“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’s 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.
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.
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?
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. If they’re not local, that’s okay too because many raw dog food brands these days offer deliver right to your dog. This saves you precious fridge and freezer space.
Prey Model gets second place because it’s a “meat only” diet. It’s possible to be a savvy shopper and slash prices with sales and couponing, but meat will likely be the most expensive ingredient
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.
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.
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.
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.
Honorable Mention – Premade Raw Dog Food
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 may have no idea if they’re artificial or synthetic.
Simply put, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work with dogs that have medical conditions.
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.
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 your 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.
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.
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.
Runner Up – Homemade BARF diet
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.
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 some people 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.
Here’s the deal:
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 may not be quite as natural.
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.
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 as well.
When it comes to food-borne illnesses, nothing is a guarantee. But making food at home is statistically less risky, if you follow proper food safety handling, defrosting, and serving protocols.
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.
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.
If feeding your dog bones makes you uncomfortable, then premade raw dog food will be your best bet.
Most 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.
Prey Model takes last place because it’s slightly riskier.
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 latter 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.
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.