Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they get their nutrition from meat and cannot easily digest plant-based foods. This concept has driven a recent trend toward partially or fully raw food diets for cats. Since frozen and freeze-dried food retains raw food's nutrients—including vitamins and minerals that can be reduced during cooking—it is often presumed that raw food diets are a healthier option for pets. It is claimed that raw food diets can prevent obesity, keep teeth cleaner, and coats shinier. So far, the scientific evidence doesn't back these claims. Instead, the best evidence suggests that raw food diets likely have more downsides than advantages.
“Raw diets can cause salmonella or other bacterial infections if left out. This can cause you or your cat to develop gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or vomiting,” explains Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM, of Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Texas and veterinary consultant for SeniorTailWaggers.com. “Many common bacteria that grow on these foods can cause gastroenteritis in your pet. Some of these bacteria are resistant to many of the common antibiotics that your vet prescribes for gastroenteritis. This can lead to your pet having chronic diarrhea or even an antibiotic-resistant infection.”
There's also a risk of cross-contamination, which means that handling raw cat food can potentially infect your kitchen surfaces or your food. Frozen and freeze-dried raw food options reduces these risks somewhat, but anyone considering a raw food diet for their cat should be sure to wash their hands thoroughly (or wear gloves when handling their cat's food) and carefully follow all instructions. It's also crucial to consult your veterinarian before altering your cat's diet.
But we have done the research for anyone still interested in trying a raw food diet with their cats, searching for the frozen and freeze-dried options that provide complete nutrition and quality ingredients sourcing. Each of our recommendations conforms with nutritional standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Our favorite frozen or freeze-dried cat food is Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels, which supplements a 98 percent meat, organ, and bone blend with probiotics and essential nutrients. It's available in both frozen and freeze-dried formulations, allowing you to work out which raw food approach will work best for your cat's feeding routine.
However, we have several other cat food recommendations that may work better for you and your pet. Here are the best frozen and freeze-dried raw cat foods.
Stella & Chewy's Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels
Protein sources are cage-free
Includes probiotics for healthy digestive tract
Frozen version is harder to find than freeze-dried options
To earn the best overall spot on our list a raw cat food must be nutritionally balanced, reasonably affordable, and of high quality. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels are all that and more. Because the food is frozen, it contains all the nutrients your cat needs very close to their original form when the food was fresh.
Each of the four frozen flavors available is made up of 98 percent meat, organs, and bones. The remaining 2 percent are healthy ingredients like probiotics, vitamins, and minerals like the cat essential nutrient taurine and other healthy foods you recognize like pumpkin seeds and olive oil.
Frozen food is also moisture-rich. That’s important because cats generally don’t drink a lot of water. In the wild, they get most of their hydration from the food they eat. A moisture-rich food helps your cat avoid chronic dehydration that can lead to kidney and urinary problems later in life.
Stella & Chewy’s is a woman-owned business that has been offering quality raw foods since 2003. Pet parents like that the food—which is prepared in Oak Creek, Wisconsin—is minimally processed, thaws quickly, and contains no added hormones or antibiotics.
Stella & Chewy’s also offers a line of Freeze-Dried Dinner Morsels with the same healthy flavors. Many stores carry only the freeze-dried food line so call ahead or use the store locator when shopping for the frozen food line.
Flavors: Tummy Ticklin’ Turkey, Duck Duck Goose, Chick Chick Chicken, Absolutely Rabbit, Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken, Sea-Licious Salmon & Cod︱Crude Protein Minimum: 40-45% depending on flavor︱Crude Fat Minimum: 20-37% depending on flavor︱Crude Fiber Max: 5%
Vital Essentials Vital Cat Freeze-Dried Patties Cat Food
No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
No fillers or by-products
Meat is farm raised and humanely harvested
Rabbit can cost more than other flavors
Thankfully, feeding your cat a raw diet doesn’t have to be hard on your wallet. Vital Essentials Vital Cat Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food costs about half as much as some other popular raw food brands. They’ve managed affordability without compromising on quality. It’s available in five flavors in both bite-sized nibs and larger dinner patties that have a range of fat and protein contents. That means you can choose the combination that best suits your cat’s unique needs.
Vital Essentials uses a 48-hour slow freeze-drying process to lock in nutrients while remaining free from added hormones, antibiotics, fillers, flavoring, and rendered by-products. This is considered a limited ingredient food because each flavor uses only one protein source. That’s a bonus for cats with food sensitivities and digestive problems.
Freeze-dried food can be fed as is (with plenty of water available nearby) or by rehydrating. Vital Essentials recommends letting the food sit for a few minutes after rehydrating before feeding.
Flavors: rabbit, beef & chicken, chicken, turkey, and duck︱Crude Protein Minimum: 38-60% depending on flavor︱Crude Fat Minimum: 17-40% depending on flavor︱Crude Fiber Max: 2-7% depending on flavor
Nulo FreeStyle Turkey & Duck Recipe Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food
Contains added probiotics for healthy digestion
98% animal-based ingredients
Suitable for all life stages
Only two flavors
Protein sources are mixed
While most raw foods are considered premium cat foods because they are nutrient-dense with fewer fillers and more high-quality ingredients, Nulo FreeStyle Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Foods are highly rated because of their quality recipes.
