When I was considering making the switch to raw dog food, I felt as if I were going around in circles.

“Is there a best raw diet for dogs” was a question that constantly popped into my mind. While I knew raw was the right choice, I couldn’t decide which type of diet was the best option – and as you might imagine, everyone had a strong opinion.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

Getting started with raw dog food can be REALLY confusing. And the first step – choosing an appropriate raw diet – is often the hardest.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Once I learned the facts, I realized it was simply a matter of personal preference.

So what is the best raw diet for dogs? The one that works for your dog, but also your lifestyle, personality, and pocketbook.

Today, I’ll share an exhaustive pro-and-con list to help you decide which raw diet is the best fit for your household.

1. Which Raw Diet is the Most Convenient?

Winner: Premade Raw Dog Food

Commercially prepared raw diets are the closest you’ll get to the ease of kibble but you’re feeding your dog fresh, raw foods instead.

If you want to feed your dog a healthier choice without much energy or effort, then premade raw dog food is the way to go:

  • There’s no need to learn how to feed a raw diet or create meals. All the work is done for you.
  • It’s a true time saver. Defrost and serve.
  • Premade raw dog food tends to require less storage space than the other options because of local availability.
  • If it’s from a pet boutique, specialty store, or national pet food retailer, you don’t need to buy in bulk. This saves you precious fridge and freezer space.

Runner Up: Homemade BARF or Prey Model Diet

BARF and Prey Model diets tie for second place.

BARF diets tend to be slightly more convenient. Because they include fruits and vegetables, sourcing ingredients becomes a tad easier. A Prey Model diet may present a problem with sourcing a true variety of foods. (For example, do you know where to get chicken feet, green tripe or beef pancreas?)

BARF diets may become more complicated if you opt to make ground dog food at home. This requires crushing muscle meat, bone, organs, and other ingredients through a meat grinder. This can involve expensive equipment and could turn into a time-intensive chore.

A homemade diet will always require a little more work than the grab and go style of pet food, but it can be worth it. That’s why you cook for yourself at home, right?

2. Which Raw Diet is the Most Affordable?

Winner – Homemade BARF Diet

BARF diets take first place.

Why? Fruits, vegetables, and dairy lower the food bill. Even if you buy organic; fruits and vegetables will always be cheaper than meat. Except if you opt to make ground dog food. In that case, you’ll probably need to shell out a few hundred bucks for a meat grinder.

Runner Up – Homemade Prey Model Diet

Prey Model gets second place because it’s a “meat only” diet. It’s possible to be a savvy shopper and slice prices with sales and couponing, but meat will likely be the most expensive ingredient.

Honorable Mention – Premade Raw Dog Food

Odds are, buying premade raw dog food will cost more than making it at home. The logistics make the product more expensive.

Raw dog food uses fresh, real ingredients, which is a far cry from the ingredients used in most types of kibble. Some brands may also need to test batches of food for bacterial contamination. There’s also the added cost of packaging, shipping and displaying perishable product.

If you have a small dog, the price might not be a deterrent. But if you have several dogs, a large, or extra large dog breed – this will likely be the most expensive option.

Many raw feeders choose homemade diets for the price alone. Think about it: is it cheaper to have a meal at a nice steak restaurant, or to cook at home? The same principle applies to raw dog food.

3. Which Raw Diet Offers the Most Control?

Winner – Homemade BARF & Prey Model Diets

If you’re looking for the most control, homemade raw diets (BARF or Prey Model) are your best bet. Why?

  • First, you have no way of knowing exactly what’s in commercially prepared raw dog food. You can read the ingredient list, but there’s no way to tell how much of each ingredient was used, or in what percentage. Perhaps the manufacturer added more carbohydrates to cut costs. In that case, you may be buying product with less meat and more fruits and vegetables than you think.
  • What if your dog has allergies or can’t tolerate certain proteins? Commercial brands have a limited number of formulas, which may decrease your options.
  • You have no idea which parts of an animal are in the recipe. Does it contain chicken breast or chicken by products? The same goes for fruits and vegetables. Are they organic? Supplements, added vitamins, and minerals sound nice, but you have no idea if they’re artificial or synthetic.

If your dog has a medical condition, a homemade raw diet will outshine a premade one.

Simply put, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. With homemade diets, you can tailor recipes to your dog’s specific situation. Include ingredients that nourish and heal. Avoid ingredients that may exacerbate the condition. A homemade raw diet will always provide you with the most control.

Runner Up – Premade Raw Dog Food

A commercially prepared raw diet has its advantages, but it offers less control than a homemade diet. Each brand only has so many products, protein options, and formulas. You’ll need to choose a product that best fits your dog.

