If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, SPY.com may receive an affiliate commission.
We love our dogs, and many of us treat them as members of our families — but that doesn’t mean we should feed them the same way! When feeding your fur baby, it is vitally important to make sure that what they eat actually meets their dietary needs. Of course, since there are so many options available for purchase, how can you be sure you’re buying the best dog food for your pup?
In addition to the kibble you can find in any grocery store or pet store, there are tons of new options like The Farmer’s Dog. Plus, we’ve seen a growing interest in raw dog food in recent years. Just as there’s been rising interest in paleo and raw food diets for people, many pet owners are wondering if raw dog food is better and more natural for dogs. If you head to popular pet retailers like Chewy, you will find a variety of so-called “raw” dog food brands.
But what exactly is raw dog food, and is it really a good choice for our pets? We consulted some veterinarians to find out.
The Verdict: Raw Dog Food Can Be Dangerous
Because of this increased risk, pet owners should stick to fresh, healthy dog food, but avoid products with raw ingredients.
“Raw dog food diets contain foods that have not been cooked, but they can still be processed,” says Dr. Jo Myers, DVM, JustAnswer expert. “Some are freeze-dried or dehydrated and while there are store-bought varieties are available, there are also, and recipes for homemade raw diets are popularly searched for on the internet,” she says.
These foods can contain various ingredients such as meat from muscle, organs, bone, bone meal, by-products, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Even though they appear natural and healthy they can be potentially dangerous to pets. “I don’t recommend raw dog food for dogs or cats. Just like with humans we cook food to make it safer to eat,” says Myers.
“We see large numbers of dogs who are sickened by raw food diets, says Myers. You could notice vomiting and diarrhea from food poisoning, gastroenteritis from eating unusually rich foods or that the dog is unaccustomed to, pancreatitis when the food is too fatty. “It can even lead to kidney failure if the food contains grapes or raisins,” cautions Dr. Myers.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration also warns against feeding your pet raw dog food. In 2012, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) tested more than 1,000 samples of pet food for bacteria such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Not only did the FDA find that “quite a large percentage of the raw foods for pets we tested were positive for the pathogen Listeria,” but the only dog foods found to contain Salmonella and Listeria were the raw dog foods.
What Is Raw Dog Food?
Raw dog food is any type of treat or meal that contains raw, uncooked ingredients. In the same way that many people prefer raw food diets, in the belief that these foods are better suited to human being’s historical diet, many pet owners have grown interested in putting their pup on a raw dog food diet. This may involve buying raw dog food from retailers like Chewy or preparing their own DIY dog food at home.
Many raw dog food products are designed to be eaten as treats or mixed in with kibble. For instance, the popular raw dog food brand Stella & Chewy’s makes a variety of treats and kibble mixers made from raw beef and chicken. On Chewy, the Chicken Meal Mixers Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food Topper has more than 700 reviews. The overwhelming majority of the reviews are positive, and pet owners have given this dog food an overall 4.7-star rating, praising its ability to entice dogs to eat kibble they previously ignored.
How To Pick the Right Dog Food
To check that your pet’s food is safe and healthy, you should look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label, according to the Animal Humane Society. A “Nutrition Statement” is usually found below the list of ingredients.
“The AAFCO offers the pet food industry a standard for ingredient definitions and provides guidance to pet food regulators on how those ingredients should be listed (from most to least, according to weight) on pet food packaging,” says Victoria Carmella, DVM, director of Veterinary Scientific Affairs at Blue Buffalo, one of our favorite makers of healthy dog food. “Pet parents should not only look at a product’s name to learn what’s in their pet’s food, but also consider reading the ingredient list on the side or back of the packaging,” she says.
Additionally, while moist or dry food can be a personal choice, also consider your pet’s unique needs. “Moist (canned) foods for example may be more appropriate for animals with certain types of urinary diseases, or for animals that may be a bit more finicky as they are available in many textures, proteins and flavors,” says Carmella. “Dry diets offer many benefits as well, such as dental health as it encourages chewing, which can help to keep teeth clean,” she says.
The Best Fresh & Natural Dog Food
If you’re still considering a raw dog food diet for your pup, we highly recommend consulting your veterinarian first, and the experts we talked to agreed. “I encourage pet parents to have a conversation about their pet’s nutrition at every wellness visit to ensure they are making any necessary adjustments in the quantity or type of food they are feeding,” says Carmella.
Personally, we would avoid raw dog food, and instead recommend sticking with one of the healthy dog food options below. In the same way that raw food can be dangerous for human consumption, even the best raw dog food carries risks.
1. The Farmer’s Dog Food Subscription Service
If you’ve seen The Farmer’s Dog dog food at a friend’s house, you may have mistaken it for raw dog food. However, while The Farmer’s Dog specializes in fresh, natural meals for dogs, the food doesn’t contain raw ingredients. Rather, the company makes tasty meals for dogs prepared with human-grade meat and vegetables, which are then delivered directly to your door. Your pup’s new dog food will be tailored to their specific dietary needs. So while it’s not raw dog food, it’s actually even better.
2. Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula
This particular dry formula contains deboned chicken, whole grains, garden veggies and fruit. Blue Buffalo recommends this Life Protection Formula for all breeds and sizes. It isn’t made with corn, wheat, soy or by-product meals.
3. Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach
If your dog has food sensitivity you should speak with your vet about ingredients that you should be aware of. There are foods that are created that can address some of those needs like Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach formula. It is available in dry and moist flavors such as salmon and rice; shredded blend chicken and rice; and turkey and oatmeal.
4. Wellness Complete Health Puppy
You want to choose dog foods also based on your pet’s age because at different life cycles they may have different needs. According to the ASPCA, your pup can start eating puppy food at around three to four weeks of age. “In general, puppies and kittens should transition to adult formulas around one year of age,” says Carmella. Wellness Complete Health Puppy is available in Deboned Chicken or Oatmeal & Salmon.
Wellness Complete Health Puppy Deboned Chicken, Oatmeal & Salmon Meal Recipe Dry Dog Food
5. Iams ProActive Health Mature Adult Dry Dog Food
Understanding your older dog’s dietary needs isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. According to the ASCPA, these are the basics for knowing when your dog is ready for a senior diet:
- Small breeds and dogs weighing less than 20 pounds — 7 years of age
- Medium breeds and dogs weighing 21 to 50 pounds — 7 years of age
- Large breeds and dogs weighing 51 to 90 pounds — 6 years of age
- Giant breeds and dogs weighing 91 pounds or more — 5 years of age
Iams ProActive Health Mature Adult Dry Dog Food is made with farm-raised chicken as the first ingredient, a blend of prebiotics and fibers, vitamins, and minerals, and meets the established AAFCO nutritional guidelines for adult dogs.
6. Rachael Ray Nutrish Foods For Dogs
Sometimes dogs can be finicky and prefer a wet dog food formula. Celebrity cook Rachael Ray has created a line of dog and cat foods called Nutrish. The wet dog food line offers a variety of flavors dogs will love, all of which are made with natural ingredients dog lovers will appreciate.