It is no secret that fresh foods taste better than processed foods. Fresh food does not only benefit humans, but fresh dog food is also a growing trend among pet parents. There are many benefits of fresh food, and dogs simply love the taste.
Fresh food is made from high-quality, human-grade ingredients. For some dog parents, fresh food is a preferred choice. Others may be pretty new to the concept. As with all canine diets, fresh dog food can be a confusing landscape.
Choosing the best food for your dog is no small decision. Nutrition is one of the most significant factors in a canine’s development, growth, and long-term health. We reviewed some of the top fresh nutritional options available to help owners make an informed choice.
Best Fresh Foods At A Glance
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What Is Fresh Dog Food?
Fresh dog food is made from human-grade ingredients and prepared especially for canines to eat. It has far fewer preservatives and additives. Fresh food must be refrigerated and is available from stores, as well as through subscriptions. Some owners take on the task of preparing their fur baby’s meals at home, while others will choose to buy commercially made fresh food.
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), “human-grade food” is food that is safe for humans to eat. This is not to say that pups on this diet should simply be fed an extra portion of whatever we make for dinner. Technically these products may be safe for humans to consume but may not be human taste friendly, as they will be made with far fewer seasonings. Canines cannot digest the heavy spices, oils, and flavorings we often use. In fact, many of these are toxic to them.
Fresh chow is made with real, all-natural ingredients and contains meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains. It can be made gluten and grain-free. This option can have many benefits for canines and is the best-tasting diet available. Most recipes are formulated to fit a canine ideal natural diet and incorporate a blend of nutrients and minerals.
Benefits Of Fresh Dog Food
It cuts out many of the overprocessed ingredients used in other types of canine chow. These products are often formulated by board-certified animal nutrition experts. Fresh foods are prepared and cooked at lower temperatures taking away the risks of raw diets while keeping more nutritional value. Fresh food has a high moisture content, often as high as 75% or more. This is much better than plain kibble or even canned. It comes without thick, fatty gravy or sauces.
Canines fed a fresh diet tend to have more energy than those who eat kibble or high-fat pre-packaged canned chow. The fresh ingredients are easier for their digestive systems to break down, and nutrients are still fresh and have not been overcooked or broken down. Dogs are able to get as much energy as possible from a fresh diet.
Fresh diets provide high levels of natural oils and essential fats that keep their coats shiny and soft. They also promote skin health and are sometimes recommended for pups who suffer from allergies or skin conditions. High levels of nutrients like vitamin B, zinc, and fatty acids are very beneficial in helping their bodies heal skin irritants or infections. Additionally, fresh food diets are often high in vitamin A, which supports eye health and appearance.
Fresh food diets are easier for pups to digest and can be very good for their gastrointestinal health. This can lead to more regular bowel movements and healthier stools. Dogs are able to use as many nutrients as possible, leaving less waste and byproducts to pass through.
Canines who are fed high-quality nutrition are healthier overall and will have fewer trips to the vet. They will have more energy, leading to a better quality of life. Feeding a pet fresh food is one of the most expensive options, which makes it impractical for some owners to provide their pups with every meal. If money were no object, this is likely the choice most canine owners would make.
What To Look For In A Fresh Food
Reading product labels is always advised. Keep an eye out for highly processed ingredients. Along with nutritional content, a brand’s reputation and practices will also impact how an owner feels about a particular brand. While nutritional value and quality are always the first concern, how the product is made and what methods are used is a close second.
Looking at a brand’s history and reputation can give owners an idea of what the company stands for. Research the company a little, look at where they get their ingredients, and what they support. This is an excellent way to learn about recalls or lawsuits a company may have had. Find out what other people say by reading reviews, asking friends, or talking to your vet. Look for the AAFCO statement and what ingredients a brand is outsourcing. Reputable companies will work with pet nutritionists and veterinarians to ensure options are top quality and meet all a canine’s needs.
Always read nutritional labels to see what goes into making a specific dog product. Ingredients in pet chows are listed by weight. This means that the ingredients that are the most prominent are listed first. Always check to see these first ingredients, as they tell the truth about what is in dog chow. Even if a label claims an ingredient is fresh, if the first ingredient is dehydrated chicken, that clearly is not the case. Reading labels to make sure that brand claims are true is always advisable. Some AAFCO nutritional guidelines to keep in mind:
- Arginine – 0.62 for puppies. 0.51 for adults.
