Whole Dog Journal’s Commercial Frozen Raw Dog Food Review

These frozen diets, comprised mainly of raw meat, offer truly premium nutrition for your dog.

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The more I’ve learned about the meat used in pet food, the more I’ve come to admire commercially produced frozen raw diets for dogs. The meat and poultry used in most of these diets are far fresher and more wholesome – far more like what most of us would think of as “meat” – than most animal protein ingredients in dry (or even canned) pet foods. The products tend to produce terrific results in the dogs who consume them. Whether this is due to the ingredient quality or the fact that this type of diet is more biologically appropriate for canines than dry foods is anyone’s guess. My guess is that both factors contribute to the success of the products.

A brief history of frozen raw diets for dogs

Before there were frozen raw diets, there were home-prepared raw diets. For decades, certain populations of dog owners fed their dogs diets that were largely comprised of raw meats or fish – namely racing Greyhound owners (in the case of the former) and sled dog owners (latter). But few average dog owners in this country had even heard of raw diets until the 1993 publication of Give Your Dog a Bone, a call to arms written by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst.

The longer he practiced veterinary medicine, Dr. Billinghurst recounts in the book, the more he became aware that the dogs (and cats) he saw in his practice were less fit and healthy than the pets he grew up with. How could that be, given all the wonders of modern veterinary care and “complete and balanced” pet food at owners’ disposal?

Long story short, Dr. Billinghurst came to believe that it was all about diet. Australians embraced commercial pet food more slowly than Americans did, so when he was a kid, most people fed their pets the way humans have for hundreds of years: on scraps from the family’s kitchen, including (most importantly) raw meaty bones. The dogs and cats of his youth were fit, not fat; they had nice clean teeth and fresh breath; and their poop was small and inoffensive.

During the period that Billinghurst spent in college, vet school, and his early years in practice, however, Australian pet owners (including Dr. Billinghurst himself!) embraced the convenience of commercial kibble. It took the veterinarian some time in practice to develop the perspective to see what was right in front of him: that the overall condition of the pets he saw was declining. They had far more skin and coat problems than the pets of his youth, digestive issues were rife, and the state of their teeth! Ack!

After experimenting with the diets of his own pets (and eventually his clients’ pets, too), Billinghurst concluded that dogs (and cats) do best when fed a biologically appropriate diet. For dogs, he determined that ideal diet to be comprised mostly of raw, meaty bones, which provide most of the protein, fat, and minerals needed by the dog, with supplemental amounts of other foods (organ meat, grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, eggs) providing the balance of nutrients needed.

Billinghurst’s book offered only rough guidelines – but tons of encouragement – for switching a dog to a home-prepared raw diet. He implored dog owners to give the diet a try and see for themselves whether their dogs’ health improved.

Billinghurst’s concepts made sense to many dog owners, and many began their own experiments with “BARF” (bones and raw food or biologically appropriate raw food) diets.

As raw feeding became more popular, various approaches developed. Some people, uncomfortable with feeding whole bones to their dogs, grind raw meaty bones into a pulp before feeding them, while others use alternate sources of dietary calcium. Some people use grains or other carbohydrate sources; others spurn the use of carbs altogether. Then there are the “prey model” people, who try to reconstruct, as closely as possible, the type of diet they imagine that wild dogs would consume. They often eschew the inclusion of grains, fruit, and vegetables (and indeed, many supplements), except as occasional treats, relying almost solely on raw meaty bones and organ meat to feed their dogs.

Commercial sources evolve

As the population of raw feeders grows, commercial enterprises have emerged to serve them with a variety of prepared raw diets. Freezing the products is necessary, so the foods can be safely shipped direct to owners or to retail outlets.

Today, there are products available for every type of raw feeder: “complete and balanced” diets and ones meant for supplemental or intermittent feeding only; products that include bone and ones that use another calcium source. Frozen raw diets are available at a wide range of price points; just as with more conventional pet foods, the price tends to (but might not, depending on the company’s size and marketing budget) correlate with the quality and provenance of the ingredients.

Some companies produce foods for a very local market – retail stores in a few counties or a single state. Others have been able to grow their production and distribution to the national level; often these companies have piggybacked their raw frozen diets on the success of their other types of pet foods or treats.

The distribution of frozen foods, particularly in a small market, is challenging. Obviously, trucks equipped with freezers are needed to move product around the country. Most companies that use retail outlets have had to help retailers purchase special glass-front freezers that safely store and attractively display their products.