How? Research the company, scrutinize labels, and ask questions.

But realize no matter how much research you do (or how stellar their customer service is), you’re at the mercy of what they tell you. There will always be certain things you won’t know, like exact recipes, ingredient percentages, and exactly where the food came from.

If you can make peace with being in the dark on some things, a commercial raw diet can be a great option. Just make sure to research the company, read reviews, and know who’s behind the brand.

4. Which Raw Diet Offers the Greatest Dental Benefit?

Winner – Homemade Prey Model Diet

Any raw diet is an improvement over processed pet food.

Why? Because raw diets are mostly free from ingredients that can cause plaque buildup. But feeding a raw diet doesn’t guarantee pearly whites!

What often gets overlooked is the role raw meaty bones play in cleaning the teeth.

Prey Model diets tend to contain whole prey, partial carcasses, and more raw meaty bones than the other raw diets. All that crunching, gnawing, crushing, tearing, and ripping through meat and bone is essential to a dog’s dental health. It keeps teeth clean and gums healthy by scraping away plaque.

Additionally, working through bone has proven physical and psychological benefits. It keeps your dog’s neck and jaw muscles strong through pure physical exertion, and provides mental stimulation. Your dog gets to use his head! He may have to stop and figure out the best way to tackle what’s in front of him, or try different approaches.

The act of chewing relieves boredom and anxiety, promotes general satisfaction, and releases endorphins. Ask any raw feeder about the enjoyment their dogs reap from the process.

Runner Up – Homemade BARF diet

BARF diets are a close second to Prey Model diets, because they tend to vary.

BARF diets including whole prey, partial carcasses, and lots of raw meaty bones should provide the same dental benefit.

Ground diets are a different story.

Ground diets shouldn’t cause much staining or plague buildup (unless they include an excess of starchy carbohydrates). But they do little to clean or scrape what’s already on the teeth. A ground diet also encourages gulping. Ground pet food can’t teach a dog how to take their time, or how to handle bones. The mental and physical benefits that come from eating raw, meaty bones are also lost.

Honorable Mention – Premade Raw Dog Food

Commercially prepared raw diets are last in this category. Most are ground meat mixtures. That means they contain ground bones instead of raw meaty bones.

There’s nothing wrong with ground bone! It provides essential nutrients and keeps stools firm. What it lacks is the benefit of cleaning teeth and the mental and physical stimulation dogs get from ripping flesh and crunching bone. However, there’s no reason you can’t feed a ground raw diet and provide recreational bones for daily dental benefits.

5. Which Raw Diet Is the Most Natural, Primal, or Authentic?

Winner – Homemade Prey Model & BARF diets

Prey Model and BARF tie for first place in this category, but let’s make the disclaimer:

This is a loaded question. The answer depends on your beliefs about dogs and what their early diets were like.

  • If you believe dogs are true carnivores, then Prey Model will be the natural choice.
  • If you consider dogs as facultative carnivores or omnivores, a BARF diet will be more appropriate.

Either way, diets containing whole prey, partial carcasses or raw meaty bones should be authentic enough. You can’t get more natural than homemade raw dog food. It tends to include more locally sourced ingredients, is fresher, and changes fewer hands.

As for which diet is the most natural, the bottom line is this: feeding your dog fresh, raw foods is as natural as it gets.

Runner Up – Premade Raw Dog Food

Commercially prepared raw dog food is leaps and bounds above kibble. It’s more than capable of producing a happy and healthy dog. But compared to Prey Model and BARF, it’s not quite as natural.

That’s okay! Many consider it a modern and convenient option for raw feeders. This is the twenty-first century, and homemade raw diets are not practical for everyone.

There’s one more thing, however. While most raw dog food is not processed, premade raw dog food brands may undergo some processing.

Here’s the deal:

Commercial raw diets are subject to regulatory control by the AAFCO. This may invite external pressure for increased safety processes. That’s not a bad thing. But as a result, select brands may undergo some form of pasteurization. This is called High Pressure Pasteurization, or Hydrostatic High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP).

These processes claim to make formulas safe from harmful bacteria while retaining the food’s nutrient value. And if that’s true – awesome!

Yet many do not believe these are natural processes. Pasteurization, by definition, “is the sterilization of foods at a temperature that destroys microorganisms.” A byproduct of pasteurization can be the degradation or destruction of vital nutrients like vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

For some, this is a deal-breaker. For others, it’s a benefit.

HPP processes are minimal, and likely don’t cause drastic nutrient loss. Either way, you have a right to the facts, and choose an option that you feel is the best fit for your dog.

