We love our dogs, and we want to give them the very best — dog food and dog treats included. Pet owners spent an estimated $38 billion on pet food over the last 12 months (a number that has grown every year for the past decade). This year, feeding dogs raw dog food has consistently ranked as one of the biggest trends among dog owners.
You’ve probably already heard about the many potential health benefits that the best raw dog foods can offer to your pooch, but you may still find the dizzying array of options confusing. Plus, responsible dog owners are plagued with worries about raw feeding. What ingredients should you look for to ensure your dog isn’t missing any key nutrients? How can you ensure safety and sanitization when handling raw meats? How do you know if bacteria contamination is an issue?
Our pet advisors know how overwhelming it can be navigating the new raw pet food trend. So we did the research for you. We have identified key factors that every dog owner needs to consider when you’re thinking about giving your dog raw food.
We’ll explore all that in today’s guide to the best raw dog foods, and we’ll also share the six best raw dog food brands and products to try.
When you’re considering the switch from conventional dog food to raw feeding, you’ve likely thought about putting on your chef’s hat, channeling your inner Julia Child, and whipping up a homemade raw meal for your dog in your own kitchen.
However, veterinary experts warn that this often leads to severe nutritional imbalances. Your dog needs a carefully crafted array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to severe problems like heart health conditions.
Save yourself the time, the effort, and the worry by instead opting for commercially prepared raw meals and snacks for dogs.
Just because it’s commercially available doesn’t make it any less authentic, and you get the convenience of packaged dog food and the peace of mind that the food has been carefully crafted with your dog’s nutritional needs in mind.
The market for commercially prepared raw dog food continues to grow, and we’ve picked out the six best packaged raw dog food products currently available.
It looks like kibble, but it’s not your average dog food.
The first ingredient is real, whole salmon (bones removed), so your dog gets a rich dose of healthy omega-3 fats for immediate improvements in your dog’s skin and coat.
The rest of the protein comes from similarly exotic sources, such as whitefish and trout. It’s also completely grain-free to best mimic the ancestral diet of your pup. Instead, Merrick includes fresh vegetables and fruits like potatoes and blueberries.
If fish isn’t your dog’s first choice, the rest of the Merrick Backcountry dog food line features exotic protein options like game birds.
Flip some burgers for yourself, then do the same for your dog with these beef dinner patties. Each patty is made with grass-fed beef, organ meats, ground-up bones, and certified organic fruits and vegetables like squash and carrots.
The final result is 85% meat or bones. It’s then freeze-dried, so you can store it just like you would traditional food and toss a patty to your dog during mealtimes.
Homemade or store-bought? Get the best of both worlds with this raw dog food.
Each bag contains big chunks of freeze-dried raw beef, organs, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and more. There are no fillers added.
To serve your dog, simply scoop out the right portion (specific guidelines are on the label) and mix with water to create a big, delicious bowl of almost-homemade food for your pup. Also, don’t let the size of the bag fool you. The three pounds of freeze-dried ingredients expand to 18 pounds of whole raw food when you add water.
Many dogs have a sensitivity to chicken and other common meat ingredients. Rabbit can be helpful if your dog is one of them.
This complete and balanced diet is free of other common allergens, such as soy and gluten. Instead, you get rabbit (including rabbit bone and rabbit organs for that whole-body feeding experience), plus organic collard greens and other fruits and vegetables.
It might not be Thanksgiving, but your dog will be thanking you for this freeze-dried turkey-based dog food.
Real turkey is the first ingredient, and they also include turkey organ meat for added vitamins and minerals). For nutritional balance, your dog will also enjoy sweet potatoes, whole eggs, broccoli, and more.
Similar to other brands, you need to add water before serving.
This brand claims to be “the only complete line of pet food made with responsibly sourced ingredients.” For example, its salmon is certified sustainable, and the produce is all grown without chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.
Dogs who have lived off of traditional kibble will appreciate the combination of kibble and freeze-dried raw chunks of meat.
Nearly 40 percent of dog owners have switched their dogs from conventional foods to raw meals. And the numbers grow every day.
If you’re thinking about getting rid of your traditional dog food brand and jumping into the world of raw dog food, surveys of other dog owners reveal some of the most common motivations behind the switch:
Let’s dive a bit deeper into these motivations and the many benefits of feeding your dog a raw diet.