Companies that ship their products directly to consumers have to consider all the uncertainties that go along with using package delivery services, such as delays that are out of their control due to weather. Most ship only on Mondays or Tuesdays, so there is no chance that frozen products thaw on some truck over a weekend somewhere. To do this, they coordinate their ingredient procurement, production, and shipping schedules, so they have enough product to ship early in the week; even a half-day’s delay can mean that some shipments can’t go out for another week.

Ingredient quality and other considerations

As a rule (there are always exceptions) raw frozen diets usually contain extraordinarily fine, fresh ingredients. Maybe it’s because frozen raw products are the least-processed of all the types of commercially produced foods you can buy for your dog, and you can see the ingredients with your own eyes (and smell the freshness or lack thereof); they haven’t been altered into anonymity by processing. Or maybe it’s because this entire segment of the pet food industry is aimed at owners who are seeking out the healthiest diet possible for their dogs – owners who are independent enough that they have not been frightened away by tales of deadly bacteria.

Really, it’s only in this niche that you see so many pet food companies using only grass-fed animals who were humanely slaughtered, and locally sourced organic produce. That’s amazing!

The thing is, it’s not absolutely necessary. Even the products that use fresh or fresh-frozen meat from conventional sources are way ahead of the curve, quality wise, than manufacturers of conventional dry or canned pet foods. You simply can’t make a safe, good-looking, fresh-smelling raw frozen product out of oxidized old meat scraps and compete in this niche. (Through the magic of rendering and extrusion or canning, you can, however, use pretty funky protein sources to make safe and appealing kibble or canned food; it’s done all the time!)

High quality ingredients; raw, biologically appropriate nutrition; and the convenience of a commercially prepared, complete and balanced diet are the factors that bring some dog owners to this type of food. There are, however, a couple of things that may drive others away.

One is the potential for a fat content that is much too high for some dogs. Diets that contain only meat, organ meat, and ground bone obviously contain no carbohydrates, so their protein and fat totals will be high. It’s possible that these diets will be too calorically dense for some dogs, especially inactive or older dogs. In this case, owners should seek out products that contain one or more carbohydrate sources and a lower fat content.

It’s the fear of pathogenic bacteria, however, that scares the most people away from considering a raw diet.

The bacteria issue

For years, bacterial contamination of meat – and especially poultry – was the most potent tool that veterinarians who were opposed to raw feeding could use to try to dissuade dog owners from trying these “radical” diets. It’s not enough, they warned, that you might make your dog sick; you could also sicken your entire family – and even kill a vulnerable family member – by having a bacteria-infested raw meat product in the house.

Today, most of us are aware that even the poultry purchased from your upscale supermarket for your own consumption is more than likely contaminated with Salmonella; the bacteria is that prevalent in conventional chicken-raising and ‑slaughtering operations. According to an article published in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Food Protection, researchers from USDA and the University of Maryland mapped the distribution of Salmonella on young chicken carcasses. They found Salmonella on 57 percent of the carcasses (which they obtained in various retail locations over a three-year period). Of the contaminated carcasses, almost 83 percent had more than one strain of Salmonella present.

Other bacterial pathogens commonly found on meat include Escherichia coli (E. Coli) and Clostridium difficile (often called C. difficile or “C. diff”).

Good, basic kitchen sanitation and food-handling practices – and cooking – is what saves us humans (most of the time) from becoming sick from bacteria that’s on the meat and poultry we consume at home. People with immune-system disorders should avoid handling, or take extraordinary precautions when handling raw meat, whether the meat is for themselves or their dogs.

Very few raw-fed dogs contract infections from these common bacteria; the overwhelming majority of healthy dogs are able to combat the pathogenic challenge presented by these common bacteria.

However, raw diets are not recommended for dogs who are immune-compromised or receive immune-suppressant medications Other poor candidates for a raw diet include dogs who are weak or debilitated with chronic illness, dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, or dogs who have suffered from pancreatitis.

What about the risks to humans from the pathogenic bacteria shed in the feces and saliva of raw-fed dogs? As author CJ Puotinen explains in “Are Raw-Fed Dogs a Risk?” (WDJ July 2010), though it is possible for people to become infected with and get sick from pathogenic bacteria shed by their dogs, it doesn’t appear to happen any more frequently to owners who feed their dogs raw diets than to owners who feed dry dog food. In any case, zoonotic infections of all kinds can be prevented with basic infection control practices such as frequent hand-washing, especially after handling pet food, pet dishes, and pet feces. (See “Employ Common Sense and Basic Sanitation Practices,” below.)

Treated products

All of the companies that make their living by selling raw frozen diets take steps to buy wholesome ingredients, process them in a safe and sanitary manner, following a formal Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP, prounounced “hassip”) plan, protect them during freezer storage and shipment, and educate their consumers about the risks and benefits of feeding raw. But a few companies have taken additional steps to reduce or eliminate the risk to consumers caused by pathogens in their products: they treat their raw ingredients to kill any pathogens present. There are a few methods available for this purpose.