- Protein – 22% for puppies. 18% for adults.
- Fat – 8% for puppies. 5% for adults.
- Calcium – 1% for puppies. 0.6% for adults.
- Phosphorus – 0.8% for puppies. 0.5% for adults.
- Sodium – 0.3% for puppies. 0.06% for adults.
- Lysine – 0.77% for puppies. 0.63% for adults.
- Leucine 0.72 % for puppies. 0.59 for adults.
- Chloride – 0.45 % for a puppy. 0.095 for adults.
- (This is not a complete list)
Owners need to remember that puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs. While some foods can be suitable for both, puppies need more fat, protein, minerals, and calories than adults. This is because they are in a period of rapid growth throughout the first year. Adult canines do not need food full of fat and calories. Overeating can cause weight gain, risk of obesity, elevated risk for heart disease, and other long-term health issues. Puppies who eat adult-formulated foods will not receive as much of the vital nutrients they need to support their rapid growth and high energy use. Always discuss with your veterinarian if you are concerned that your pup’s food is not meeting his needs.
Protein From Whole Meats
High-quality protein should always be the first ingredient of canine food. Protein is incredibly important to a dog’s overall health and development. It plays a significant role in growth, muscle development, energy, immune system function, and skin and nail health. All high-quality products should have whole meat listed as the first ingredient. Chicken, fish, beef, and lamb are popular choices. Fresh meals should not contain high levels of meat meal, powdered meat, or meat derivatives.
Carbohydrates offer dogs extra energy and support that they are unable to get from animal proteins. Healthy carbohydrates are a reliable source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber aiding digestion. Beneficial carbohydrates are found in plants and grains. They provide some healthy sugars, as well as a boost of energy. Apples, carrots, green beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, and even strawberries offer healthy carbohydrates that can benefit dogs. Most recipes will include a healthy dose of fruit and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a nutritional boost that aids immune system support.
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids play an essential part in a canine’s overall health. These healthy fats are essential for developing puppies and aid in eye and brain development and skin and coat health. Healthy fats are also crucial for digestion and bone and joint health. These healthy fats are often found in eggs, fish, fish oils, and some plant oils.
Glucosamine is an essential element in a canine diet. This compound is found in cartilage from seafood, fish, and chicken. It plays an integral role in developing healthy, strong joints, muscles, and bones. Glucosamine is a crucial component for dogs, especially older pups, larger breeds, and very active puppies.
Food that uses natural preservatives is always better than food that uses a lot of artificial ingredients. Natural, sustainably sourced, whole foods are the healthiest option for dog nutrition. Artificial preservatives can be hard for dogs to digest and cause irritation or discomfort. Some preservatives are essential to ensure that food stays fresh and safe to eat. Some natural preservatives include vitamin C, vitamin E, and botanical oils like Rosemary and peppermint. Always avoid brands that use food coloring. No quality fresh products should use artificial preservatives or food coloring. This is a big red flag.
Top 10 Best Fresh Dog Foods
Fresh dog food has only grown in popularity over the last several years. What started as a niche market is now the preferred choice for many dog owners. While fresh food is the most expensive option for a canine, it is also the healthiest. These foods are made with a dog’s specific nutritional needs in mind but do not cut corners or sacrifice flavor in order to achieve this. Finding the right diet for every pup is not an easy task. There is no one-size-fits-all option because all dogs are different. We have reviewed 10 of our favorite fresh products to help make the choice just a little bit easier.
The Farmer's Dog
- High-quality meats, chicken, turkey, beef, and lamb.
- Grain-free formulas with whole meats, and fresh produce.
- Subscription-based, delivered to your door.
- Cooked fresh, flash frozen, with no artificial preservatives.
- USDA-approved meat suppliers and kitchens.
- Free shipping in the United States.
The Farmer’s Dog is a highly reviewed brand that has been around since 2014. This company stands out because it was founded on an owner’s need to help solve her dog’s serious digestive issues. After formulating homemade canine meals on the recommendation of her vet, The Farmer’s Dog brand was born. This is a subscription-based service.
This company offers custom-created canine nutrition plans based on pet profiles owners will create. Food is cooked in a high-quality USDA kitchen and delivered directly to the owner’s doors. Foods are never deep frozen and are delivered ready to serve. One of our favorite things about this brand is that they create breed-specific nutritional guidelines, which is not seen in many companies. Currently, they offer only grain-free options. If your dog prefers a grain-inclusive diet, you can save some money by making rice at home and mixing it in.
