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Best Raw Dog Food: Reviews, Benefits & Risks

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Last Updated: May 9, 2024 | 10 min read | Leave a Comment

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There are many choices when finding the best food for your dog. You must also consider your dog’s dietary needs, budget limitations, and other factors. No wonder owners find choosing the best diet for their dogs formidable. One of these choices is raw dog food, an increasingly popular option that more doggy owners are turning to.

Raw dog food is highly nutritional compared to some dry dog foods, and it has plenty of benefits for your dog, including higher energy levels, cleaner teeth, shinier coats, firmer stools, and more. But raw dog food is not suitable for every pup. Plus, not everyone, expert or owner, thinks raw food is the best option. We explore all this and more.

Here we explain what raw food is, why it is beneficial, who shouldn’t eat it, and how to choose the best raw dog food for you. We have also taken the difficulty out of your decision and have scoured the market for the best raw dog food options. So, let’s dig deeper into the world of raw dog food.

At A Glance: Our Favorite Raw Dog Food

Our Rating

Best Overall

BARF Frozen Raw Patties

Our Rating

Best Bone-Free

Instinct Frozen Raw Bites

Instinct Frozen Raw Bites
Our Rating

Best For Puppies

Cali Raw Dog Food

What Is Raw Dog Food?

Raw dog food mimics the natural diet that your dog’s ancestors, the wolf, would have eaten. Dogs in many cultures have long eaten raw food. It was introduced into the general market in 1993 by an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst. Nicknamed the BARF diet, it stands for Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

Raw dog food emphasizes raw meat, organs, whole or ground bones, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and sometimes dairy. It can be homemade or bought in-store or online. Many companies offer a subscription service that arrives straight to your door.

Dog with meat in mouth
Unlike most commercial dog foods, a raw diet is not highly processed, retaining most of the nutritional content.

Benefits Of Raw Dog Food

There are many benefits of raw dog food. These include:

  • Shinier coat
  • Healthier skin
  • Stronger immune system
  • Smaller, firmer, less smelly stools
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved dental health
  • Lower risk of allergies

Is Raw Dog Food Safe?

Although there are many benefits to raw dog food, some believe it also has drawbacks. Research conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has shown that raw dog food is more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli. Because of this, some nutritionists prefer to stick with kibble. Despite this small risk, many experts and vets think raw dog food is best for some dogs.

The FDA offers advice to prevent foodborne illnesses from raw dog food. Advice includes disinfecting the surfaces the food has come into contact with and washing your hands thoroughly. Handling raw food is no different from feeding your family a chicken. Following safety guidelines helps to keep you, your family, and your dog safe.

Sometimes, raw dog food also contains whole animal bones. Animal bones are full of nutrition and provide plenty of benefits. But bones cause a risk to dogs through choking, internal punctures, and broken teeth. However, most raw dog foods strive to grind the bones to prevent this health hazard.

Raw Food Vs. Freeze-Dried Raw Food

If frozen raw food is not the best choice for you, freeze-dried raw food is another raw option. Freeze-dried food is where it is frozen to an extremely low temperature until it is solid. Once frozen, the food is placed in a vacuum chamber, slowly raising the temperature to draw the remaining moisture out.

This process allows the food to retain most of its nutritional value, but not all, compared to raw food. However, it is more convenient than raw food, is arguably safer, and tends to be cheaper. Many brands offer both raw and freeze-dried making it easier for customers who travel frequently.

Ingredients To Look For

Nutrition from Duck
Duck is a nutrient-dense meat that fulfills many different nutritional needs.

Our beloved pups count on us to give them what they need, so choosing a high-quality diet is essential. All dog food should meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, so look for this AAFCO approval. It’s also crucial to look at the ingredients list to ensure that it includes the following components that all dogs require.

Protein

Protein is one of the most important aspects of a dog’s diet. It supplies energy, keeping the body strong and allowing it to build and maintain muscle mass. Protein is essential for your dog’s development and the health of their muscles, bones, nails, and skin. It also provides the essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals all dogs need. Plus, juicy meat adds moisture and flavor that all dogs crave.

The best protein source is high-quality meat, which should always be the first ingredient in any food. Whole meats such as chicken, beef, lamb, fish, and duck are common proteins in dog foods. Raw nutrition has the advantage that it does not include by-products that are controversial or any meat derivatives. Other ingredients provide protein, such as grains, but it offers a much lower protein content compared to meat.

Healthy Carbohydrates

Healthy carbohydrates are another essential aspect of doggy diets, as they provide glucose that supplies energy. Without glucose, the body will take away amino acids from elsewhere. Healthy carbs are the primary source of fiber that improves digestive health. Ingredients such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, peas, rice, barley, oats, and other grains provide healthy carbs.

