If the thought of feeding your dog raw meat sounds strange or appalling to you, you may want to rethink your opinion. In recent years, raw dog foods has rapidly gained in popularity among dog owners and it has become one of the highest quality options in dog nutrition currently available. Of course, you cannot simply offer your dog a bowl full of chopped meat and call it a day – there is a lot of planning that goes into creating a balanced, nutritious raw food diet for dogs. Fortunately, there are several reputable dog food companies that offer a variety of raw dog food products. Keep reading to learn more about what a raw food diet for dogs looks like and some helpful tips and information to take into account as you consider this option for your own dog.
What is Raw Dog Food?
The name alone is enough to get a decent picture of what raw dog food is, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. A raw food diet for dogs is more than just pieces of raw meat – it must be formulated just as carefully as any other type of dog food to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. What really sets raw dog food apart from traditional kibble is the fact that it is generally inspired by the evolutionary diet of wild wolves. Wolves are carnivorous animals, for the most part, which means that they derive the majority of their nutrition from animal-based sources. Both cats and dogs have relatively short digestive systems which limits their ability to digest plant products – that is why the best foods for dogs are generally low in carbohydrates with limited dietary fiber content.
When it comes to raw dog food – particularly homemade raw food diets – there are two primary models. The BARF model stands for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” and it is a complete and carefully balanced blend of raw meats, bone, vegetables, and fruits. This diet assumes that dogs are, to some degree, omnivores – that while they eat mostly raw meat and bone, they also consume some fruits and vegetables from time to time. Raw dog food that follows the BARF model generally consists of raw meat and raw bones (particularly bony parts of the animal such as necks, wings, and backs) as well as vegetables and supplements to ensure nutritional completeness. In addition to the primary ingredients used, another important fact to notice about the BARF model is that the ingredients are generally ground together into a more or less homogenous product before feeding.
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The second model used for raw dog food is called the “prey model” and it is designed to mimic the diet followed by wolves in the wild. This model is based on the fact that wolves are primarily carnivorous and that they can get all the nutrition they need from animal sources. The prey model consists of 80% to 85% muscle meat, 10% to 15% edible raw bones, and 5% to 10% organ meats. The ingredients used in a prey model raw food diet for dogs may be chopped, but they are not ground. In fact, one of the main benefits of this type of diet is that the process of chewing raw meats and bones actually scrapes plaque and tartar off of your dog’s teeth, helping him to achieve and maintain good dental health. Most raw dog food diets that use the prey model include meat, bones, and organ meats from a variety of sources including wild game, domesticated livestock, poultry, fish, and eggs.
The Pros and Cons of Raw Dog Food
If you are considering making the switch to a raw dog food diet for your canine companion, it is probably because you have heard that raw food offers excellent nutritional benefits. For the most part, this is true but there are different sides of the issue that must be considered. First, you need to think about the process through which raw dog food is made compared to the manufacturing process for dry kibble. Traditional kibbles are cooked under extreme pressure at very high temperatures – this process kills the germs and renders the finished product shelf-stable. Unfortunately, this cooking process (called extrusion) also destroys a significant percentage of the original nutritional content of the raw ingredients. This is why so many dry dog foods are loaded up with nutritional supplements. These supplements must be added to account for the nutrition that is lost during processing. Unfortunately, nutritional supplements are less biologically valuable for dogs than natural sources of those same nutrients – even if the product contains all the supplements needed to achieve complete and balanced nutrition, your dog’s body probably doesn’t actually absorb the total nutrient content.
The key difference between commercial dry dog foods and raw food is, of course, the fact that raw foods are not cooked. This means that the nutritional integrity of the raw ingredients is almost completely preserved. The nutritional value of the product may decline a little bit in the freezing and thawing process, especially if you warm the food before feeding it, but not to any significant degree. Raw foods also tend to be free from artificial preservatives because they are meant to be used within a few days or frozen. Dry kibble, on the other hand, often contains preservatives which help to keep the product fresh while it sits on pet store shelves for weeks before being purchased and then continues to keep the product fresh for a few weeks after it has been opened.
Now that you have a better understanding of what makes raw dog food different from traditional kibble, you can see how raw dog food offers an assortment of significant benefits. Some of these benefits include the following:
- Improved dental health and fresher breath. The process of chewing raw meat and bones actually scrapes the plaque and tartar off your dog’s teeth, helping to keep them clean. This process also helps to reduce the number of unhealthy bacteria in your dog’s mouth which could contribute to bad breath.