Food is formulated for all life ages and stages. While no foods are directly formulated for puppies or aging dogs, the profile owners create includes details about a dog’s weight, ideal weight, activity level, breed, and age. The Farmer’s Dog will then calculate the perfect serving size for each pup and advise what recipes will work best.
Currently, foods are offered in chicken, beef, turkey, and pork recipes. Each flavor includes carefully selected vegetables and fruits, a proprietary nutrient blend, fish oils, and high-quality fresh meats. This company also offers a two-week taste trial so owners and dogs can get a realistic idea of if this food will work for Buddy. Currently, there is no way to purchase this food other than through a subscription service. Deliveries will regularly come every eight weeks after the initial two-week trial period.
- Supports dogs of all ages and life stages.
- Free range, high-quality proteins.
- One meat recipe with natural meat as the first ingredient.
- 5 – star ratings.
- Cooked fresh and flash frozen.
- Lamb, turkey, chicken, and beef recipes.
Ollie is a company that offers high-quality meals on a subscription plan. Like The Farmer’s Dog, they provide personalized plans to suit a dog’s age, activity level, and weight. Every ingredient used is human-grade and free from preservatives and artificial fillers. All meat used in these recipes is sourced from the United States or Australian farms. Meat protein is free range. Food is cooked fresh and flash frozen.
Ollie offers both grain-free and grain-inclusive recipes, so it can meet the needs of any dog’s diet. All recipes include ground chia seed, a gluten-free grain. Ollie comes in four flavors: lamb, turkey, chicken, and beef. Every recipe includes only one meat source. This means that the beef recipe includes only beef, not added chicken meal or other meat byproducts. Real meat is the first ingredient in every recipe.
Recipes are crafted by veterinary nutritionists and designed to support dogs in all stages of life. Ollie has gotten five-star ratings from customers and industry experts. They have earned a five-star review from Dog Food Advisor and are supported by the American Kennel Club.
Best For Picky Eaters
Spot & Tango
- Fresh food and fresh kibble options.
- Large range of recipes.
- Grain-free and grain-inclusive recipes.
- Personalized subscription service.
- High-protein formulas.
- Real meat is the first ingredient.
Spot & Tango is another subscription-based nutrition service. They offer both a “non-kibble” kibble and a fresh line. Both lines use human-grade, always fresh ingredients with no additives, artificial preservatives, or fillers. Recipes are high in protein and have healthy levels of good fats.
Personalized plans allow owners to work closely with owners to provide the best possible nutrition for their beloved pets. This company offers both grain-free and grain-inclusive options. Most other subscription-based services do not offer as wide a range of products as Spot & Tango.
Everything is flash frozen and packed in eco-friendly packaging. Meat is the first ingredient in every recipe. All recipes also include eggs for added protein. Recipes also contain a blend of non-GMO fruits and vegetables, including apples, cranberries, blueberries, and things like sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach. Recipes are developed to aid in smooth digestion and have vitamin and mineral supplements to boost an immune system.
Spot & Tango has more flavors available than some other companies, including grain and gluten-free options. Fresh flavor varieties include Turkey & Red Quinoa, Beef & Millet, and Lamb & Brown Rice. The “non-kibble” kibble line is fresh food that is slow cooked at a low temperature and then dried, creating a “fresh” kibble. Products must be used within three or four weeks. Meals need to be frozen when delivered.
Best Non-Subscription Fresh Dog Foods
Not all options come on a subscription basis. There are plenty that are available in brick-and-mortar stores, as well as online through sites like Chewy.com and Amazon. We have reviewed a few of the top-rated non-subscription options.
JustFoodForDogs has a wide product range. They offer renal support, joint and skin support options, and a veterinary and critical care diet line. They also have a shelf-stable fresh line. Recipes are high in nutrients and low in calories. When it comes to product and flavor selection, JustFoodForDogs has an excellent one. A wide variety of their products are available through Chewy.com.
This company offers a wide selection of fresh human-grade ingredients, including versatile animal proteins. For example, the venison and squash recipe is not something that is often found in other brands. This specific recipe includes ground venison, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cranberries. Venison is a novel protein that helps support sensitive stomachs and skin health. High-fiber ingredients like squash aid in digestion. These recipes also include a proprietary Omega Plus veterinary supplement with fish oil high in omega fatty acids.