Omega Fatty Acids

Although fats have a bad reputation, they are another vital aspect of your dog’s diet. Fats provide energy for daily life and the healthy development of puppies. Fatty acids also support skin, coat, joint, bone, brain, and eye health. Plus, fats improve the overall health of your dog. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are the most important. Look for high-quality ingredients such as fish, meats, oils, eggs, and flaxseeds to deliver these crucial fats.

Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables offer multiple benefits. Firstly they provide fiber which is essential for a healthy digestive system. Secondly, they are full of vitamins and minerals which boost your dog’s immune system to fight disease and infections. Raw food usually contains a variety of fruits and vegetables. Look for dog-safe fruits and vegetables like blueberries, bananas, broccoli, and pumpkin.

Vitamins & Minerals

Dogs need a variety of vitamins and minerals to support most of their bodily functions. Most of these vitamins and minerals are naturally found in the ingredients, particularly protein, fruits, and veg. Some diets have added vitamins and minerals to meet your dog’s nutritional needs.

  • Vitamin A bolsters the immune system and eye health
  • Vitamin B12 supports the nervous system and digestive health
  • Vitamin C and E are antioxidants that support overall health
  • Vitamin D helps your dog to use vitamins and minerals effectively
  • Vitamin K promotes healthy blood and prevents blood clots
  • Calcium and phosphorus are vital for bone health
  • Choline supports brain and liver function
  • Iron carries oxygen and supports most bodily functions
  • Zinc promotes healing and healthy immune and thyroid function

Glucosamine

Glucosamine is crucial for bone, joint, and cartilage development, and function. It is vital in the developmental stages and when movement becomes more complex later. It is present in meat, fish, eggs, and oils. The glucosamine content is usually higher in better-quality dog food. Glucosamine supplements are also an option but discuss this with your veterinarian.

Brand History

Picking a brand is also part of the raw dog food decision-making process. Not all dog brands are equal, and some are better than others. Doing your research is essential. Look at what the company stands for and what its ingredient ethos is. If sustainability is important to you, look at their methods and what they do to tackle environmental problems.

Learn about any recalls they have had, lawsuits, and rebranding. Reputable companies work with veterinarians and pet nutritionists to ensure top quality and safety. Plus, they usually have good reviews from other customers too.

Best Raw Dog Foods

Here are the best raw dog food options.

BARF Frozen Raw Patties

Instinct Frozen Raw Bites
  • Pioneer of raw dog food.
  • Offers multiple raw diet options.
  • Variety of formulas.
  • Includes organs and bones.
  • No preservatives.
  • Informative website.

BARF World is the original raw dog food company, making it a trusted brand. Their website is very informative and educates owners on the best proteins for all dogs. Including those with allergies, weight concerns, and digestive issues. This support ensures that all dogs have access to the best raw nutrition.

It is made in the USA with hormone-free meats. Meat options include turkey, fish, beef, chicken, and lamb. Organs are listed and bones are finely ground. Each formula is complete with fruits and veggies such as broccoli and apples, and other highly nutritious ingredients such as fish oil and dried kelp.

BARF offers raw dog food in multiple forms, including frozen patties, tubes (known as chubs), as well as freeze-dried nuggets. This means if you are traveling without access to a freezer, you can continue feeding your pooch BARF without much dietary change. Discount is available to customers who bulk buy.

We love that this is the original raw food brand offering a wide variety and a history of good results and happy hounds.

Instinct Frozen Raw Bites

  • No grain, corn, wheat, artificial colors, or preservatives.
  • 85% meat.
  • Bone free.
  • Non-GMO fruits and vegetables.
  • Includes organ meat.
  • Small bites are quick to thaw.
  • Made in the USA.

Instinct offers a wide variety of premium kibbles and other freeze-dried options. They also offer these two raw products in beef and chicken formulas. These raw, natural bites offer a high meat content of 85%. The products are packed with protein, non-GMO fruits, veggies, and other wholesome ingredients.

This is a grain-free product without any other fillers. Plus, it contains an array of essential vitamins and minerals to keep your pooch healthy and strong. The small bites also make it quick to thaw in just 15 minutes.

Although bones are an important ingredient in raw food offering lots of nutrients, it can be the sole reason why owners don’t feed their dogs raw. Given the concerns that bones pose a choking hazard, Instinct ensures that this is not a possibility. This is why this option has made it to our favorites list as it might open the raw-door for many dogs and their owners.

We love that this product contains no bones which is great for owners who are scared to feed their pup bones.

Cali Raw Raw Dog Food

Nature's Logic Raw Frozen Patties
  • No preservatives, fillers, grain, gluten, corn, wheat, or soy.
  • Includes bone and organ meat.
  • Made with USDA-certified meat and vegetables.
  • Made in the USA.
  • 5% discount with a regular subscription.