Most common among the producers of raw meat diets for dogs is a process that’s alternately called hydrostatic high pressure (HHP), high pressure processing (HPP), or Pascalization (after Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French scientist who experimented with the effects of pressure and vacuum). This process destroys or inactivates any organisms present in the food, without the use of heat.

According to a fact sheet published by the Ohio State University Extension, high pressure processing causes minimal changes in the fresh characteristics of foods: “Compared to thermal processing, HPP results in foods with fresher taste, and better appearance, texture and nutrition. High pressure processing can be conducted at ambient or refrigerated temperatures.”

In these high pressure processes, packaged food products are immersed in water and subjected to extremely high pressure; the water bath ensures that the pressure is equal on all sides, so the food product is not crushed as a result. (Imagine that you’ve dropped a grape into a full bottle of water; screw the top back on the bottle, and tightly squeeze the bottle. The grape can be subjected to tremendous pressure without deforming, because the pressure is equal on every aspect of the grape.)

Although relatively new, HPP is already commonly used to sterilize a variety of human foods, including fish, shellfish, fruit juices, jellies and jams.

A niche divided

Of all the methods available to treat raw meats to inactivate pathogens, including irradiation and ozone, high pressure processing seems the least likely to cause controversy. However, its use has sharply divided the raw diet producers. Some we spoke with embraced the technology as safe and natural (since nothing is added to the food); others voiced concerns that the pressure alters the molecular structure of proteins, and affects the food’s enzymes, vitamins, and essential fatty acids.

Every meat-based business is concerned about pathogens. But the defensive postures held by individual companies vary. Some put their trust in mainstream human food industry mechanisms and processes; if it’s good enough for human food, they reason, it’s good enough for dogs.

Other players have focused on alternatives to conventional agriculture and its practices – the naturally fed, humanely slaughtered, “slow food” approach. This is appealing to consumers who favor a natural, holistic approach to health, but these operations are necessarily small-scale, so their products tend to be very expensive.

Still others have embraced a science-based set of solutions, relying on lab tests of ingredients and of every batch of product; in this sort of “test and hold” model, a company releases no product until it’s tested negative for any pathogens. This approach is admirable in an age where pathogens are prevalent in the mainstream (human) food supply; it’s also expensive.

In the end, it’s up to you. Raw food products that have been treated to inactivate pathogenic bacteria are a useful option for some owners. Treated products may be especially appreciated by owners who are concerned about pathogens for the protection of a vulnerable family member or simply to win the support of a veterinarian who is opposed to raw diets. In contrast, natural food purists will probably shy away from diets that are pasteurized by any means whether or not there is credible evidence that the treatment method could be harmful. Consumers have to find their place on the continuum.

Selection criteria

On our list of top-quality products on the next pages, we’ve included only the companies that offer complete and balanced diets and are able to support either national distribution or, at least, distribution to a large segment of the country. Next month, we’ll present a list of additional companies that sell frozen raw diets that are meant for supplemental or intermittent feeding.

If we’ve missed your favorite maker of a complete and balanced raw frozen diet, just check to see if its products meet our selection criteria; if they do, rest assured that the diets are just as good as the products on our list. Here is our list of selection criteria for raw, frozen diets:

  • A named, whole animal protein (such as chicken, beef, pork, duck, etc.) at the top of the ingredients list. No “generic” proteins (such as “meat” or “poultry”). No by-products.
  • A good source of calcium. If raw, meaty bones are not used as the calcium source, another source will be needed to make the diet “complete and balanced.”
  • Every other food ingredient (such as fruits or vegetables) should be whole and fresh; any grains present may be cooked but should be whole. No low-quality grain by-products (such as “cereal food fines”).
  • More information about the food than the minimum required by law. The guaranteed analysis (GA) that is required on every pet food label need only contain the amount of protein, fat, moisture, and fiber found in the food. We feel most comfortable with products from companies who are able to share the complete nutrient analysis for their products. How can we feel confident that our dog is receiving “complete and balanced” nutrition if the maker can’t tell us how much calcium or phosphorus is in its food?
  • No added preservatives. These aren’t needed in a frozen food.
  • No artificial colors. These shouldn’t be present in any pet food!

Selecting a product

With so many good frozen raw diets on the market, how should you select the right one for your dog?