One thing we like about this brand is that they offer a wide range of tasty proteins. These include lamb, venison, chicken, beef, turkey, salmon, and more.
All recipes are made from 100% human-grade ingredients and are high in protein. Formulas do not include fillers, preservatives, growth hormones, or artificial colors. Products ship frozen and can be stored in the freezer for up to one year. Fish-based recipes need to be fed within three days of being defrosted. Other protein-based recipes must be served within four.
Freshpet makes a variety of selections that are tasty and affordable. These include mixed meat recipes, as well as dog treats. Recipes are non-GMO verified and do not include preservatives, meat byproducts, or rendered meals. Recipes include grain-free and grain inclusive. All recipes use 100% farm-raised chicken, beef, or fish and include all-natural fruits and veggies grown right here in the U.S.
We really like that Freshpet offers more specific products like the Freshpet Vital Chicken Recipe, grain-free for small breeds. It is hard to find options formulated specifically for large or small dogs, so this product stands out to us. This grain-free chicken recipe is formulated specifically for small dogs and those known to be fussy eaters. It is designed to improve digestion as well as promote a healthy weight.
Made from fresh meats and vegetables, this brand balances taste, variety, and nutrition very well. When it comes to fresh food, they have a wide variety and a reasonably affordable price range. Products are sold and shipped frozen and can be stored in the refrigerator. They should be served within seven days of being opened. These meals can be served individually and provide complete nutrition. They are also very tasty to use as a meal topper.
- Human grade proteins.
- High protein, grain-free recipes.
- High-quality fruits and vegetables.
- Minimally processed.
- Frozen, ready to serve after thawing.
- Treats and dog food are available.
Tylee’s makes human-grade canine meals as well as human-grade dog treats. They do not have as large a selection as some other brands but do have plenty of tasty options. Proteins include chicken, turkey, fish, and pork. All meats are USDA-approved.
Made with human-grade ingredients, these fresh meals are incredibly tasty and full of flavor and nutrients. They do not contain any corn, wheat, soy, by-product meals, or artificial flavors. No artificial colors or preservatives are used. Products are shipped frozen and are ready to serve once they are defrosted.
Recipes are formulated to include high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables like kale, broccoli, carrots, butternut squash, pineapple, and more. Fruits and vegetables are minimally processed to retain as much of their natural fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants as possible. Immediately after preparing food, it is frozen to retain as much freshness as possible.
Wellness Bowl Boosters Freshly
- Specifically formulated for a puppy’s nutritional needs.
- Promotes energy, immune health, and digestion.
- Formulated for “nose-to-tail” wellness.
- Lean, high-quality real proteins.
- Supports healthy growth and development.
Wellness makes low-fat, easy-to-digest meals ready to serve directly from the fridge. They can be eaten as a complete meal or used as a Topper or mixer with dry kibble. Freshly prepared and quickly frozen to preserve nutrients and flavor, these meals are easy to serve and quite tasty.
What we like about Wellness’s fresh pet food options is that they offer one specially formulated for puppies. (JustFoodForDogs does as well). Most commercially available options are designed for all ages and stages and do meet nutritional needs. However, it is always better to feed a puppy specially formulated puppy food. Wellness Bowls are formulated to promote energy, skin and coat health, immune health, digestive health, and strong teeth and bones.
Every recipe includes high-quality, healthy ingredients with natural proteins. The puppy variety we mentioned here is a frozen fresh Turkey & Rice flavor; however, Wellness makes several other varieties, including Beef & Carrot, Chicken & Butternut Squash, and Turkey & Sweet Potato.
Freshpet Select Sensitive Stomach
- It is specially formulated for dogs with stomach issues, poor digestion, and sensitivity.
- Fiber-rich formula to aid digestion.
- Refrigerator fresh, never frozen.
- Very affordable
Select Sensitive Stomach by Freshpet is our top choice for dogs with delicate digestive tracts. This food is not frozen. It is served in a refrigerated fresh roll. It is also formulated for dogs with skin issues and includes fiber-rich pumpkin, brown rice, and easy-to-digest proteins.
