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Even if your dog looks nothing like a wolf, his body still works like one (to some degree, anyway). Raw dog food is claimed to mimic the natural, ancestral diet wild wolves have evolved to follow. Some canine experts agree that it’s a healthy diet for dogs, but as with most pet foods, raw pet food has strong dissenters, too. Be sure to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before deciding whether raw food is right for your dog.

Before we take a minute to explore this specialized diet’s pros and cons, here is our top choice for the best and most affordable raw dog food option in 2021.

Instinct Raw Dog Food

Nature’s Variety Instinct Frozen Raw Food

The most affordable option on our list, this food also gets solid ratings from consumers, combining quality and price in a 3- or 6-pound bag.

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Why Raw Dog Food?

Raw food diets for dogs are nothing new, but the popularity of the movement has skyrocketed in recent years. Veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst is credited with sparking the modern raw diet movement after creating the first biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) diet for dogs. This dog food is made from fresh, whole-food ingredients including muscle meat, organ meat, whole or ground bone, raw eggs, and dog-safe fruits and vegetables.

Some of the oft-stated benefits of raw dog food include the following:

  • Better coat condition
  • Improved skin health
  • Increased energy levels
  • Smaller, firmer stools
  • Improved dental health
  • Stronger immune system
  • Lower risk for allergies

Though there are many supporters of the raw food diet, there is a great deal of controversy as well. In fact, many of the most outspoken opponents to the raw diet movement are veterinarians themselves. Some vets, including the members of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), believe that dogs should be fed a diet consisting of “fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and complete commercially prepared or home-cooked food.”

There are also some practical factors to consider when it comes to raw dog food.

Generally speaking, a raw diet is more expensive than canned food or kibble. When you purchase premade raw food, you’re paying for the sourcing and balancing of ingredients as well as packaging and delivery. You also lose a certain degree of convenience because while commercial kibble is shelf-stable, raw food generally needs to be refrigerated or frozen (although some brands are available freeze-dried; more on that below).

Proper Handling of Raw Food

Another concern with the raw dog food diet is the risk of food-borne illness and bacterial contamination from germs such as Salmonella and E. coli.

In its official policy, the AMVA writes that it “discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.” For this reason, companies will take a pathogen-reduction step.

If you and your vet decide raw dog food is the way to go, following USDA safe food handling guidelines will help keep you, your family, and your pets safe.

Frozen Raw Food vs. Freeze-Dried Dog Food

If, in consultation with your vet, you’ve decided to give raw dog food a try, you still have one more decision to make: frozen or freeze-dried?

Keeping raw dog food frozen is the easiest way to prevent the food from contamination and spoiling. The downside is, of course, that you need to have room to store it in the freezer, and you’ll need to thaw it before feeding.

Freeze-dried dog food and meal toppers are a shelf-stable, convenient way to include raw food in your dog’s diet (sometimes as-is, sometimes rehydrating with water) without paying the price of a full menu of raw frozen food.

Most Affordable Raw Dog Food

Feeding your pet raw food is bound to be more expensive than kibble, but we’ve compiled a list of options—organized by price, starting with the most affordable and concluding with the most expensive (ironically, both are the Instinct brand)—so you can keep an eye on your budget while making the best decision for your dog.

For the raw-curious but deeply budget-minded shopper, keep in mind that you can “stretch” some of these options as meal toppers or mix-ins to your dog’s regular diet.

Instinct Raw Dog Food

Nature’s Variety Instinct Frozen Raw Food

The most affordable option on our list, this food also gets solid ratings from consumers, combining quality and price in a 3- or 6-pound bag.

Find on Chewy

Instinct specializes in raw food and it has several variations of base proteins available, including beef, cage-free chicken, and grass-fed lamb. These recipes contain 85% meat and organs, which are frozen and cold-pressured (a pasteurization method) to preserve freshness and nutrients. Instinct uses a USDA-recognized pathogen-reduction process called High Pressure Processing (HPP) to ensure safe raw food.

Available in five protein choices, including rabbit and venison, these raw frozen patties are made with whole-food ingredients including single-source animal proteins and grain-free carbohydrates.

Nature’s Logic Raw Frozen Patties

Nature’s Logic Raw Frozen Patties

Nature’s Logic frozen chicken patties are a great raw food option, including all whole food ingredients, 90% of which are poultry.

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Sold in 2-pound frozen rolls, BARF World raw dog food is made with muscle meat, organ meat, and raw bones to mimic the diet eaten by your dog’s wild ancestors. BARF stands for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food,” of “Bones And Raw Food” which the company pioneered.

affordable raw dog food by BARF World

BARF World Raw Food Rolls

BARF World, BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, produces high-quality frozen food to mimic what your dog’s wild ancestors ate.

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Available as bite-sized nuggets or larger patties, Steve’s Real Food diets tout superior ingredients—free range, fresh, no antibiotics or hormones, fortified with raw goat milk—and are formulated to deliver complete and balanced nutrition in five protein-rich flavors.

Steve's Real Food

Steve’s Real Food Frozen Dog Food

Steve’s Real Food offers both tater-tot sized nuggets and 8oz patties, both great options, for you to decide what’s best for your dog.

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Made with sustainably sourced ingredients, Primal’s freeze-dried formula comes in a range of protein choices (including beef, pork, and lamb) with the option of either nuggets for regular meals or in treat form.

Primal Freeze Dried Nuggets

Primal Freeze-Dried Nuggets

Primal’s freeze-dried nuggets come in flavors like chicken, beef and lamb. Your dog can reap the benefit of dog food made of whole ingredients without you making it yourself.

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TruDog comes in two flavors and is AAFCO-certified as a complete and balanced diet. That means you can feed TruDog as your dog’s food exclusively—or use it as a mix-in or meal topper. No chemicals, grains, or filler, no rendered or meal products, and all USA-made and sourced.

TruDog Feed Me Crunchy Munchy Beef Bonanza Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food

TruDog Feed Me Crunchy Munchy Beef Bonanza Raw Freeze-Dried Dog Food

This dog food, including high-quality beef and herring oil for digestion, is freeze-dried to lock in nutrients.

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Available in five protein options and enriched with organic fruits and veggies, these meal mixers are a great add-on to your dog’s regular kibble to boost their nutrition without breaking your budget.

Stella and Chewy's Freeze-Dried Meal Mixers, raw dog food

Stella and Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Meal Mixers

A great way to save money, while still introducing your dog to raw food, is to supplement their standard meal with these freeze-dried meal mixers by Stella and Chewy.

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Give your dog the nutritional benefits of raw food and the convenience of dry food with this nutrient-rich blend of high-protein kibble and freeze-dried raw bites.

Nature's Variety Instinct Raw Boost Kibble and Freeze-Dried Food

Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost Kibble and Freeze-Dried Food

If you want to dip a toe into freeze-dried food with whole ingredients, this option by Nature’s Variety is great. The 2-in-1 dog food contains both high-quality kibble and bits of raw, freeze-dried nuggets.

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Talk to Your Vet Before Choosing Any New Food for Your Dog

We’ve selected some great raw food options for your dog. But before introducing any new foods into your dog’s diet, we suggest consulting with your vet. They can help you understand any health issues your dog may be experiencing, and can recommend dog food that’s going to best support their specific health needs.

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