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The Pros and Cons of Feeding Your Dog a Raw Food Diet

The Pros and Cons of Feeding Your Dog a Raw Food Diet

Jul 07, 2021
AUTHOR Dr. Ross Bernstein

Reviewed by Dr. Ross Bernstein

Dr. Ross Bernstein is a seasoned veterinarian who we’re fortunate to have as the head of our Board of Pet Experts. Dr. Ross earned his doctoral degree in veterinary medicine at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was trained under the guidance of some of the country's most renowned veterinary professionals.

Raw Food Diet for Dogs—Does It Improve Your Dog’s Health?

If you ask Dr. Google about raw dog food, you’ll find both sides of the coin in the search. Many people claim that feeding your pup raw food is extremely harmful, while others vouch for it. 

Regular and raw dog food can have their strong and weak aspects. The downsides of both refer to the missing nutrients in your dog’s diet and the harmful ingredients they contain. You can always improve your pooch’s diet if you invest enough time to investigate which food meets all their nutritional needs.

This is when the Alpha Paw team comes in. In this article, we’re going to introduce you to the negative and positive sides of dog raw food. Consider us your private shortcut towards finding the perfect-balanced nutrition for your canine. We’ll also leave our suggestions for the best raw dog food on the market in case you take a leap of faith and decide to use it in your pup’s nutrition.

Remember that our evaluation is based on thorough investigation and verified information. Our team has worked hard to present to you the best raw dog food analysis. We are not affiliated with any dog food manufacturers, and the results you’ll find in this article are solely ours. The primary goal of our research is to give you all the information you need to raise a healthy pup.

How We Evaluated the Dog Raw Food

Switching to raw dog food can be stressful for many owners, especially if their dog is shifting their diet from regular food to this new diet regime. Dog parents worry about their pet’s reaction to a complete change in their nutrition. Our team has decided to help you with this transition and present some crucial information that can ease the whole process. To be confident that we’re giving you all the right details, we sought help from reliable sources.

  1. Ph.D. veterinarians
  2. Online reviewers
  3. Our readers

Nutrition equals health, and when we evaluate food, we seek advice from our Ph.D. veterinarians. They explained to us what nutrients should make up good raw dog food. These experts also warned us of common mistakes that dog parents make when switching their pets to different food regimes. Raw dog food can have plenty of nutritional deficiencies which need to be compensated or replaced.

Online reviews gave us additional info from the perspective of dog owners and their experience. Not all dog breeds have the same diet requirements, and they can all react differently to identical formulas. However, there are some general guidelines that dog parents need to follow regardless of which breed they own.

We have the best audience! Our readers were invaluable sources of information. Only with their generous help did we collect enough data to share with you. We also tested several commercial raw dog foods, and selected a few, as our top picks.

What Is Raw Dog Food?

A proper raw dog diet commonly consists of:

  • Uncooked meat
  • Whole or ground bones
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Dairy
  • Raw eggs

If you have been feeding your pet with regular food, and now wish to switch to raw food, we advise you to make a slow transition between the two feeding regimes. 

Typically, raw food is more costly, and it requires pedantic care and sanitation. Keeping raw food in the house with children is not recommendable. It carries a risk of contamination and causing salmonella, E-coli, or listeria.

You should look for high-quality raw food products from Defra-registered manufacturers. More rigid bacteriological rules regulate these foods, and you will find them in clean packaging.

Whether you decide to use raw or regular food, it’s the quality of ingredients that’s most important. You should also strive to make your canine’s diet as balanced as possible. Dogs require 37 vital nutrients to meet all their dietary needs, and that’s sometimes difficult to accomplish with raw dog food.

We will give you info on the essential ingredients that should find their way to your dog’s bowl. If you want your hairy companion to be healthy, strong, and happy, follow all our advice.  But before we move on to ingredients, let’s learn a bit more about dog raw food advantages and disadvantages.

