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Thanks to mysterious and low-quality ingredients found in name-brand dog foods, dog owners are increasingly switching to a raw food diet for their dogs. Many owners who have moved their dogs to a raw food diets report shinier coats, increased muscle mass, and cleaner teeth.
But while surveyed dog owners report improvements in the health of their dog on raw food diets, scientific evidence of the diet's benefits are thin, while the risks are substantial. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against raw food diets entirely:
"The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans."
The American College of Veterinary Nutrition agrees, writing that "no published peer-reviewed studies exist to support claims made by raw diet advocates" and warning against the risks of nutritional deficits and contamination by bacteria or parasites.
In response, makers of raw dog food have crafted formulas designed to meet nutritional standards set for other types of dog foods. Many manufacturers are also working to secure customer trust through transparent ingredient sourcing and frozen or freeze-dried options meant to minimize the risk of contamination.
“The most important factor is whether or not the food is complete and balanced,” Scott Marshall of Raw Feeding 101 told The Spruce Pets. “On its packaging, it will state that it is complete and balanced, meets or exceeds The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards, and is suitable for all life stages (ALS). If it includes the first two items but not the third, then it is not suitable for puppies and should only be fed to adults.”
But even with careful research, dog owners should only switch to a raw food diet after consultation with their veterinarian.
Our favorite raw food is Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Raw Dinner Morsels, which is manufactured in the United States by a woman-owned business and is made from responsibly-raised, high-protein meats, organic fruits and veggies, and probiotics. You can see our other recommendations below.
Best Overall: Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Raw Dinner Morsels Dog Food
Protein sources are cage-free or pasture-raised
100 percent certified organic fruits and vegetables
Includes probiotics for healthy digestive tract
For puppies and adult dogs
Frozen is harder to find than freeze-dried
To earn the best overall spot on our list, a raw dog food must be nutritionally balanced, reasonably affordable, and use ethically-sourced, high-quality ingredients. Because the food is frozen, its ingredients can be delivered as fresh as possible.
Each of the five frozen flavors (we also offer a link to their freeze-dried variety) available is made up of greater than 95 percent meat, organs, and bones. The remaining 5 percent is made up of ingredients like pumpkin seeds, organic cranberries, spinach, broccoli, carrots, squash, and blueberries. A full complement of vitamins and minerals, plus probiotics, is also included in the formula.
Frozen food is also moisture-rich. That will save effort compared to rehydrating freeze-dried foods. A moisture-rich food can help your dog 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. Manufactured in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Stella & Chewy's uses grass-fed, cage-free, and other certified and transparently-sourced protein. Stella & Chewy's never uses protein sources containing added hormones or antibiotics.
Rather than heating food to eliminate contaminants, Stella & Chewy's uses "High-Pressure Processing," which subjects ingredients to a high enough water pressure to achieve a sterilizing effect similar to pasteurization.
They also offer a line of Freeze-Dried Dinner Morsels, dry food, treats, and toppers with the same healthy flavors. Many stores carry only the non-frozen products so call ahead or use the store locator when shopping for the frozen food line.
Best Budget: Instinct Frozen Raw Bites Grain-Free Cage-Free Chicken Recipe Dog Food
Made in the U.S. with globally sourced ingredients
Even the pickiest eaters often like it
Some customers prefer the patties to the bites
This high-protein food is made with 85 percent meat and organs (and bone for beef flavor), plus 15 percent non-GMO vitamins, minerals, fruits, and vegetables. Ingredients include apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash, while Instinct Frozen Raw Bites leaves out grains, corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors, and preservatives. The cold pressure processing helps prevent contamination while retaining raw meat status.
Instinct has been offering raw recipes for over 15 years made in their own kitchens in Lincoln, Nebraska, and following Safe Quality Food quality standards.
Best for Weight Control: Bones & Co. Raw Frozen Dog Food
Keto-approved for healthy weight control
Contains no antibiotics, added hormones or preservatives
Exceeds AAFCO’s nutritional standards for complete and balanced
Family-owned and operated
Limited in-person purchase opportunities
Another great brand recommended by Marshall, Bones & Co., offers its Raw Frozen Dog Food in both patties and miniature forms for smaller breed dogs. Both are made of 95 percent meat, bone, and organs, plus 5 percent organic vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. This formula is designed to adhere to a keto diet, which eliminates as many carbs as possible so that energy is burnt from fat instead.
Their ingredients are sourced from small family farms in the United States, using grass-fed and cage-free protein sources. Their team hand-packs its dog food formula in a human-grade kitchen located in Austin, Texas.
Bones & Co. patties and minis are sold in small, independent pet stores across the United States and are backed by a "keto guarantee," offering free food if your dog doesn't show improved metabolic markers, including blood sugar levels, after six weeks of use.
Best Freeze-Dried: Bixbi Rawbble Freeze-dried Dog Food
No corn, wheat or soy
More affordable than other freeze-dried options
Bottom of the bag is pretty dusty
These freeze-dried foods are made in small batches with USDA-certified animal proteins. About 98 percent of the recipe is comprised of muscle meat, organs, and bone. The remaining 2 percent contains oils, pumpkins, vitamins, and minerals, including herring oil, which is rich in fatty acids. Each flavor is considered a limited ingredient diet which makes the food ideal for dogs with stomach troubles due to food allergies or sensitivities.