- Improved digestion and smaller stools. A dog’s body simply isn’t designed to process plant foods efficiently so, when you start feeding your dog a raw food diet, his digestion becomes optimized. You will notice not only more complete digestion, but your dog’s digestion will become more regular and his stools will become more efficient – they will be smaller, harder, and less odorous.
- Improved skin and coat condition. The nutritional integrity of the ingredients that go into raw dog food remains intact because the product is not subjected to high heat like dry dog food. All of those healthy nutrients (especially the essential fatty acids) will improve the condition of your dog’s skin and coat.
- Strengthened immune system. When your dog’s body starts wasting less energy on the digestion of plant materials, it can dedicate more energy to essential bodily processes including immunity. A raw dog food diet contains plenty of nutrients and healthy enzymes which reduce inflammation and strengthen your dog’s immunity.
- Healthy bodyweight and condition. Most raw dog foods are rich in protein which will help your dog develop and maintain lean muscle mass. By eliminating artificial ingredients and hard-to-digest carbohydrates from your dog’s diet, his metabolism will increase and you will notice improved energy levels and increased stamina in addition to healthy weight.
All of these benefits combine to produce a healthier, happier dog. With improved nutrition and healthy bodyweight, you may also find that you don’t need to take your dog to the vet as often. The benefits your dog experiences upon switching to a raw dog food diet will vary – each dog is an individual – but you can expect to see most, if not all, of the benefits listed above. There are, however, some drawbacks to a raw dog food diet that must be considered. The increased cost is a big factor for many dog owners, and you may not be able to find quality raw dog food products as easily as you can find traditional kibbles. Raw dog food has a shorter shelf-life than kibble and you may need to thaw and warm the food before giving it to your dog. These things contribute to a greater time commitment. In the end, you must decide whether the benefits of raw dog food outweigh the risks and the potential drawbacks.
Should You Consider a Homemade Raw Food Diet?
Many dog owners who consider making the switch to raw dog food also think about homemade raw food diets. In some cases, making your own raw dog food at home could actually save you money – particularly if you have access to a local butcher who can provide you with fresh cuts of meat, raw bones, and organ meats at a good price. You may also be able to save money by purchasing your ingredients in bulk. Homemade raw dog food diets are not always cost-effective, however. The quality of the ingredients you use is very important, so you may actually pay more for homemade raw dog food than you would if you purchased a commercial raw dog food product.
In considering homemade raw dog food, you need to think about more than just the price – you also have to consider the time factor as well as food safety issues. Purchasing commercial raw dog food products can become very pricey, but many dog owners consider it worth the price to avoid having to spend the time making the food themselves. Raw dog food has a very short shelf-life, so you generally can’t make it in large batches unless you plan to freeze it. Making raw dog food at home also puts you at risk for food-borne illness, especially if you are using raw meat and eggs. These risks are no greater than those you face when preparing meals for your family, however – as long as you employ basic food safety measures you should be fine.
Commercial Raw Dog Food Options and Feeding Tips
As you start shopping around for raw dog food, you will notice that different manufacturing companies offer different types of raw dog food products. Some raw dog foods are ground and shaped into patties while others are flash-frozen and must be thawed before feeding. To give you an idea what you can expect when you start shopping, here are some of the various types of commercial raw dog food products you are likely to come across:
- Patties – Commercial raw dog foods that follow the BARF model are generally ground into a homogenous product and then shaped into single-serve patties. These patties may be fresh (refrigerated), or frozen.
- Rolls – As an alternative to individually portioned patties, some commercial raw dog food manufacturers shape their products into rolls so you can cut off the correct portion for your dog. You may also come across ground raw dog foods that are packaged in tubs or bags.
- Fresh – Many raw dog foods that follow the prey model are offered in fresh form – they are packaged in bags or tubs that you can empty directly into your dog’s bowl for fresh feeding.
- Frozen – Because fresh raw dog food has a very limited shelf-life of 3 to 5 days, many manufacturers freeze their raw foods. Frozen raw foods should be thawed and, in many cases, warmed to body temperature prior to feeding.