Cali Raw is a high-quality raw dog food subscription service. They offer 12-packs of their raw food, or you can start with just one bag if you want to try it out before putting in a big order. The ingredients are sourced in America and are made in USDA-inspected facilities ensuring top safety. Cali Raw also makes the products for puppies under 12 to 14 months more calorie-dense for their growing needs.

The subscription can be delivered every 1 to 12 weeks and can be paused or canceled anytime, offering flexibility. They also offer a build-your-own box for a tailored subscription option, which is excellent for dogs who like a variety of raw meat.

Cali Raw does not offer a freeze-dried option meaning customers are limited when traveling. However, they make up for it with tasty single-ingredient chews to offer as a treat. These treats also follow the raw ethos, such as beef tendons, beef liver, beef heart, beef jerky, and lamb lung.

We love that this raw food subscription service considers the different needs of growing puppies by offering puppy-specific food.

Nature’s Logic Raw Frozen Patties

Cali Raw Dog Food
  • Five meat options.
  • 100% natural ingredients with no synthetic vitamins and minerals.
  • Grain, gluten, corn, wheat, and soy free.
  • Eco-friendly choice.
  • Size variety for different-sized dogs.

Nature’s Logic offers frozen patties that are single-source protein, making it an ideal choice for dogs allergic to certain protein ingredients. It is also free from potatoes, peas, lentils, wheat, corn, rice, soy, potato, or chemically synthesized vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients. All of the ingredients are natural, as mother nature intended.

The patties come in various flavors for a wider choice, packed with nutrient-dense muscle and organ meat. Fruits and vegetables make up the rest of the ingredients which strengthen your dog’s immunity. Plus, the products come in different sizes too for different breed needs.

Nature’s Logic proudly states that they are the first pet food brand to join the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC). Most of their products are made with 100% renewable energy, and they also use certified plastic neutral bags. Making this an eco-friendly choice for your dog as well.

We love that this is the best choice for owners who want the best raw food for their dogs while being sustainable.

Reminder

Raw dog food is a tasty and healthy option for many dogs, but it isn’t suitable for every canine. Some dogs need a specific diet that doesn’t come in raw form. They might have certain medical conditions that require a prescribed diet. Because raw nutrition is usually higher in protein, it is not recommended for dogs with kidney or liver problems. It is also not suitable for dogs with immunosuppressive diseases.

As with any dietary change, the best practice is to speak to your vet before starting your dog on a raw diet. They can offer you tailored advice and answer any questions or fears you have.

It is also not the best option for every owner. Raw food is more expensive than dry food and unsuitable for all budgets. Regularly switching your dog’s diet is unhealthy, so you must be sure you can afford this type of diet in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Raw Dog Food Better Than Dry Dog Food?

Although raw dog food is more nutrient-dense than dry dog food, it is not necessarily better for your dog. It can be too rich for some. Plus, many owners find that planning and thawing frozen food requires organization and time, which not all owners have. In any case, you need to consider your dog’s dietary needs before making the switch and speaking with your vet.

When Can My Dog Eat Raw Food?

Raw food is also not recommended for puppies aged 12 weeks and under. This is because it doesn’t contain the components they need to develop healthily. Plus, their immune and digestive system isn’t developed enough to cope with the raw ingredients and potential bacteria. Always speak to your veterinarian when changing to raw ingredients.

How Do I Switch My Dog From Dry To Raw Food?

Like any change in doggy diet, you need to transition them slowly for a smooth switch. Otherwise, you risk stomach upset and putting your dog off raw food for life. Here is a suggested transitional plan:

  • Day 1: Feed 75% of the old food and mix 25% of the new food in each serving.
  • Day 2: Adjust the old food to 60% and mix 40% of the new food.
  • Day 3: Feed 50% of the old food, mixed with 50% of the new food.
  • Day 4: Feed 40% of the old food, mixed with 60% of the new food.
  • Day 5: Feed 25% of the old food, mixed with 75% of the new food.
  • Day 6: Feed 90-100% of the new food.

Can I Make My Own Raw Food?

You can make your own food using raw ingredients. However, many vets do not recommend this as most owners cannot ensure nutritionally balanced meals for their pets. Plus, most home kitchens are not safety tested, unlike most pet food facilities. In almost all cases, it is safer for you and Fido to buy raw food rather than make it yourself.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know what raw dog food is and its benefits, we hope we have clarified some basic myths for you. Sticking to any of the recommendations above is an excellent choice for your dog if raw food is the way forward for your family. Just be sure to speak with your vet for tailored advice.

Dog lying near its bowl full of fresh dog food looking at camera

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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