of decades approaches caloric consumption at the same angle, which is that “a calorie is a calorie”. More recent nutrition advice recognizes that various calories have more value than others do and that you can glean much more nutrition from certain calories than from others. the high-vegetable extruded processed dry food is 50 calories per oz and is, therefore, higher calories than our raw foods (averaging out at 44.8 calories per oz), they still require higher feeding amounts due to the bioavailability of the ingredients themselves and the forms that those ingredients are in. Due to the highly-available nature of our foods, they require a mere 673 calories per day – that’s 20% fewer calories per day – for a 50lb dog.
Poor Quality Caloric Food is Expensive
The same equation used above gives us an average daily cost of the feeding of $5.20, which is obviously still higher than the kibble cost but only by $1.76 – half the cost of a good cup of coffee. So far, we have established that our raw dog food costs less than one cup of coffee per day extra to feed a 50lb dog.
Obviously, this number is variable based on your own dog (and on the price of a good cup of coffee in your area), but the difference in cost between a specialty kibble and our raw dog’s diet is not as immense as it originally seemed.
Lifetime Cost of Low-Quality Dog Food
The final factor we need to determine is “lifetime cost” or “vicarious cost” – the cost of all the extra things resulting in the purchase and continued use of an item over an extended period of time. Again, since every pet is an individual, it is impossible to be completely accurate with this analysis.
That said, we can use national averages to determine the nutrition-related costs of the average dog – costs of medicines, surgeries, checkups, supplements, and other non-food factors that may stem from the long-term feeding of either kibbles or a raw balanced diet.
Each cost will be adjusted for the average lifespan, and we will use our standard activity 50lb dog as a baseline. First, we will look at common health problems typically associated with diet and at the average cost of treatment for each. Most dogs in the United States deal with at least one of these conditions in their lifetime, but many deals with a combination of several. We will rank them in order of common occurrence.
Our cost figures are procured from multiple veterinary offices across the country. As with all of our numbers, please keep in mind that they are widely variable depending on where you live and what kind of dog you have.
Periodontitis (gum disease)
By far the most common affliction for household pets, symptoms include pickiness, bad breath, red and swollen gums, and yellow or brown teeth. Common treatments often include a “deep clean,” which many vets recommend sedation for, with regular touch-ups on a weekly basis.
Treatment may also include oral antibiotics and specialized dental “chews.” In many cases, tooth removal is necessary – this can cost as much as $2,000 per tooth. The average cost of this disease treatment is $700 for the initial cleaning and $250 for the follow-up visits. Assuming one extracted tooth and the typical 3 months’ worth of continued treatment, gum disease can cost $3,700.
This disease is widely known to be caused by high carbohydrate diets and therefore is commonly attributed to kibble.
Over 80% of dogs will be diagnosed with arthritis by age 8, and shockingly, 20% by age 1, regardless of breed. This disease not only massively decreases the quality of life but can result in pickiness, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases related to a sedentary lifestyle.
Treatment costs an average of $1,000 per year – if the dog lives to be 13, which is the average lifespan of American dogs, then overall treatment can run a total of $5,000, not inclusive of any costs incurred as a result of the previously mentioned associated diseases.
Unfortunately, 1 in 4 dogs in the United States will die of cancer, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases in modern house pets. Treatment often includes an initial surgery to remove a tumor, which costs an average of $1,500. If cancer comes back, many vets recommend chemotherapy, which usually costs around $5,000. This is one of the more variable costs since there are so many types of cancer, and treatment can differ depending on what it is or how persistent it is. For the purposes of this article, we will give it an average cost of $6,500, which assumes one surgery and one round of chemo. This disease is also widely attributed to high carbohydrate diets, as well as certain carcinogens that occur in both animal and plant food processing.
Often resulting from continued wear and tear on the kidneys, typically by moisture-depleted or high toxin foods, pets don’t generally struggle with this disease until later in life – that said, 1 in 10 will eventually succumb. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease – if it is caught early, only a simple intervention is required, costing roughly $500 per month.
In more extreme cases, initial dialysis runs $3,000, with recurring monthly treatment costing $600. As chronic kidney disease is not curable, we will assume a six-month timeline after diagnosis, making the resulting cost $9,600.
Type II Diabetes
In simple terms, this disease is caused by an abundance of glucose, which causes the body to become resistant to its own insulin. Typical treatment requires insulin supplementation and can eventually lead to obesity, Alzheimer’s, heart failure, pancreatitis, fatty liver disease, and other more directly serious diseases.
Diabetes treatment costs an average of $80.00 per month and is usually diagnosed by age 6 – assuming no resulting complications and the average 13-year lifespan, total lifetime treatment would cost roughly $6,720. Unfortunately, most dogs would die from one of the previously mentioned illnesses well before age 13, typically only making it to 10 years old – this brings the cost down to $3,840.
Lifetimes Cost of Dry Food vs. Raw Food
Over the 13-year lifespan of the average dog, dog owners feeding a specialty diet can expect to spend around $16,322 on food – the resulting diseases often attributed to processed food diets can tack on an immense sum depending on which condition the dog contracts.
Taking the three most common (gum disease, arthritis, and cancer), the low estimated added cost is $15,200, assuming that none of these diseases result in additional ones, even though that is highly likely. It can be assumed then that the cost to feed kibble to a dog over its entire lifespan is usually higher than $31,522.
While feeding raw is not guaranteed protection against any of these diseases, it dramatically reduces their likelihood. For example, gum disease, listed as the most common disease by far among kibble-fed dogs, is almost unheard of in raw-fed dogs.
The same goes for Type II Diabetes and arthritis. While not unheard of, the occurrence of kidney disease and cancer are also dramatically reduced for raw-fed dogs. In fact, many pet parents start feeding raw as a result of one or more of these diseases.
Improving Your Pet’s Odds
As Billy Hoekman, the Vice President of Nutrition & Communication for Green Juju, who serves on our board of directors, says, “No company can say your dog will live to be 30 if you feed X, Y, or Z. What we can guarantee is that if you’re adding raw food products, you’re going to get better nutrition. It’s going to lead to a better life and, I think, increase the probability that your dog will live a longer life.”
That said, none of the above diseases can be linked directly to raw feeding – the fact that many pets are switched to a natural diet as a result of disease makes tracking the statistics nearly impossible, and the sample size of lifetime raw feeders is too small for statistically significant studies. In light of this, we will not be including any of the associated costs in our final analysis of raw food diet costs.
If a 50lb dog was to eat our raw food diets their whole life and live the average lifespan, it would cost $24,336 – that’s over $7,000 less than the expected lifetime cost of feeding kibble. Of course, the benefits of feeding raw food extend far beyond costs, as a generally improved quality of life can also be expected.
While it is completely impossible to accurately predict how much you will spend on your dog over its lifetime, we hope that this article has shown you that raw feeding is not quite as comparably expensive as is generally thought. One thing to always keep in mind is that owning a dog is not cheap.
Dogs are living creatures who depend on us for health and happiness. Pet parents are bound to spend money either in the short term on food or in the long term at the vet. We believe that species-appropriate nutrition gives pets the best chance at a happy life. What more could anyone ask for than that?
For more information, please reach out to us! We would love to connect and help you however we can.