Dog Raw Food Diet—Pros and Cons

Dog parents have an inclination towards giving raw food to their pooch because of its advantages over regular dog food. The well-balanced raw dog food can:

  1. Build on your pup’s immune system
  2. Keep their joints and teeth healthy
  3. Promote skin and coat health
  4. Improve their stool
  5. Boost energy levels

However, there are plenty of controversies revolving around dog raw food. In the list below, you’ll find all disadvantages that dog owners are usually most afraid of. Raw dog food can cause:

  1. Bacterial contamination
  2. Nutritional deficiencies
  3. A risk of ill-borne illnesses
  4. Choking or broken teeth from the bones

Due to all the controversies around raw food, we wanted to help you clear any doubts you might have. Our task was to find raw dog food that provides your pup with well-balanced nutrition. If you want to feed your pooch the best raw dog food diets, pay attention to the following.

Feeding Dogs Raw Food

This food regime is not new—it has existed for a long time, and its popularity has increased rapidly in the last few years. There are numerous guidelines that you need to keep track of. High-quality ingredients and well-balanced dogs’ raw food is what you are aiming at. So, let’s dive in.

Dog Raw Food Needs to Contain Calcium and Phosphorous

If your dog gets only clean meat as part of their nutrition, they will suffer from calcium deficiency. Meat contains phosphorus but lacks calcium, which is extremely important for their bones as well as dental health.

Fortunately, bones can compensate for the lack of calcium in meat. Your buddy’s raw dog diet should contain 12–16% of bones. You can find a good calcium source in

  • Chicken legs
  • Chicken wings
  • Chicken, turkey, lamb, or goat necks
  • Lamb ribs

You need to be extremely careful with poultry bones, though. They pose a choking hazard and they tend to be brittle. The bones can be ground and mixed into the food to provide all the nutrients. If you want to give your pooch a whole raw bone, you need to supervise them while they’re at it. Giving your pooch the whole animal to eat will provide them with plenty of nutrients, but you have to be careful with bones and try not to let your pooch overeat.

Be Careful with Too Much Fat in Dog Raw Food

Fat can be highly useful for our pups. Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids maintain your pooch’s lustrous coat and skin. It can improve their immune system but only if used in moderation.
Dog parents usually give too much fat to their pets, because raw dog food that contains more fat than meat is generally cheaper. Our pups might adore it, but in the long run, their body will show negative aspects of this kind of diet.

Pups who get too much fat can’t process all vitamins and minerals they require. This fat is stored in their bodies, and thus, they start gaining weight. Don’t buy them food that contains more than 20% fat.

Fat is usually found in products with animal skin. Make sure you buy meat without skins. Instead of ground, search for leaned ground beef. Products with fish and rabbits are also fat-friendly.

Your Pup Doesn’t Require Starch In Their Raw Food Diet

Overeating can disrupt the microbes in their digestive tract. These microbes maintain their immune system, and extra starch can lead to allergies, infections, diabetes, and other health problems.

Most commercial regular dog foods contain potatoes, peas, and grain. These ingredients are known to aggravate digestion, not only for dogs but for humans too! Raw dog food gives you the benefit of completely excluding starch from their diet. 

Include Fruits and Vegetables in Your Dog’s Raw Food Diet

Dogs are often associated with wolves and their nutrition. Although wolves are carnivorous animals, dogs have evolved throughout the years and developed different diet needs. Dog’s food today should contain both animal-based and plant-based nutrients. Here are some useful plant-based sources of nutrients that you can include in your dog’s diet.

  • Vegetables such as watermelon, tomato, and carrots are rich in Lycopene. This antioxidant slows down cancer.
  • Papaya, broccoli, and kale provide dogs with Lutein. It is incredibly beneficial for your pup’s heart and skin.
  • Apples are good for dogs. They contain lots of vitamins A and C, as well as fiber. Our vets recommend apples, especially for senior and overweight dogs.
  • Bananas are rich in sugar, but they can be used as treats. Bananas contain copper, potassium, biotin, vitamins, biotin, and fiber.
  • Cranberries, blueberries, and raspberries are also fine. They can provide your pup with useful nutrients but only if given in moderation.