Bixbi Rawbble Freeze-Dried Dog Food is available in a wide variety of flavors, including beef, chicken, salmon, duck, lamb, pork, and turkey.
Best for Puppies: BJ's Raw Pet Food Premium Puppy Blend
Made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Only available online
Puppies can start on a raw food diet around 8 to 12 weeks of age and can generally eat the same raw foods as adults, except that the ratios of certain foods are different to ensure their diet is nutritionally complete and balanced. Feeding puppies a DIY diet can feel overwhelming since their needs constantly change as they grow into adulthood.
Marshall likes this brand, including its Premium Puppy Mix. It includes chicken, chicken bone and organs, beef, tripe, spleen, liver, kidney, fine ground pork, and goat’s milk. Animals are grass-fed at local farms and are processed at BJ’s Raw Pet Food to ensure humane treatment. Cuts are frozen quickly to preserve nutrients. It’s a great food to encourage puppies to wean as well. Customers remark on how much their puppy loves the flavor of this blend.
They offer bulk discounts and 5 percent off when you subscribe to regular shipments.
Best for Senior Dogs: The Farmer’s Dog Fresh Dog Food
Made in USDA Certified kitchens
Formulas developed by dog nutritionists
No meals or preservatives
Must give your email and phone number to see much information
More expensive than many raw dog food options
The Farmer’s Dog is unique because it calculates a custom diet designed specifically for your senior dog’s age, existing and target weight, health, and breed. You fill out a very short questionnaire online, and then they package and ship two weeks’ worth of frozen, pre-portioned dog food. It’s relatively easy to make changes as your dog’s age and health evolve.
The food itself is prepared fresh. For senior dogs, it is lightly cooked (and so not completely raw) to make the proteins slightly more digestible while leaving the vitamins and nutrients intact.
The custom diet for my 48-pound, 6-year-old mutt, Ghillie, included three different foods. USDA-Certified turkey, beef and beef liver, and chicken and chicken liver blends. Each mix also included healthy, recognizable plant-based foods like chickpeas, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, sunflower seeds, and fish oils. The cost was just over $6 per day, even before the 50 percent discount on your first order.
This high-quality diet is packed with antioxidants and healthy fats that help prevent cognitive decline as dogs age. Omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA and EPA, improve brain function in dogs.
They’ve even thought about the environment. It comes in a recyclable cardboard box, and both the food storage container and insulation are biodegradable and compostable at home. Their food packs are made from non-toxic BPA-free plastics.
Best Dry: Only Natural Pet PowerFusion Dog Food
Made in Boulder, Colorado from globally sourced ingredients
Humanely raised pork
Irradiated for additional hygiene safety
Costs more than your usual kibble
If you’re not already using raw dog food and are hesitant to jump in with both feet, then dry raw blends might be for you, especially if your dog is already used to dry kibble. Several manufacturers have developed a dry kibble that includes freeze-dried (or less desirable dehydrated) raw food coatings or inclusions to offer pet parents the kibble they’re used to while also introducing the benefits of raw food for their dog.
In addition to the high-quality meat sources, it's made with foods your dog will love, like sunflower and herring oils, and superfoods that optimize the body’s functions, like flaxseed, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, and cranberries. It also has omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for a healthy heart and brain function, glucosamine and chondroitin for strong joints, and probiotics and enzymes that promote a robust digestive system.
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.
Stella and Chewy’s also offers a Raw Blend Kibble in chicken or beef made from baked kibble that is coated with freeze-dried raw food and mixed with freeze-dried raw inclusions. Castor & Pollux Pristine Grain-free Dog Food with Raw Bites is similarly designed.
Best Subscription Delivery Service: Darwin's Natural Selections Dog Food
Grain-free, no animal byproducts or fillers
Ethically sourced, free-range, pasture-raised or cage-free meats
No antibiotics, steroids, preservatives or artificial hormones
A little more expensive than some non-subscription raw foods
This delivery service made Marshall’s list of favorites. If you feel too busy to shop or if making it easier will help you follow through on raw food, consider a subscription delivery service. Darwin’s is well-rated and committed to using only ethically raised ingredients. Depending on the size and age of your dog, you can expect to spend around $20-$25 per week for a small dog breed. Their food is made from minimally processed, human-quality meat and organic vegetables.
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 dogs. 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 dogs with specific health issues such as kidney disease or food allergies.
Best Mixer/Topper: Vibrant K9 Grass Fed & Finished Freeze-Dried Dog and Cat Treats
Single ingredient products
Organ meats and offal available
Nutrition (protein, fat, etc.) information not available
A topper or mixer is an excellent way to introduce raw foods into your dog’s diet, especially if you’ve never tried them before. They’re meant to be poured over or mixed in with your dog’s daily meal. Mixers and toppers are designed specifically for use as “intermittent or supplemental feeding” or as treats rather than as a nutritionally complete and balanced meal. Most of the other raw foods in this list can also be used as toppers or mixers or as a full meal.