6. Which Raw Diet is the Safest From Food Borne Illness?

Winner – Homemade BARF & Prey Model diets

Prey Model and Barf diets take the prize in the food safety category. Why? They’re both homemade raw diets.

With homemade diets, you know exactly what’s in them. You know where the ingredients came from. You know the quality (human grade, free range, grass fed, organic, etc.) and what part of the animal they originated from. The food has changed fewer hands and was prepared in your kitchen. You observed proper food safety and handling techniques with your own eyes.

Runner Up – Premade Raw Dog Food

Commercially prepared raw dog food comes in second place for a few reasons.

  • Most commercial pet food is manufactured in large, commercial kitchens or through a co-packer. Food produced on a mass scale invites greater chance for unsanitary practices or contamination. Kibble takes the cake as far as the sheer amount of food safety recalls. But premade raw dog food is not immune. As with any large brand, there have been recalls (and will be again).
  • As you read above, commercial raw diets may undergo processing to make food safer. A great idea, but it’s not always effective. Brands that have used Hydrostatic High Pressure Pasteurization have made recalls in the past.

When it comes to food-borne illnesses, nothing is a guarantee. But making food at home is less risky, if you follow proper food safety handling, defrosting, and serving protocols.

7. Which Raw Diet Presents Fewer Issues With Bones?

Winner – Premade Raw Dog Food

If feeding your dog bones makes you uncomfortable, then premade raw dog food will be your best bet. Prepackaged raw dog food contains finely ground bone within the product. It provides the essential calcium requirement without the fear of bone fragments causing issues.

Keep in mind however that carnivorous animals have been eating meat and bone since the dawn of time, and modern dogs are perfectly capable of this. What’s most important is being a responsible dog owner when it comes to bones, knowing your dog, and maintaining supervision around feeding time.

If you’re not comfortable with the thought of feeding bones, opt for a commercial raw diet with virtually the same benefit.

Runner Up – Homemade BARF diet

A homemade BARF diet can take second place if you’re making dog food at home with a meat grinder.

This is essentially the same thing as a premade raw dog food, because the bone is ground with meat and other ingredients. That means less worry about bone fragments or other issues (either for you or your dog).

A homemade BARF diet is also a fantastic option for senior dogs with few teeth or those with severe dental issues.

Honorable Mention – Homemade Prey Model Diet

Prey Model takes last place because it’s slightly more risky.

It’s not that bones themselves are dangerous. All carnivorous animals eat bones; it’s what they were designed for. What’s important is making sure our dogs eat bones safely.

To start, there’s a proper way to introduce bones. Kibble-fed dogs only know how to inhale or “gulp” food. They’ve never had to break or crush their meals before.

Be attentive and always supervise your dog when eating raw meaty bones. Some dogs will be naturals, and others will remain “gulpers.” For the later group, hand feeding raw meaty bones may be a better option.

If you’re nervous, remember to introduce bone correctly and start slow. You can always reach out to raw feeding Facebook groups, forums, and resources for help and support.

Conclusion: Is There a Best Raw Diet for Dogs?

The first step in any raw dog food transition, and often the most difficult, is deciding what kind of raw diet to provide.

But now you have all the tools you need. You understand the differences between the three main types of raw diets. And after reading this article, you have a clear list of the pros and cons for each type of raw dog food diet.

Did we objectively determine the best raw diet for dogs?

Well, no, because it’s still a matter of personal preference. But hopefully we found the best raw diet for your dog and your lifestyle. Now, it’s up to you to choose.

But first, I want to hear what you have to say! Which diet makes the most sense for your lifestyle? Which diet will be the best fit for your dog?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment right now.



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Comments (11)

  • Yik

    Great article Amy!

    Would like to point out that HPP does not use heat – just water pressure (85000 psi) in its anti-pathogen process.

    Also, safety concerns in poultry is a big issue in both homemade and pre-made raw food. Salmonella is present in poultry sold in grocery stores for human consumption, although steps has been taken in reducing them, it is still not a zero-tolerance in the poultry industry, http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2015/01/fsis-releases-new-salmonella-campylobacter-performance-standards-for-poultry/#.V5uiQbgrI2w.

    So it is hard to say that the poultry you get is totally salmonella-free. I believe getting your poultry from reputable sources is better but if you go to this link, http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/questions-answers-about-salmonella/, the National Chicken Council states that “USDA notes that it does not know of any valid scientific information that shows that any specific type of chicken has more or less Salmonella bacteria than other poultry” under the question “Are chickens labeled “organic” more safe and lower in Salmonella bacteria?”