Include Animal Organs in Your Dog’s Raw Food Diet

Animal organs contain lots of vitamins, but make sure they don’t make more than 10% percent of your dog’s diet. Organs that your pup will benefit from are:

  1. Liver. It’s a great source of protein, zinc, folate, and iron. It’s also rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B6, and B12, but it should not make up more than 5% of your dog’s diet.
  2. Brain. It has lots of protein, but it’s not rich in minerals and vitamins.
  3. Kidney. This organ provides your pup with protein, zinc, iron, and folate. It contains fatty acids, which make their coat shiny.
  4. Spleen. It’s very high in iron. However, excessive iron can lead to severe health issues, such as tremors, vomiting, diarrhea. Feed your doggo with 5% liver in raw diets for vital fat-soluble vitamins.
  5. Lungs. They are high in protein and provide dogs with energy.

In case your pup starts losing too much weight after the feeding transition, take them to the nutritionist to see if they should get their own tailored raw food diet.

What is the Best Dog Raw Food on the Market?

In the table below, you’ll find our top picks for the best raw dog food on the market. Remember that we are not affiliated with any food brand, and we don’t get paid for promoting products. We picked out these formulas based on our detailed research and guidelines from the experts.

Alpha Paw Picks Brand Rating
Best overall Stella Chewy’s — Chicken Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food 4.9
First runner-up Instinct by Nature’s Variety — Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Dog Food 4.8
Second runner-up Merrick — Backcountry Raw Infused Great Plains Red Recipe with Beef, Lamb Rabbit Grain-Free Dry Dog Food 4.7

Stella Chewy’s — Chicken Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food

Source: stella and chewy’s

Stella Chewy’s — Chicken Dinner Patties Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food is a formula that provides complete and balanced nutrition. Its probiotics promote healthy digestion and keep your buddy safe from gastrointestinal issues. It doesn’t have any:

  • Grains
  • Filler
  • Gluten
  • Artificial preservatives
  • Artificial colors

Meat that’s used in this formula comes from chickens who were raised without hormones or antibiotics. Bones are a vital part of every raw food diet, as they compensate for the lack of calcium. The formula also contains vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein 48.0% min
Crude Fat 28.0% min
Crude Fiber 5.0 % max
Moisture 5.0% max
Microorganisms 50,000,000 CFU/oz min


Chicken With Ground Bone, Chicken Liver, Chicken Gizzard, Pumpkin Seed, Organic Cranberries, Organic Spinach, Organic Broccoli, Organic Beets, Organic Carrots, Organic Squash, Sodium Selenite, Niacin Supplement, Organic Blueberries, Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Fenugreek Seed, Potassium Chloride, Dried Kelp, Sodium Phosphate, Tocopherols (Preservative), Choline Chloride, Dried Pediococcus Acidilactici Fermentation Product, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Dried Lactobacillus Acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Bifidobacterium Longum Fermentation Product, Dried Bacillus Coagulans Fermentation Product, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Taurine, Calcium Carbonate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement.

Instinct by Nature’s Variety—Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Dog Food

Source: instinct the raw brand

Instinct by Nature’s Variety — Raw Boost Grain-Free Recipe with Real Chicken Dry Dog Food is a product that contains high animal protein. The first ingredient is a cage-free chicken, vital for lean muscles. It is deprived of:

  • Grain
  • Wheat
  • By-product meal
  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial preservatives

It’s rich in Omega fatty acids, which maintain the dog’s healthy coat and skin. Probiotic helps your pup with digestive system problems.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein 37.0% min
Crude Fat 20.50% min
Crude Fiber 4.0 % max
Moisture 9.0% max
Zinc 120 mg/kg
Selenium 0.60 mg/kg
Vitamin A 18,000 IU/kg
Vitamin E 120 IU/kg
*Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) (min) 100 mg/kg
*Omega 3 Fatty Acids (min) 0.35 %
*Omega 6 Fatty Acids (min) 3.20 %
Bacillus coagulans (min) 60,000,000 CFU/lb


Chicken, Chicken Meal, Peas, Chicken Fat (preserved with Mixed Tocopherols and Citric Acid), Tapioca, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Herring Meal, Freeze Dried Chicken, Menhaden Fish Meal, Natural Flavor, Freeze Dried Chicken Liver, Salt, Blueberries, Niacin Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate, Dried Bacillus coagulans Fermentation Product, Rosemary Extract Dried Tomato Pomace, Pumpkin seeds, Freeze Dried Chicken Heart, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Potassium Chloride, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin), Montmorillonite Clay, Carrots, Apples, Cranberries, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide), Choline Chloride, Dried Kelp, Salmon Oil.