Also recommended by Marshall, this brand’s flavors vary over time, but each is freeze-dried unadulterated meat from ethically raised sources and made in California. These mixers are a great way to add the vitamins and nutrients in offal and organ meats and fish to DIY raw food diets prepared at home, which is essential in your companion’s diet.
Best Treats: Fat-Cat Fish Freeze-Dried Wild Salmon Snacks for Dogs and Cats
Wild, not farmed salmon
Caught in the USA and British Columbia
Safe for puppies, nursing and pregnant dogs too
Costs a little more than some other freeze-dried salmon treats
Treats are the perfect way to introduce raw foods into your dog’s diet. My dogs and cats have been eating these nutritious snacks 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. I know they are quality because they are processed for human consumption.
They are odiferous, so they make excellent high-value training treats. Yet their ziplock packaging keeps fishy odors from escaping.
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. Their compliance with the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act ensures 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 animal shelters through The Humane Society of the United States and have donated treats to Rescue Bank to help pet owners during natural disasters.
We like Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Raw Dinner Morsels that come in five grain-free flavors. Each is made with 95 percent ethically-raised meats with organic fruits and veggies, plus probiotics, all from a woman-owned business. When you need a treat, topper, or mixer, try Fat-Cat Fish human-quality wild salmon treats caught fresh in the U.S. and British Columbia.
What to Look for in Raw Dog Food
Be thoughtful when transitioning your dog to a new food. Don’t buy a lot until you’re sure your dog 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 dog. Your furry friend 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.
Because the food is raw, it has not been cooked to kill germs that can cause intestinal upset 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. 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).
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
Always check the package to ensure the food you’re buying is appropriate for your dog’s size, life stage, and health condition. Most are appropriate for all life stages, but some are formulated specifically for puppies or seniors, and a few are specifically for dogs with digestive problems or skin conditions.
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 it can be served dry). Most recommend rehydrating for at least a few minutes before serving.
Patties are often meant to be used as meals but can be broken into smaller pieces to be used as treats or for smaller or younger dogs. Nuggets are easy to use as meals, toppers/mixers, or treats. Be sure to carefully read 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.
It’s also important to feed your dog 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 dog’s size, age, and activity level. Also, keep in mind that you’ll feed different volumes of food depending on whether it's freeze-dried or frozen, which will affect cost calculations.
Freezing and freeze-drying don’t alter and break down the proteins the way cooking does, so the nutrients our pets receive from these foods are closer to what they’d get in a fresh raw diet.
However, raw foods also have drawbacks. They tend to be more expensive than dry kibble and some wet canned foods, which often have added grains as filler as well as preservatives for long-term storage. Pet stores carry far more processed food than raw, and many do not have the freezer space to carry much frozen food that costs more to ship, handle and store.
As consumers and pet parents, we must find a balance between the risks and natural benefits of raw food in your dog’s diet.
What is raw dog food?
“You will see debates on premade foods, DIY, Prey Model Raw (PMR), and high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) versus non-," Marshall told The Spruce Pets. "Regardless of which option you choose or what camp you fall in, everyone can agree on one thing: Raw dog food is unaltered, has not been cooked, and in one approach or another, attempts to mimic, to a certain degree, the type of diet a wild canine would consume in everyday life. Meat, bones, organs, fur, feathers, and scales are all raw.”
Can you warm raw dog food?
“When it comes to raw food diets, no, they should not be warmed or cooked in any way, especially not the bones,” asserts Marshall. “Some people do slightly warm ingredients like organs which have a potent taste and smell to get picky eaters to consume them, but outside of this special circumstance, cooking or warming raw dog food should be avoided.”
But it is important to fully thaw frozen dog foods before feeding.
“Canine digestive systems have a very hard time digesting, utilizing, and absorbing the nutrients from food if it is frozen,” adds Marshall. “Raw food should be completely thawed and cold to the touch.”
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
The Spruce Pets exhaustively researches and recommends a broad range of products. We also tap a network of experts and testers to help you make smarter purchases.
This piece was written by Lorraine Wilde, who has had at least two dog companions in her home for the past 35 years. 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. She has only the highest of standards for what she feeds her pets. She holds a Master’s degree in environmental science, with an emphasis on toxicology.
Scott Marshall has been feeding a raw dog food diet for over 11 years. He lives in Utah with his wife Arianne, his 11.5-year-old German shepherd, Wolken, and his 2.5-year-old labradoodle, Montu. Marshall has been teaching others about raw feeding since 2013, having started his company, Raw Feeding 101, in 2017. He has been solely focused on simplifying the process of pet parents meeting their dogs’ daily nutrient requirements since 2018 via his YouTube channel, Raw Feeding 101, which has just over 10,000 subscribers. He also manages a Facebook group, Raw Feeding 101—Learn to Feed Raw, that has over 69,000 members. His book, Raw Feeding 101: Beginner's Raw Feeding Guide, was published in 2018.