My 10 year old Labrador was diagnosed with Lymphoma last February. After I got over my heartbreak, I decided that I would do anything I could to improve her health. One of the first changes I looked into was her food. We had been feeding her Nutro Natural Choice, and thought this was a great food for her (and our other two dogs). And, to be fair, its not a BAD choice - but it certainly isn't fresh food. I started looking into homemade dog food. At first all the recipes I read were really daunting - with ingredient lists about a page long. But then, after reading 20 or so recipes I realized that it was incredibly variable and you can change your ingredients every batch. Thus, by varying the diet (just like with humans) if you miss a particular nutrient, you make up for it at the next meal.
The formula is really simple. You just need some sort of animal protein - meat, fish or poultry. A carbohydrate - rice, oatmeal, potato. A vegetable - collards, kale, peas, beans, pumpkin, etc. Just avoid certain foods - tomatoes, onions, grapes, raisins - and as long as you respect that, you virtually can't go wrong. And dogs are probably the most enthusiastic eaters you will ever cook for. How gratifying is THAT when pouring hours in to what-to-make-for-your-toddler-who-won't-eat-anything. You can make a mackerel, chicken scrap, leftover oatmeal, overcooked green bean and burned rice stew for your dog and he will LOVE you for it. Love, love, love.
SO, I started getting meat ends and scraps from our local butcher - he usually doesn't charge me anything. Shoprite sells huge bags of frozen turnip greens for a low price. Sometimes I throw in eggs from our chickens. Sometimes I pulverize dried eggshells for added calcium. I also throw in scraps from whole roasted chickens, turkey, etc. Most grocery stores sell chicken gizzards, liver and marrow bones pretty cheaply. I stock up on canned or frozen fish when it is on sale. I feed them raw carrots instead of rawhides. All these foods are cheaper at the grocery store than the pet store (esp. the marrow bones!!).
Dog food manufacturers get you by saying that you have to feed dogs THEIR food b/c they have carefully balanced all the nutrients dogs need for a healthy diet. As if dogs all starved and died before Purina started making dog food. As "mans best friend" dogs have shared their owners food or fended for themselves for centuries.
Since changing our dogs diets, I saw huge improvements. My overweight pitbull mix starting losing weight, and got a noticeable sheen to her coat. She had more energy and seemed more playful. My Labrador, despite having a frighteningly low white blood cell count for months, showed no symptoms and played like usual for quite a while. While she did succumb to the cancer later in the year, I feel that her last months were more enjoyable for her because she ate so much fresh, custom prepared food. She dove into every meal with so much more excitement than anything I ever poured out of a bag.
I have not sat down and done a cost analysis on how much money I've saved since switching foods. But, I can tell you that it is at least equivalent if not cheaper. It is also more convenient. I do my dogs food shopping along with the rest of my families. I have not been to a pet store in almost a year.
I hope this helps!