This food is made with all-natural chicken, chicken liver, broth, eggs, pumpkin puree, carrots, and sweet potatoes. It is full of vital nutrients and maintains flavor while being easy to digest. While this may not be a perfect choice for all dogs, it is an excellent option for dogs with sensitive stomachs or who need a fresh, all-natural diet for a little while.
Nature’s Logic Lightly Cooked Frozen
This food is lightly cooked using low heat and then frozen to preserve nutrients and flavors. Food is kept frozen and thawed out before serving. Once thawed, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. While this option is not as fresh as some others on our list, it is a highly nutritious and delicious choice.
95% of the protein in this recipe comes from animal ingredients. Proteins are free-range and grass-fed, and all foods are made using minimal processing procedures. These recipes contain no peas, potatoes, or legumes. Free-range lamb is the number one ingredient in this food, offering dogs a highly nutritious, incredibly tasty meal. Food rolls like this are fresh, high protein, and more affordable than some other fresh food options on our list.
I And Love And You Irresist-A-Bowls
- High protein formula.
- Cage-free meat and all-natural ingredients.
- Recipes are formulated in partnership with a holistic veterinarian.
- Ready to serve.
- Small company, exceptional taste, and quality.
- Dedicated to sustainability, packing is 100% recyclable.
The number one ingredient in this meal is real chicken. This high-protein formula is chock full of probiotics, protein, amino acids, and Omega 6 fatty acids. These foods use all no-grain formulas, wheat, rice, rye, barley, or oats. All recipes are grain-free. Cage-free, naturally raised chickens are used as the primary protein source.
All natural, real ingredients are what make these foods so tasty. They are intended to taste like freshly cooked food right from the skillet. These bowls are ready to serve. This company is dedicated to sustainability, and all packaging is 100% recyclable. In addition, all recipes are made in partnership with a holistic veterinarian. All ingredients are handpicked, natural, and made to pass both the flavor and nutritional test.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is fresh dog food so expensive?
This is the most expensive option for canines on the market. It is so pricey because of the high-quality ingredients used, processes used in the food’s preparation, and the high storage level it needs. Most fresh foods are served frozen or fresh. Some are served freeze-dried. These storage methods are not cheap, and fresh food can also expire and go rancid quickly, making owners aware of the cost if it goes to waste.
Can I add fresh food to my dog’s diet but still feed him kibble?
Fresh food can be added to your dog’s diet as an occasional treat, a regular supplement, or in conjunction with other foods like kibble. Some owners may choose to feed their dog kibble in the morning and then a fresh meal for dinner. Other owners will choose to provide their dogs only with fresh food. When considering a switch from kibble, always consult your veterinarian to set a plan and make sure you select an option that meets all your dog’s individual nutritional needs. Never switch from kibble to an entirely fresh diet all at once. Gradually transition as this will be easier on digestion.
Can fresh dog food be heated?
Some dogs may not like their food to be served cold, and owners often wonder if it is safe to heat dog food up. It can be warmed up to room temperature as long as it is done safely. Never put dog food in a microwave, as it can get far too hot very quickly, and burn dogs internally as they eat. Lightly warming it on the stove, being careful not to cook it further, or letting food sit out to reach a warmer temperature before serving are both better options.
Is fresh dog food a fad?
Fresh canine food is not a fad. Humans have been feeding their dogs fresh food diets for centuries. However, many of the commercially available brands are newer. However, the concept of feeding a dog a fresh food diet is not new. It is not a fad and is only growing in popularity.
Fresh dog food is human-grade. Does that mean I can eat it?
Fresh dog food is made from human-grade ingredients, meaning it is safe for human consumption. That does not mean pet owners should make a habit of sharing meals with their pups. These foods are specially formulated for dogs and may contain some ingredients that are not very palatable or appetizing to humans. Specially formulated vitamin and nutrient additives are not necessarily intended for human consumption. Avoid sharing your snacks with Fido and opt for healthy snacks crafted for human intake.
Fresh food can be a wonderful option for canine health and overall well-being. It is the priciest food choice available, and for owners who have no problem spending as much money as possible on feeding their dogs, this is a perfect choice. For others, it may be an excellent addition to their dog’s diet or an occasional treat. These products are made in smaller batches with all-natural, high-quality ingredients. They use natural, ethically raised proteins and are designed to provide pets with the most nutritional value without sacrificing flavor. Hopefully, our list of the top 10 best fresh dog foods available will help you make an informed choice on what to feed your fur baby.