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Even if your dog looks nothing like a wolf, his body still works like one (to some degree, anyway). Raw dog food is designed to mimic the natural, ancestral diet wild wolves have evolved to follow. Many canine experts agree that it’s a very healthy diet for dogs, but as with most pet foods, raw dog food has strong proponents and dissenters. Be sure to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before deciding whether raw food is right for your dog.
Before we dive into the details about the best and most affordable options, let’s take a minute to explore this specialized diet’s pros and cons.
Why Raw Dog Food?
Raw food diets for dogs are nothing new, but the popularity of the movement has skyrocketed in recent years. Veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst is credited with sparking the modern raw diet movement after creating the first biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) diet for dogs. This dog food is made from fresh, whole-food ingredients including muscle meat, organ meat, whole or ground bone, raw eggs, and dog-safe fruits and vegetables.
Some of the oft-stated benefits of raw dog food include the following:
- Better coat condition
- Improved skin health
- Increased energy levels
- Smaller, firmer stools
- Improved dental health
- Stronger immune system
- Lower risk for allergies
Though there are many supporters of the raw food diet, there is a great deal of controversy as well. In fact, many of the most outspoken opponents to the raw diet movement are veterinarians themselves. Some, like Dr. Patty Khuly, suggest that dogs are omnivores and perfectly capable of subsisting on a grain-based diet.
There are also some practical factors to consider when it comes to raw dog food.
Generally speaking, a raw diet is more expensive than canned food or kibble. When you purchase premade raw food, you’re paying for the sourcing and balancing of ingredients as well as packaging and delivery. You also lose a certain degree of convenience because commercial kibble is shelf-stable while raw food needs to be refrigerated or frozen.
Proper Handling of Raw Food
Another concern with feeding raw is the risk of food-borne illness. In general, this seems to be a greater concern for dog owners than for dogs themselves.
While bacterial contamination from germs like Salmonella and E. coli is always a concern with raw foods, in this case, the risk is much higher for humans than for dogs. Carnivores have short, highly acidic digestive tracts designed to process raw meat. That makes their risk for developing foodborne illness fairly low. For humans, following USDA safe food handling guidelines will help keep you and your family safe.
With proper handling, many pet parents agree that the benefits of raw food for dogs outweigh the risks.
Frozen Raw Food vs. Freeze-Dried Dog Food
If you’ve decided that raw food is the way to go, you still have one more decision to make–frozen or freeze-dried?
Raw frozen dog food is minimally processed and free from artificial preservatives. The downside is, of course, that you have to store it in the freezer, and you’ll need to thaw it before feeding. Freeze-dried dog food and meal toppers are a shelf-stable, convenient way to include raw food in your dog’s diet without paying the price of a full menu of raw frozen food.
Feeding your dog raw food is bound to be more expensive than kibble, but we’ve compiled a list of options—organized by price—so you can make the best decision for your dog.
Most Affordable Raw Dog Food: Frozen
At an average price under $10 per pound, these are some of the most affordable options on the market for raw frozen food.
Instinct specializes in raw dog food and it has several variations of base proteins available, including beef, cage-free chicken, and grass-fed lamb. These recipes contain 85% meat and organs, which are frozen and cold-pressured (a pasteurization method) to preserve freshness and nutrients.
Available as bite-sized nuggets or larger patties, Steve’s Real Food diets tout superior ingredients—free range, fresh, no antibiotics or hormones, fortified with raw goat milk—and are formulated to deliver complete and balanced nutrition in five protein-rich flavors.
Sold in 2-pound frozen rolls, BARF World raw dog food is made with muscle meat, organ meat, and raw bones to mimic the diet eaten by your dog’s wild ancestors. BARF stands for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food,” of “Bones And Raw Food” which the company pioneered.
Available in five protein choices, including rabbit and venison, these raw frozen patties are made with whole-food ingredients including single-source animal proteins and grain-free carbohydrates.
This high-quality raw food can be delivered right to your door via the company’s own subscription service. Darwin’s Dog Food features 75% meat (chicken, duck, turkey, beef, or lamb protein options) and 25% vegetables in nutritionally complete recipes for all dogs. There are a couple of variations of their diets available, including one with more conventionally sourced ingredients.
Made with sustainably sourced ingredients, Primal’s raw frozen formula comes in a range of protein choices (including beef, pork, and lamb) with additional serving options and supplements including frozen rolls and raw meaty bones (such as chicken and turkey necks).
Most Affordable Raw Dog Food: Freeze-Dried
Not ready to commit to a frozen raw dog food diet? Here are a few of our favorite options for freeze-dried dog food and meal toppers.
Available in five protein options and enriched with organic fruits and veggies, these meal mixers are a great add-on to your dog’s regular kibble to boost their nutrition without breaking your budget.
Give your dog the nutritional benefits of raw food and the convenience of dry food with this nutrient-rich blend of high-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw bites.
These freeze-dried nuggets come in a large variety of meat options, including turkey and sardine, venison, and quail, and are packed with 78% meat, organs, and bone. They’re supplemented with organic fruits and vegetables for a complete and balanced diet.
TruDog comes in two flavors and is AAFCO-certified as a complete and balanced diet. That means you can feed TruDog as your dog’s food exclusively—or use it as a mix-in or meal topper. No chemicals, grains, or filler, no rendered or meal products, and all USA-made and sourced.
Talk to Your Vet Before Choosing Any New Food for Your Dog
We’ve selected some great raw food options for your dog. But before introducing any new foods into your dog’s diet, we suggest consulting with your vet. They can help you understand any health issues your dog may be experiencing, and can recommend dog food that’s going to best support their specific health needs.
Nia Martin grew up with cats, dogs, horses, and a goldfish that lived for eight years. Based in Seattle, her writing and photography have appeared in Seattle magazine, The Seattle Times, The Fold, Cascadia Magazine, and Bitterroot Magazine, among others. When not working, you can find her petting dogs and visiting her family’s charismatic tabby, William of Orange.
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