For example, the Turkey & Duck flavor is made of 98 percent turkey, duck, organs, and ground-in bone that helps balance phosphorus levels. They also add small amounts of a few superfoods like cranberries, spinach, salmon and coconut oils, ground flaxseed, and kelp for superior nutrition.
Nulo was founded in Austin, Texas by a former biomedical engineer and his dog when he noticed an increase in demand for insulin for obese and diabetic animals. He worked with animal nutritionists, veterinarians, and food formulators to develop healthy recipes that optimize pet health.
Flavors: Turkey & duck and chicken & salmon︱Crude Protein Minimum: 42-46% depending on flavor︱Crude Fat Minimum: 23-37% depending on flavor︱Crude Fiber Max: 2%
Only Natural Pet PowerToppers Superfood and Turkey Raw Inclusions
Made in Boulder, Colorado from globally sourced ingredients
Irradiated for additional hygiene safety
Only one flavor available
A topper or mixer is an excellent way to introduce raw foods into your cat’s diet, especially if you’ve never tried them before. They’re meant to be poured over or mixed in with your cat’s daily meal. Most of the raw foods in this list can also be used as toppers or mixers or as a full meal.
Only Natural Pet PowerToppers Superfood and Turkey Raw Inclusions for cats are designed specifically for use for “intermittent or supplemental feeding” or as treats rather than as a meal. This topper uses freeze-dried, 100 percent cage-free turkey chunks mixed with superfood bites that include sweet potatoes, goat milk, carrots, broccoli, kale, and blueberries.
Only Natural Pet is a Certified B Corp, which means they’ve met high standards for social, environmental, and governance practices, so you can feel good knowing your purchase is from a company that cares about quality at all levels of their business. You can also save 15 percent by signing up for automatic delivery.
Flavor: Superfood & Turkey︱Crude Protein Minimum: 43%︱Crude Fat Minimum: 21%︱Crude Fiber Max: 5%
Fat-Cat Fish Freeze-Dried Wild Salmon Snacks for Dogs and Cats
Wild, not farmed salmon
Caught in the USA
Costs a little more than some other freeze-dried salmon treats
Treats are the perfect way to introduce wholesome raw foods into your cat’s diet. My dogs and cats have been eating Fat-Cat Fish Freeze-Dried Wild Salmon Snacks for Dogs and Cats for a couple of years now. They love them and get very vocal and excited when the package comes out of the cupboard. That’s because this treat is made from just one ingredient—wild-caught salmon sourced from Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia and processed for human consumption.
Fat-Cat Fish treats are made by a small, family-owned pet food company based in Bellingham, Washington. Their family has over 75 years of experience in the fishing industry. They follow the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act to ensure their treats are safe and of the highest quality.
Fat-Cat Fish also gives back. Their Feeding the Hungry program donates human and pet food to U.S. Food Banks by shipping more than two million meals to food banks in the Western States where they do business. They also donated cash and pet food to animals shelters through The Humane Society of the United States and donated treats to Rescue Bank to help pet owners during natural disasters.
Flavor: wild salmon︱Crude Protein Minimum: 85%︱Crude Fat Minimum: 1%︱Crude Fiber Max: 1%
Best Subscription Delivery Service
Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Cat Food
Grain-free, no animal by-products or fillers
Ethically-sourced, pasture-raised, cage-free meats
No antibiotics, steroids and artificial hormones
A little more expensive than some non-subscription raw foods
If you feel too busy to shop or making it easier will help you follow through on raw food, consider a subscription delivery service. Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Cat Food is well rated and committed to using only ethically raised ingredients. Depending on the size and age of your cat, you can expect to spend around $20-$25 per week. Their food is made from minimally processed, human-quality meat and organic vegetables.
Darwin’s offers meat varieties similar to what a wild cat might eat in their chicken and turkey flavors. They also offer lamb for those cats with sensitivities to poultry.
Their website offers a pet food volume calculator and if you sign up, they offer a quiz you can take to develop a custom feeding plan specifically for your cats. Those new to raw food diets can also call in for a free consultation about their menu and how to transition your pet safely to a raw diet.
To get you started, they offer a large “new customer” discount on your first order when you sign up for automatic shipping. You choose the frequency and size of shipments and you can cancel or make changes at any time. They ship their foods to the 48 contiguous states.
Darwin’s also offers Intelligent Design Veterinary Formulas that require a prescription from a veterinarian. These are for cats with specific health issues such as kidney disease or food allergies.
Flavors: chicken, turkey︱Crude Protein Minimum: 16-18% depending on flavor︱Crude Fat Minimum: 7-14% depending on flavor︱Crude Fiber Max: 0.2 –1% depending on flavor
We like Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Raw Dinner Morsels because they’re moisture-rich and made of 98 percent cage-free meat with probiotics for healthy digestion. This woman-owned company manufactures its food in Wisconsin.