- Freeze-Dried – To combine the nutritional benefits of raw food with the convenience of kibble, some raw dog food manufacturers freeze-dry their products. Some freeze-dried dog foods can be fed as-is, but many of them require rehydration prior to feeding.
When it comes to feeding your dog a commercial raw food diet, you need to be careful about how much you feed him. The calorie content of different products can vary greatly depending which model the product follows and the type of ingredients used. Generally, the best way to determine how much raw food to feed your dog is to measure it by bodyweight. The recommended feeding amount for raw dog food is between 2% and 3% of your dog’s desired bodyweight per day, usually divided into two or more daily feedings. Note that this amount is based on your dog’s desired bodyweight – if your dog is overweight or obese, you may end up feeding him closer to 1% or 1.5% of his actual bodyweight because the feeding amount is based on the bodyweight that is healthy for a dog of his breed and size. Keep in mind that you will need to feed puppies more than this estimated percentage in order to fuel their growth. The best option is usually to free-feed your puppies, allowing them to self-regulate their intake as long as you keep the food fresh.
Recommended Brands of Raw Dog Food
Choosing a dog food is never easy, especially when it comes to specialty diets like raw food. In order to ensure that your dog’s nutritional needs are met with a safe, high-quality raw food diet you should buy from an established commercial raw dog food brand. To help you get started with your search you will find reviews of some of the top brands of raw dog food below:
1.) Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw – Nature’s Variety has become one of the biggest names in high-quality commercial dog food products. Not only does this company offer a wide variety of products, but each and every one of their product offerings is made with fresh, high-quality ingredients. Nature’s Variety is an independent pet food company based out of St. Louis, Missouri, and the company follows a holistic approach to animal nutrition. Since their founding, this company has remained dedicated to providing pet owners with premium, wholesome, natural foods that keep their pets happy and healthy. Nature’s Variety offers many different types of dog foods including traditional kibbles, freeze-dried foods, raw frozen diets, frozen raw bones, and plenty of healthy treats.
When it comes to raw dog food, Nature’s Variety offers several different kinds of products. The Instinct Raw line of products consists of raw frozen food in different sizes for dogs small and large, made from an assortment of quality proteins such as chicken, beef, duck, turkey, and lamb. If you want the convenience of kibble with the nutritional benefits of raw food, Nature’s Variety has a line of Raw Boost products which consist of grain-free kibble plus freeze-dried raw pieces, all together in one bag. One of the company’s newest offerings is the Raw Market line of products which consists of carefully crafted, small-batch meal blends which offer complete and balanced nutrition made from real foods. With such a wide variety of options to choose from, you cannot go wrong in offering your dog Nature’s Variety Instinct raw dog food.
2.) Bravo Homestyle Complete Raw Freeze-Dried – Bravo is a family-owned pet food company headquartered in Manchester, Connecticut. This company pioneered the raw pet food category with the introduction of their Bravo Blends line of products which was released in 2002. The Bravo pet food company offers raw dog food in several different forms. The Homestyle Complete line of products consists of three different recipes for raw, freeze-dried dinners. Each of these three formulas is made with premium raw, freeze-dried meat or poultry as the number-1 ingredient, supplemented with organ meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and natural herbs for complete and balanced nutrition that tastes great. These meals are designed to be rehydrated before feeding by using 1 cup of warm water per cup of food.
Bravo also offers an assortment of raw frozen products – four different types, to be exact. The Boneless line of products consists of raw red meat or fish, perfect for dog owners who want to create their own raw dog foods at home. The Bravo Basics line of products consists of a medley of raw meat, bones, and organ meats that you can customize according to your dog’s preferences. The Bravo Blends line features a four-part, limited ingredient formula to which you can add the supplements of your choice to meet your dog’s specific nutritional needs. Finally, the Bravo Balance line of products consists of complete and balanced raw frozen dinners made with meat, ground bones, organ meats, vegetables, and vitamin/mineral supplements. In addition to their raw food products, Bravo also offers a variety of canned foods, treats, and nutritional supplements.
