Jun 07, 2021

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.

Best Overall
Our Score 9.8 Out of 10
Check price amazon.com
Best Mid Range
Our Score 9.6 Out of 10
Check price chewy.com
Cheaper Choice
Our Score 9.4 Out of 10
Check price amazon.com
Our Score 9.2 Out of 10
Check price chewy.com
Our Score 9.0 Out of 10
Check price amazon.com
Our Score 8.6 Out of 10
Check price chewy.com

Homemade Versus Store-Bought: The Best Raw Dog Foods for the Healthiest Pup

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.

Merrick Backcountry Dog Food: Pacific Catch

Our Score 9.8 out of 10
Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Grain Free Dry Dog Food Pacific Catch Recipe - 12.0 lb Bag
Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Grain Free Dry Dog Food Pacific Catch Recipe - 12.0 lb Bag amazon.com Check price

#1 Ingredient Is Real Deboned Salmon
Freeze-Dried Real Raw Fish Pieces To Lock In Fresh Taste
Grain-Free Nutrition With No Gluten Ingredients For Easier Digestibility
Recipe Is Rich With Omega Fatt...

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.

Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food

Our Score 9.6 out of 10
Stella & Chewy's Chewy's Chicken Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food
Stella & Chewy's Chewy's Chicken Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food chewy.com Check price

Give your dog what he naturally craves with Stella & Chewy's Chewy's Chicken Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food. Based on the philosophy that dogs thrive on the same diet they would eat in th...

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. 

Nature’s Diet Simply Raw Freeze-Dried Raw Whole Food Meal

Our Score 9.4 out of 10
Nature's Diet Simply Raw Freeze-Dried Raw Whole Food Meal - Makes 18 Lbs Fresh Raw Food with Muscle, Organ, Bone Broth, Whole Egg, Superfoods, Fish Oil Omega 3, 6, 9, Probiotics & Prebiotics (Beef)
Nature's Diet Simply Raw Freeze-Dried Raw Whole Food Meal - Makes 18 Lbs Fresh Raw Food with Muscle, Organ, Bone Broth, Whole Egg, Superfoods, Fish Oil Omega 3, 6, 9, Probiotics & Prebiotics (Beef) amazon.com Check price

Raw Food Made Easy : Simply Raw combines the safety, easy prep and shelf stable convenience of kibble and canned food with the unsurpassed nutrition offered in real, fresh raw food. Just add water ...

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.

Primal Pet Foods Freeze-Dried Canine Rabbit Formula

Our Score 9.2 out of 10
Primal Rabbit Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Primal Rabbit Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food chewy.com Check price

Description
Primal Rabbit Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food offers your hungry pooch all the benefits of a safe and wholesome raw-food diet—without you having to grind, chop, mea...

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.

Sojos Complete Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food

Our Score 9.0 out of 10
Sojos Complete Natural Raw Freeze Dried Dog Food Mix, Turkey, 7 Pound Bag
Sojos Complete Natural Raw Freeze Dried Dog Food Mix, Turkey, 7 Pound Bag amazon.com Check price

Raw Made Easy: Just Add Water and Let Soak To Create A Complete Meal, Made With Real Freeze-Dried Turkey, Made With A Meticulous Quality And Safety Standard.
A 7-pound bag of Sojos Complete rehydra...

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.

Castor & Pollux Pristine Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Our Score 8.6 out of 10
Castor & Pollux PRISTINE Grain-Free Wild-Caught Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food
Castor & Pollux PRISTINE Grain-Free Wild-Caught Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food chewy.com Check price

Description
Feed your best friend purposeful, complete nutrition with Castor & Pollux PRISTINE Grain-Free Wild-Caught Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe Dry Dog Food. The only complete line of pet food m...

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. 

Making the Switch: How to Choose the Best Raw Food For Your Dog

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:

  • Ancestral practices: Your dog’s digestive tract evolved over thousands of years, while commercially prepared dog food was only invented a few hundred years ago. Raw feeding may better meet your dog’s natural needs.
  • Human habits: A third of dog owners say they try to eat healthy with little to no processed foods, and they want their dog to enjoy the same healthy habits.
  • Health: Nearly 80% of dog owners say they switched their dog to raw food for health reasons. They said they noticed improvements in their dogs’ energy, coat, and general fitness.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into these motivations and the many benefits of feeding your dog a raw diet.

Defining the Term: What Exactly Does Raw Food Mean?

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.

Preparing Your Dog’s Meal: What Are the Different Approaches to Feeding Raw?

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:

  • It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive, especially if you’re grinding organ meat and bones. Don’t forget that you’ll also have to source all the ingredients for your dog’s meals, which often requires visiting a specialty butcher.
  • It can create nutritional deficiencies. Most people don’t have the veterinarian sciences background to know if they’re doing it right. Even if you’re following recipes that purport to be balanced, you have no way of testing the final dog food you create. 
  • It’s very expensive. Beyond just the meat and other whole foods you need, you also need to stock up on various vitamin and mineral additives. 

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.

Ready-Made Raw Dog Food: What Are the Benefits of Buying Commercially Prepared Raw Pet Food For Your Dog?

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 101: Why You Should Use Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food When Making the Switch

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:

  • Longer shelf life: It’s raw, but it doesn’t need freezing or refrigeration.
  • Convenience: You can scoop and serve freeze-dried raw dog food just like you would traditional dog food. 
  • Nutrition: From its vitamins to its enzymes, each ingredient is preserved just the way that nature created it. You lose little to no nutritional value when raw foods are freeze-dried.

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.

Doing the Research: What Are the Proven Benefits of Switching Your Pets to a Raw Diet?

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.

Healthier, Glossier Coats

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.

Smaller, Easier-to-Pick-Up Poop

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. 

Fewer Dental Problems

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. 

Increased Energy

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. 

Improved Overall Wellness

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:

  • Eliminates the processed grains that often trigger allergic reactions in your dog
  • Avoids aflatoxins (a carcinogen produced by molds that grow when dog food contains rice, wheat, or corn) 
  • Reduces exposure to heterocyclic amines (carcinogens produced when fish or meat is exposed to high temperatures)  

Conclusion: Should You Switch to Feeding Your Dog the Best Raw Dog Foods?

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:

  • Do your research on your dog’s unique needs, and talk to your vet if you have any concerns about how their diet is affecting them.
  • Choose a highly rated raw dog food (see our list above) that best fits your dog’s unique needs, your dog’s individual preferences, and your own lifestyle and budget.
  • Make the switch gradually to avoid upsetting your dog’s stomach. Start with 10% raw dog food and 90% of whatever they’re currently eating, then slowly adjust that ratio over the next few weeks until they’ve fully transitioned to eating 100% raw.

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!

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