Fresh dog food is more popular than ever. Whether raw or gently cooked, there’s a growing demand — one being met by an increasing number of companies, many of which sell on a national scale with delivery to your door.
They offer meals for your pet that even look appetizing to parents’ eyes — big chunks of meat and vegetables in a photogenic mixture. The promise is of a more nutritious meal with fewer (often human-grade) ingredients.
If you need convincing of how big this trend has become, consider the fact a fresh dog food company — The Farmer’s Dog — ran a commercial during the 2023 Super Bowl, alongside other scrappy upstarts Google, Amazon and Disney.
There are lots of excellent fresh dog foods on the market, many of which we rate 5-star. As a concept, and usually in practice, it’s a great way to feed your dog. However, there’s a ‘but’.
The downside is it’s not cheap — which is a challenge for many people, particularly if they have large or multiple dogs. But is buying fresh dog food worth the cost? Are there health benefits? Could there even be an economic argument for spending now — if you can — to save later?
What is fresh dog food?
First of all, it helps to have a full understanding of just what fresh dog food is. Rather unhelpfully, there’s no legal definition or any regulatory standards that need to be met in order to earn the fresh moniker.
Instead, the largest brands currently dominating the field — The Farmer’s Dog, Nom Nom and Ollie among them — all share common characteristics. The recipes are made with fresh and unprocessed ingredients, many of which are human-grade, and there are no preservatives or artificial additives anywhere to be seen. They are usually vet-designed and/or developed by board-certified veterinary nutritionists.
Fresh dog food can include raw diets, in which uncooked meat is fed to dogs to mimic their ancestors’ lifestyle. However, much fresh dog food is gently cooked, which helps preserve nutrients, and is more likely to include vegetables.
Another unique aspect is the way in which the meals are created and distributed. Most fresh food companies require parents to fill out a short questionnaire before ordering which asks questions on a range of topics, including the dog’s breed, age and weight. These details are used to tailor recipes and portions around your pet’s individual nutritional needs.
As the meals are made from fresh ingredients, they have a much shorter lifespan and have to be kept in the fridge to avoid going off.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to be constantly dashing to the shop to replenish — most companies offer a subscription service, so fresh dog food is delivered to your front door, often frozen, at a schedule that suits you.
What are the benefits of fresh dog food?
Many parents find the subscription model pretty convenient. Rather than having huge tubs of kibble kicking about or cupboards stacked full of cans, smaller portions can be delivered frozen to their home on a regular basis. That being said, some people might not be keen on keeping dog food in the fridge next to human ingredients.
However, fresh food companies claim the most important difference between their offering and highly-processed alternatives is its increased nutritional value and the signs of improved wellbeing you’ll see in your dog after they’ve been on the diet for a while.
Lots of this is anecdotal, but some of it is backed up by science — a recent study found that dogs’ bodies found it easier to absorb nutrients and calories from fresh food compared to dry alternatives.1
There’s certainly a lot to be said for the way in which fresh food is designed around a dog’s specific dietary requirements, which tend to change as they go through different life stages. This bespoke approach reduces the risk of under- and over-feeding, and the gentle cooking maintains levels of key nutrients.
Another advantage of fresh ingredients is they contain a lot more moisture compared to dry kibble and we all know the importance of dogs drinking enough water throughout the day. As well as that, they’re softer and easier to chew than kibble, especially for older dogs whose teeth aren’t as strong as they once were.
And finally, if you’ve got a dog with a discerning palette — or a picky eater if you don’t want to dress it up — they might just prefer the vibrancy and variety that comes with fresh dog food. If switching over brings empty bowls rather than untouched portions they’ve turned their nose up at, that can only be a good thing.
How much does fresh dog food cost?
There’s no doubt that fresh dog food costs more than most dry or canned wet food, but the prices also differ from brand to brand and dog to dog. Here’s a very rough guide to the cost of fresh dog food brands (prices from June 2023).
|Brand/Breed||German Shepherd||Medium Goldendoodle||Shih Tzu|
|The Farmer’s Dog||$320.88/month||$186.76/month||$93.24/month|
|DFA Discount: 50% off first week||$272.72/first month||$140.14/first month||$70.00/first month|
|DFA Discount: 60% off first 2 weeks||$218.40/first month||$154/first month||$92.40/first month|
|Discount: 50% off first 2 week||$350.14/first month||$232.34/first month||$131.91/first month|
|Discount: 20% off first 16-bag box (PETS20)||$690.87/first month||$474.99/first month||$171.75/first month|
|Discount: 20% off first sub order (FIRSTSUB20)||$510.61/first month||$218.83/first month||$72.94/first month|
|We Feed Raw||$487.04/month||$333.12/month||$136.56/month|
|Discount: 25% off first 2 weeks||$375.18/first month||$263.92/first month||$119.28/first month|
|Spot & Tango||$351.12/month||$254.80/month||$118.52/month|
|DFA Discount: 50% off first 2 weeks (DFA50)||$262.64/first month||$190.59/first month||$89.03/first month|
|A Pup Above||$536.12/month||$268.06/month||$134.03/month|
|DFA Discount: $50 off first Sampler Pack (DFA50)||$486.12/first month||$218.06/first month||$109.03/first month|
Is it worth switching to fresh dog food?
There’s no easy answer to this question. Although some pet parents have been home-cooking fresh dog food for a long time, the commercial market is fairly new and as such, there’s relatively little scientific research validating the companies’ claims about health benefits.
That said, high-quality ingredients that aren’t heavily processed can only be a good thing (for any animal, including humans), especially if the food is well-balanced, well-portioned and suited to your dog. We rate all dog food in exactly the same way and fresh brands do very well in general.
There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence too, from parents who have already made the switch to fresh dog food and seen marked improvements in their dog’s health and behavior first-hand.
Users of fresh food justify the extra expense by reasoning an improved diet and better health will lead to reduced veterinary bills in the long run.
Of course, there’s no guarantee of a long and healthy life, but a good diet (in whatever form) greatly reduces the risk of several debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Greater digestibility is good for gut health and the bespoke portions also reduce the risk of over-feeding and subsequently obesity.
And for those who can afford it, there’s an argument that if a chance that fresh food diet adds to the time they get to spend with their dog, it’s a price worth paying.
If you’re fortunate enough to have the resources to cover the expense of fresh dog food, there’s nothing to lose from giving it a try and seeing if you notice any positive changes in your dog. But remember to always switch between different foods gradually, starting off by mixing in a small portion of the new brand into the old one and gradually increasing over time. This way, you avoid setting off sensitive stomachs and inadvertently making your dog poorly.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with feeding your dog other types of food, as long as they’re good quality. There are plenty of dry dog foods and wet dog foods that we rate 4- or 5-star. They might not look as appealing to humans but your dog doesn’t necessarily share your gourmet standards!
As long as the recipe has been certified complete and balanced by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), it should include the necessary nutrients for your dog — and if you want to take even more care in choosing, you can check out our many Best Dog Food lists.