To make it easier on yourself, consider a subscription service like Darwin’s Natural Selections Raw Cat Food that’s ethically sourced and comes with free help to determine what combination of raw foods is optimal for your cat.
What to Look for in Frozen and Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Foods
As obligate carnivores, cats evolved to eat a fully raw diet and only had non-raw foods added to their diet since we’ve domesticated them. When choosing freeze-dried or frozen raw food, be sure to consider elements of safety, the form of the food, and complete nutrition.
Be thoughtful when transitioning your cat to a new food. Don’t buy a lot until you’re sure your cat will eat it. Take your time deciding if it’s the right fit. Because all foods differ in caloric content, follow the manufacturer’s directions on what quantity to feed your cat. Your cat may have issues with a new food’s palatability, mouthfeel, or protein source. Some early upsets go away after a day or two into the transition. If your first choice doesn’t fit, transition slowly to another. When you’ve found the right food, you’ll likely see a change in your cat’s behavior. A change in their health will appear in the soft glow of their fur, their spunk, and the lustrous sparkle in their eyes.
Because the food is raw, it has not been cooked to kill germs that can cause intestinal and other diseases and infections. When stored in a cool, dry place, freeze-dried food can last well because the moisture has been removed before packaging. Similarly, frozen food can last up to a year when freezing temperatures are properly maintained. But once the freeze-dried food is hydrated or the frozen food has thawed, like human food, it can sit out for only a short period of time before disease-causing bacteria and viruses can start to grow and thrive. So, unlike dry mainstream kibble, raw foods should not sit out for more than an hour at room temperature (or whatever period is recommended by the manufacturer on the packaging). Keep this in mind if your cat is more of a grazer, eating small amounts several times a day.
All manufacturers of these raw foods indicate on their websites and packaging their safe handling recommendations. Those usually include washing your hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water before and after handling raw pet food to prevent contamination and exposure to harmful microorganisms. They recommend you use stainless steel or glass containers and wash all utensils, counters and feeding dishes with hot, soapy water after each use or contact with raw meat and poultry products.
Consider avoiding any raw food brand that doesn’t mention their factory safety standards and note safe handling instructions on their packaging.
Form & Nutrition
Raw foods are commercially available as treats, toppers, nuggets, or patties and in either freeze-dried or frozen form. Freeze drying extracts moisture from the food so it comes in a lightweight, very dry form that is best to rehydrate before serving (although can be served dry). Most recommend rehydrating for at least a few minutes before serving.
“Make sure that the food contains all the nutrients that are needed for a cat and not just protein. Your cat will need proper levels of proteins, fats, amino acids such as taurine to help keep them healthy,” adds Dr. Ochoa. “Some frozen or freeze-dried foods are only to be used as meal toppers and not complete diets. If the diet does meet the standards put out by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) it will say so on the bag.”
Patties are often meant to be used as meals but can be broken into smaller pieces to be used as treats. Nuggets are easy to use as meals, toppers/mixers or treats. Be sure to read carefully the packaging for toppers and treats as most are not nutritionally balanced to be used as a sole food source, but rather to be used as a supplement to a core meal food.
Be sure that you’re feeding daily meals that offer complete balanced nutrition (confirmed on the packaging) with essential levels of vitamins and nutrients including the amino acid essential to cats, taurine.
It’s also important to feed your cat the correct volume of food each day to achieve those optimal nutritional levels. Always check the packaging or consult the manufacturer to choose a food volume that fits your cat’s size, age, and activity level. Also keep in mind that you’ll feed different volumes of food depending on whether its freeze-dried or frozen which will affect cost calculations.
Is raw food safe for kittens?
The immune system of kittens is less developed and therefore more fragile than older cats. Although they receive some natural immunity from their mothers while nursing, they are generally more susceptible to disease than adolescents and adult cats.
“It is best to stick to a kibble, canned or freeze-dried food for kittens,” notes Dr. Ochoa. “They tend to not eat all their food at one time. This can lead to bacteria growing on the raw food while its waiting to eaten.”
Should you refrigerate freeze-dried raw cat food?
“Once the bag is opened it is best to keep it in the fridge,” advises Dr. Ochoa. “You can store it in a closed container on the counter as long as it is kept in a cool dry place.” Always check the original packaging for storage recommendations specific to the food you purchased to ensure food safety and a longer shelf life.
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
This piece was written by Lorraine Wilde who has had at least two cat companions in her home for the past 35 years including some special needs kitties. Two of her cats lived happily and healthily into their early 20s. Her current feline companions have been challenged by digestive and urinary tract health issues. When researching these brands, Lorraine evaluated the type and quality of the ingredients, the company’s research and development of the food, and their business ethics.
Lorraine has only the highest of standards for what she feeds her pets. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis on toxicology. She is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed, and environmentally conscious choices to protect their pets and our planet.
Dr. Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM, is a veterinary consultant with SeniorTailWaggers.com and has more than nine years of veterinary experience treating small animals. She currently works as a lead veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital in Whitehouse, Texas.