3.) Primal Raw Frozen Mixed – The Primal Pet Foods Company was founded in 2001 and since their inception, they have been devoted to elevating the health of pets. By offering a selection of complete and balanced formulas as well as a line of supplemental foods, Primal Pet Foods has everything you need to create a nutritious raw food diet for your dog. Based out of San Francisco, California, Primal Pet Foods uses only the highest quality human-grade raw ingredients and they follow the strictest standards for safety and quality. They use only antibiotic-free poultry, steroid-free meats, and certified organic produce to ensure that their products are the best raw foods on the market. In addition to offering quality pet food products, Primal Pet Foods is also devoted to educating pet owners about pet nutrition, empowering them to step outside the box of traditional pet foods.
When it comes to their raw dog food products, Primal Pet Foods offers a wide assortment. For raw frozen formulas, Primal offers nine different canine formulas featuring quality proteins like chicken, duck, lamb, pheasant, and rabbit. Their Raw Primal Pronto recipes are made in the same formulations but they are shaped into small, bite-sized pieces for easy feeding. If you want to create your own raw dog food at home, Primal offers an assortment of raw frozen mixes and grinds featuring premium proteins – they also offer raw goat milk and raw bones. If you are more interested in a freeze-dried raw product, Primal Pet Foods offers an assortment of formulas that combine the freshest meats and poultry options with certified organic produce and organic vitamin and mineral supplements – there are seven canine formulas to choose from.
4.) Stella and Chewy’s Raw Frozen – Though this company has a strange name, they have carved out a niche within the quality pet food industry. Stella & Chewy’s believes that selecting a quality diet is one of the most important decisions a dog owner can make and, to that end, they strive to create the kind of products pet owners would be proud to offer their pets. This company designs all of their recipes with inspiration from the natural diets of wild cats and dogs, using premium raw ingredients like grass-fed meat, cage-free poultry, and wild-caught fish as well as organic fruits and vegetables. When it comes to their products, Stella & Chewy’s offers two options – freeze-dried or frozen. Their frozen products are designed for pet owners who are committed offering their pets a completely raw diet while their freeze-dried products offer the nutritional benefits of raw food with the convenience of dry food.
Stella & Chewy’s raw frozen dog food comes in two different types – patties or morsels. Patties consist of complete and balanced meals, available in small 1.5-ounce patties or large 8-ounce patties. Morsels consists of 100% complete and balanced meals shaped into bite-sized pieces that are quick to thaw and easy to feed. In keeping with their commitment to quality, Stella & Chewy’s raw frozen foods feature a variety of premium proteins like chicken, duck, goose, lamb, pheasant, rabbit, and venison. To make things fun, this company gives their recipes amusing names like Duck Duck Goose, Dandy Lamb, Absolutely Rabbit, and Phenomenal Pheasant. Though they like to keep things light-hearted, when it comes down to it you can count on Stella & Chewy’s products to be some of the highest quality products on the market for dedicated dog owners like you.
5.) Vital Essentials Raw Frozen – The Vital Essentials pet food company follows the tagline, “Purely Raw, Instinctively Healthy”. This tagline is an accurate description of the company’s nutritional philosophy which is based on the idea that all pets can benefit from a biologically appropriate diet made of fresh, nutritious foods. Vital Essentials pet foods are carefully crafted from a single source of whole animal protein, sourced and packaged in the United States. Their recipes are designed to provide essential nutrients to support your pet’s vitality and overall health and wellness while catering to his craving for natural flavors. This company has been meeting these goals since 1968 when they became a family-owned pet food company and a pioneer in the raw pet food industry.
When it comes to their raw dog food products, Vital Essentials offers two different options: freeze-dried entrees and frozen entrees. Vital Essentials freeze-dried entrees retain the active nutritional elements of raw meat with the added benefit of safe, convenient storage without the need for nutrition. This company uses a 48-hour slow freeze-drying process to lock in nutrients. When it comes to their frozen entrees, Vital Essentials uses a flash freezing process to retain essential nutrients, enzymes, and moisture for optimum freshness. This company follows the ALPHA prey-model diet, focusing on grain-free, gluten-free, and guilt-free entrees focused on premium proteins like chicken, turkey, duck, rabbit, beef, fish, and wild boar.
There are many nutritional benefits associated with raw dog food in comparison to other types of commercial dog food diets, but there are some drawbacks to consider as well. Before you make your decision either way, be sure to do the research to determine whether a raw food diet really is the best option for your dog. If you decide that raw food is the way to go, consider starting with one of the recommended raw dog food brands reviewed above.