    For those who feed poultry and are concerned about Salmonella, a “kill-step” is necessary.

    Yik =)

    Reply to Yik
    • Amy Marshall

      Hi Yik, thanks for sharing more info on HPP! And absolutely, we can never know for sure when salmonella or other food borne pathogens will strike. I think that most people (whether buying raw food for their families or pets) understand that there is no such thing as salmonella-free or “food borne pathogen free” fresh foods. For the most part, all dog owners can do is make the best possible decision with the information in front of them and sourcing meats from reputable sources is the first step! Thanks for sharing these links. They last one makes an excellent point that “organic” and “all-natural” don’t mean anything when it comes to the risk of food-borne pathogens.

      Reply to Amy
  • Alisa

    We use a BARF model for our dogs. We also grind our own meals. It is costly on the front end but my grinder has paid off! It takes take effort but I would do the same for my family! It’s convenient for our household since the cats eat raw food as well

    Reply to Alisa
    • Amy Marshall

      Alisa, that’s amazing to hear! I agree, it’s definitely work it. Keep up the good work :-)

      Reply to Amy
  • Becky

    Can you recommend barf model brands that are ok to use?? There are so many. Souly yours, stella and chewy as well as 100’s of others.

    Reply to Becky
  • Maribell Pergola

    Hi, What do you recommend for a chihuahua that has a liver shunt? We are overwhelmed. We have him on a Liver Diet Prescription (Hills L/D) and we give him apples, celery, and carrots for snacks in between meals. It was working for a few weeks but his diarrhea returned. He is drinking water. We decided to try the raw diet approach. We gave him very little cantaloupe and approximately an hour later organic chicken. We are also give him pepto bismal. Any suggestions? He continues to have diarrhea.

    Reply to Maribell
    • Sharon W

      Maribell, several years ago I had a Chesapeake that had a liver shunt. When he would no longer eat the Hills L/D, I fed him Natural Balance Vegetarian dry dog food. I fed him little to no meat, as he could not handle meat protein. Look on line for Liver Shunt homemade diets (especially the ones formulated by a University). He willingly ate tofu and other non-meat based proteins. Please do your research and talk with your vet regarding feeding your dog. Good luck with your pup, I understand being overwhelmed when you find out your dog has a liver shunt.

      Reply to Sharon
    • Maddie

      Hi Maribell,
      I’m pretty new to the raw feeding thing, but the BARF diet says some dairy is ok. If switching to raw I would personally take the transition at least twice as slow because your dog is already sensitive. As far as the dairy goes I’ve done some research on Kefir for dogs (like yogurt but way more probiotics) and its really great for helping heal the digestive system for dogs (and humans) and is followed by so many more great benefits. Adding liver in very small amounts (sometimes slightly cooked if your dog is picky) will also help with his liver. The saying you are what you eat actually has a lot of truth to it! If all else fails, talk to a holistic vet. A lot of vets are very against raw diets simply because they were taught its bad. A holistic vet will take the time to find a better alternative with diet and no shoving pills down your pups throat.

      Reply to Maddie
  • Jennifer Givens

    I’ve just switched to Stella and Chewy’s frozen raw chicken patties. I intend to rotate proteins with beef patties. I’m concerned about nutrient loss with HPP but also feel this retains much more nutritional value than the former Taste of the Wild my dogs were eating.
    I intended to transition over 10 days as recommended, but the Chihuahua was picking out the raw & spitting the kibble back in the bowl,so on day 3, I decided to deal with any diahrea,but their stools stayed actually became healthier looking instead of so constipated looking,still firm but not brick hard.
    After a week, I’ve noticed they no longer have bad breath & they, at almost 10, esp the Pomeranian, have doubled the energy level.
    Your information was very informative! I was worried I’d made the wrong choice G going with the Stella and Chewy’s frozen patties because it does contain organic vegetables that the PREY advocates day aren’t needed & I’ve read that HPP can reduce nutrients but after reading this & seeing the difference, I think I’ve made the right choice. My dogs are so excited at meal times now where before it was like… Meh, & they’d eat a few pieces at a time. Now I feed 3 times a day & they clean their bowls.
    Thank you for such enlightening information!

    Reply to Jennifer
    • Amy Marshall

      You’re welcome Jennifer, I’m glad you found it useful! It always helps to test commercial raw dog food and see how your dog does on various brands, formulas, etc.. But at the end of the day REAL food is so much better than processed food so I wouldn’t get too hung up on the ingredients or the processing techniques. Use your dog’s improvement (or lack of improvement) as a gauge. It’s great to hear how well your dogs are doing – keep up the good work!

      Reply to Amy

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