Merrick—Backcountry Raw Infused Great Plains Red Recipe with Beef, Lamb Rabbit Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

Source: backcountry

Merrick — Backcountry Raw Infused Great Plains Red Recipe with Beef, Lamb Rabbit Grain-Free Dry Dog Food is a grain-free formula whose first ingredient is real deboned beef. Its high-quality protein promotes healthy muscle tissue. Every Merrick Backcountry formula has plenty of Omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. In case your dog has dry skin, provide them with plenty of amino acids! Glucosamine and chondroitin promote your dog’s joint health and reduce pain.

These premium ingredients will keep your dog healthy.

It doesn’t contain any:

  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial preservatives

Your pup will fall in love with this formula’s taste and aroma.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein 38.0% min
Crude Fat 17.0% min
Crude Fiber 3.50% max
Moisture 11.0% max
*Omega 3 Fatty Acids (min) 0.30%
*Omega 6 Fatty Acids (min) 3.00 %
Glucosamine* (min.) 800 mg/kg
Chondroitin sulfate* (min.) 800 mg/kg


Deboned Beef, Lamb Meal, Salmon Meal, Sweet Potatoes, Potatoes, Peas, Natural Flavor, Potato Protein, Pork Fat, Pork Meal, Pea Protein, Lamb, Rabbit, Beef Liver, Sunflower Oil, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Salt, Organic Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Apples, Blueberries, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, Minerals (Iron Amino Acid Complex, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Zinc Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Yucca Schidigera Extract, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Manganese Amino Acid Complex, Dried Enterococcus faecium Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Copper Sulfate, Potassium Iodide, Cobalt Proteinate, Cobalt Carbonate), Taurine, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin A Acetate, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Citric Acid for freshness, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus casei Fermentation Product.

Let’s Sum up What We Have Learned About Dog Raw Food

If you decide to switch your dog to a raw food diet, make sure you include all nutrients they need. Any deficiency in their nutrition will reflect on their health, so be careful. Don’t give them the same food every day. It’s monotonous, and they’ll be more likely to miss out on some nutrients.

Raw dog food has some disadvantages, but they can be compensated if you follow all the guidelines dutifully. 

The formulas we picked out to present to you will provide your pup with everything they need and smooth the transition. In case you have given up on shifting to raw food, take a look at our list of best large breed dry dog food. Make sure you avoid the worst dry dog food brands. If you prefer canned food, go through the best-canned dog food on the market.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_feeding
  2. Schmidt, Milena, et al. “The Fecal Microbiome and Metabolome Differs between Dogs Fed Bones and Raw Food (BARF) Diets and Dogs Fed Commercial Diets.” Plos One, vol. 13, no. 8, 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0201279.
  3. Poveromo, Mark. “To Your Dog’s Health!: Canine Nutrition and Recent Trends within the Pet Food Industry.” Amazon, Poor Man’s Press, 2010, www.amazon.com/Your-Dogs-Health-Nutrition-Industry/dp/0984301704.
author image

Dr. Ross Bernstein

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Ross Bernstein is a seasoned veterinarian who we’re fortunate to have as the head of our Board of Pet Experts. Dr. Ross completed his undergraduate studies at Duke University, earning his B.S. in Neuroscience with a minor in Economics and Psychology. He then went on to pursue his doctoral degree in veterinary medicine at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was trained under the guidance of some of the country's most renowned veterinary professionals.

After UC Davis, Dr. Ross completed a one-year rotating internship in Medicine & Surgery at the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine, and recently completed an additional year of further training in small animal surgery at the Las Vegas Veterinary Specialty Center, where he gained extensive experience in complex soft tissue, orthopedic and neurological procedures.

Dr. Ross shares his home with a Golden Retriever named Duma. We’re lucky to have someone as experienced, knowledgeable, and passionate as Dr. Ross in our pack – not only as our trusted advisor, but also as our good friend. Thank you, Dr. Ross!

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