Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pet Food: Save Money (and your pet's health) by Preparing Your Own

For years our cats were accustomed to eating the rather expensive Nutro brand dry cat food. But after moving to a small town, we found it quite difficult to find dry food for our cats, period, let alone good food that doesn't contain animal meal, by-products, or tons of corn and other grain fillers that cats don't need in their diets.

Turns out the unavailability of cat food here has been a blessing in disguise.

First we gradually switched them from their regular dry food to canned tuna, but after some research found that an all-tuna diet, especially canned tuna prepared for human consumption, can be unhealthy for cats over time.1 Since the dry food we have access to isn't good for them and feeding them tuna all the time isn't either, we were back to the drawing board. After some more research we decided to switch our cats to a raw diet—well, partly raw. We now feed them either small chunks of raw chicken or boiled fish (boiled because still more research showed that raw fish may be unhealthy for cats2. The jury seems to be out on that claim, however, as many raw feeding advocates seem to think raw fish is just fine.3

The new diet has been a great decision for us and for the cats. They've been on their new diet for about three months now, and they're clearly thriving. Their coats are shinier, they have tons of energy, and Esmie's little dandruff problem has completely cleared up, all on its own. We now save on the exorbitant price of high-end (read: barely decent) cat food—our old dry cat food of choice costs around $14 for a 4-pound bag and contains a large amount of unnecessary grain filler.4 Best of all, the cats love their new meals so much more.

What We Buy, How We Buy
Our local fishmonger sells fish scraps for about $1.50 a kilo (68 cents a pound). Try asking for leftovers or scraps from your fish retailer or at the seafood section in your supermarket. They may not be as cheap as they are here in Costa Rica, but they'll be much cheaper than, for instance, fillets. Be aware, however, that very large fish such as tuna, salmon, tilefish, and king mackerel may contain high levels of mercury and other dangerous toxins since they are at the top of the fishy food chain.

Chicken gizzards and "cuts" also run cheap. Here, the gizzards (or "extras": liver, heart, and other organs) also go for about $1.5o a kilo (68 cents a pound), while the "cuts" (pieces of wings, legs, and thighs) are about $3 a kilo ($1.36 a pound). You should be able to find these for cheap at any butcher shop.

Our cats seem to prefer the chicken livers and hearts, but it's often worth it to me spend the extra $1.50 to avoid juggling those slippery organs. As for preparation, I cut off all the meat from the bones, separate the pile of meat into small meal-sized piles, and then package and freeze the meals individually. Upon butchering, I discard the bones or give the cats a large bone each as a snack (and as a reward for controlling themselves while I handle all that delicious raw meat in front of them). Each day we thaw a meal for breakfast and one for dinner. We never freeze or cook the bones; we've learned these can both cause them to splinter easily, which could create a choking hazard.5

For our cats, each kilo of chicken or fish meat yields roughly 10 meals, about 1/2 cup per meal. So if we feed the cats fish or chicken gizzards, we spend about 15 cents per meal, and if we feed them chicken cuts, we spend about 30 cents per meal. We rotate the three types of meat on a fairly regular basis, so the average price per meal is about 20 cents.

Compare that to the cost of our old Nutro brand kibble—about 60 cents per meal, according to their suggested serving size—and we're saving quite a bit of money: 40 (depending on the type of meat) per meal, which comes out to nearly $25 a month per cat. I don't know about you, but saving $50 a month with little hassle and added health benefits for them sounds pretty cool to me.

Questions or thoughts about feeding raw or savings money on pet food? Leave us a comment!

  1. According to, a website of veterinarians Drs. Foster and Smith, "large amounts [of canned tuna formulated for human consumption] can cause malnutrition, since it lacks proper levels of vitamins and minerals."
    An article on Australia's also cites human-grade canned tuna as a cause of yellow fat disease or steatitis.
  2. The same article from lists raw fish as dangerous for cats because it "can result in a thiamine (a B vitamin) deficiency leading to loss of appetite, seizures, and in severe cases, death. More common if raw fish is fed regularly." See also the article "Eight strikes against fishy feeding" at the Cat Nutrition Blog.
  3. See for instance's "Practical Guide." also considers fish to be "a good raw ingredient to incorporate into cat foods," but concedes that it "has certain draw backs."
  4. Nutro Natural Choice Complete Care Ingredient List
  5. See and

Additional References and Resources
  1. Excerpt from "Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food." Ann N. Martin. NewSage Press (1997). Website of Jeff Feinman, VMD.
  2. "The true horrors of pet food revealed: Prepare to be shocked by what goes into dog food and cat food." Jessica Smith.
  3. "What's Really for Dinner? The Truth About Commercial Pet Food" Tina Perry, Animal Protection Institute. Reprinted from The Animals' Agenda Nov/Dec 1996.
  4. "What’s Really in Pet Food" Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute. May 2007. An incredibly informative, thorough, and well-cited article.
  5. "Pet Food Regulation" Jean Hofve, DVM. The Whole Dog Journal and Little Big Cat.
  9. Yahoo Raw Feeding Group
  10. Yahoo Raw Fed Cat Group

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Storm, The Psychotic Housewife said...

We have found that serving fresh meats is saving us money in the long run over here too. I still have two cats that aren't fond of it, but my youngest two are in heaven! I do the fish raw though, at first I was very hesitant but we haven't had any problems.

MILMF said...
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