There’s no need to overcomplicate it: Raw food is exactly what it sounds like. But it isn’t just raw meat. All other ingredients in the dog food — whether that’s fish, grains, vegetables, fruit, or even bones and tendons — must also be raw in order for it to be classified as such.
You have two options when you want to switch your dog to raw food: you can make it yourself, or you can buy commercially prepared raw food.
An estimated 60 percent of dog owners say they serve their dogs a homemade meal every once in a while. However, exclusively feeding your dog a homemade raw diet can carry some drawbacks:
This is why many raw feeding enthusiasts opt to buy ready-made raw dog food from specialty dog food companies. It eliminates all the risks and disadvantages of preparing homemade dog food. It also helps you and your dog to experience the many benefits of feeding raw.
First, it takes all the nutritional guesswork out of the equation. You can rest easy knowing that the food was created by experts, overseen by scientific specialists, and tested to ensure your dog is getting all of the nutrients she needs to thrive.
Second, it saves you a considerable amount of time, effort, and money. You won’t need to invest in a meat grinder or fill a freezer full of organ meats. You also won’t have to stock a cupboard full of dried sea kelp and other common supplements incorporated in raw dog food.
Third, it makes it a breeze to store and serve your dog his raw food.
Homemade raw food requires freezing, thawing, and measuring, plus careful monitoring and sanitization. For example, if your dog doesn’t eat everything in one go, then you have to refrigerate the leftovers quickly to avoid bacteria risks.
Not so with ready-made raw dog food. Such products are often freeze-dried, which preserves all the nutritional benefits of 100% raw foods while making it just as easy to store and dish out as traditional kibble.
Freeze drying is the process where your dog’s food is exposed to very, very low-temperature dehydration and pressure. It helps to remove most of the moisture in the raw food, all without cooking the ingredients.
The resulting benefits include:
This is why freeze-dried raw dog food, such as Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Dry Dog Food, is so popular among raw food enthusiasts. It’s also the easiest way to transition your dog away from traditional kibble, since it looks and feels like what they’re already used to eating.
A study by Belgian researchers studied 500 dogs and found that raw feeding extended their lifespan by nearly three years. But being able to enjoy more years with your furry best friend is just the start. The health benefits of switching to raw food are many.
Whether you have a French Bulldog or a similar short-haired breed, or a long-haired breed like a Rough Collie, many dog owners say that the first change they notice in their pups when switching to raw was in their coat.
The high fat and protein content in most raw diets, paired with the improved absorption of said fats and protein, can help to boost your dog’s skin health and hair health. Plus, many raw foods include pulverized bones, which are a great source of collagen that promotes strong, healthy skin and fur.
We’ve all been there, striving to scrape soft, lumpy stools off the sidewalk while on a dog walk. Your dog’s feces is one of the first signs of dietary problems, as well as dietary improvements. Many people have noticed an immediate change in their dog’s poop when feeding raw dog food, with firmer, smaller poops commonly reported.
This is especially important if you have an older dog, but dogs of all ages can be afflicted with poor dental health. If it’s not corrected right away, it can leave you with an eye-watering vet bill: Dental cleaning and extractions can easily cost upwards of $2,000 to $3,000.
Because it hasn’t been processed, the rough, firm foods in a raw diet help to naturally clean your dog’s teeth and maintain better dental health for your pup.
Think about how you feel when you’ve eaten a heavily processed meal. You probably felt slow, lethargic, and bloated, and you may have also experienced fuzzy thinking and brain fog.
The same is true for your dog. A diet high in processed foods can leave your dog feeling lethargic. Common ingredients in traditional dog kibble include corn additives, sugars, and wheat. In fact, standard traditional dog kibble is often 60% or more processed grains and carbohydrates.
In contrast, a clean, raw diet nourishes your dog and supports a return to healthy, natural energy levels. Instead of being predominantly carbs, raw dog products are naturally higher in protein, supporting your dog’s metabolism and helping your pup to stay lean and strong.
We already mentioned the earlier study on enhanced lifespans in dogs who eat raw diets.
A raw diet may lead to better health overall because it:
There are thousands of different brands and products available to feed your pup, and a growing percentage of those options are high-quality freeze-dried raw dog food.
If you’re planning to make the switch, we recommend that you:
Your dog deserves the best. You also deserve as many years as possible with your best friend. Raw feeding may be the best way to accomplish both of those goals!