  • Price and local availability will undoubtedly limit your options. Some of these products are pretty costly. It’s no wonder; they are made out of very expensive ingredients! Products that can be purchased in local retail stores are generally (but not always) less expensive than direct-shipped products. Direct-shipped products might be the only option for those of us who live far from stores that carry raw frozen diets. Only you know how much you can afford.
  • Check to see make sure that it’s fresh! All frozen foods are more nutritious and appealing if they are thawed and consumed sooner rather than later. Look for a “best by” date; if the date/code lacks a date of manufacture, contact the company to learn the actual date of manufacture. Some companies suggest their products have a frozen shelf life of up to a year. Others aim to have their products consumed within three or four months of manufacture. If your preferred retailer doesn’t sell enough product to keep their stock fresh, ask if they can better manage their inventory. Otherwise, you may have to find another source – perhaps a company that ships product directly to you.
  • Look for ingredients that suit your dog. Of course you’ve checked the ingredient list for quality; now examine it for any foods that don’t agree with your dog. If he’s allergic to or intolerant of certain proteins or grains, you need to make sure they are not in there.
  • Check the fat content. These foods can be extremely high in fat. That might be fine if your dog is an active athlete, but potentially dangerous for a dog prone to pancreatitis, as one example.
  • Decide whether you feel most comfortable with a pasteurized product or an untreated one. We’ve not seen studies that would lead us to avoid foods treated with a high pressure pasteurization process. But we also feel comfortable with feeding our dogs raw products from companies that use top-quality, naturally raised meats. You have to go with your own gut on this one.
  • Switch it up. We don’t like to see any animal being limited to a static diet, comprised of nothing but the same protein for months or years . . . That’s a great way to help your dog develop a vicious allergy to that protein, by the way. Instead, rotate among a variety of foods that contain different proteins. (That said, don’t go out of your way to buy, in turn, diets that contain every protein available to pet food makers. Avoid a number of novel proteins so you can use them if you ever need to put your dog on an elimination diet to help diagnose a food allergy.)

Complete and Balanced Raw Frozen Diets

COMPANY INFODESCRIPTION OF PRODUCTS, NUTRIENT INFOHISTORY / FORMULATED BYAVAILABILITYINGREDIENT CLAIMSMANUFACTURING INFOFOOD SAFETY PROGRAM
Aunt Jeni’s
Home Made 4 Life
Temple Hills, MD
(301) 702-0123
auntjeni.com
Six complete and balanced diets are available. Each contains ground meat, organs, and ground bone from a single species (chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit, goat, turkey) as well as fruit, vegetables, whole eggs, and supplemental
foods such as garlic, honey, flaxseed, and more. No vitamins or minerals added. Food is packed into tubs (like frozen cottage cheese).

Complete nutrient analysis for each product is published on company website, alongside AAFCO nutrient values.
Formulations were developed by company founder, Jennifer (“Aunt Jeni”) Boniface, who holds both a BS and an MS in Animal Science/Nutrition. Company founded in 1999.Products available
in select independent pet supply stores nationally; maker will
direct-ship frozen product if no local retailers are available.
Company sources all of its ingredients, utilizing local farms whenever possible. All vegetables are GMO-free, no pesticides, and only organic fertilizers used. The meats are hormoneand antibiotic-free, grass-fed, and free-range.Company owns and operates its own FDA-inspected facility. All of its food and treats are manufactured there.“We use only ingredients that are in the human food stream, inspected and approved for human consumption.... We
use state-of-the-art traceability software so ingredients can be traced from the source to the end user.... Strict HACCP program.... Periodically submit random samples of finished goods to independent labs to test for pathogens.... We also perform daily internal testing for pathogens... Our animalsourced
ingredients are not sterilized; this would negate the raw quality of the food ingredients by destroying the integrity of the fragile enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids. We believe that using HHP pasteurization, irradiation, or other methods compromises appearance, palatability, and the raw status.
Bravo Raw Diet
Vernon, CT
(866) 922-9222
bravorawdiet.com
Bravo Balance is Bravo’s line of complete and balanced diets. Available in three single-species varieties: beef, chicken, and turkey. Each contains meat, organ meat, ground bone, vegetables, and a vitamin/mineral supplement. Products are available in frozen tubes or 4‑oz. “burgers.”

Complete nutrient analysis for each product is on company website.
Parent company has roots in the meat business going to back to 1942. Company owner and co-founder David Bogner’s expertise is in the purchase, processing, packaging and distribution of premium quality meat products. Formulas developed
with Dr. Greg Aldrich, founder of Pet Food & Ingredient Technology, Inc.
Sold nationally in more than 1,500 independent retail locations. No direct sales to consumers.Bravo sources all of its ingredients. “We use only antibiotic-free poultry and red meats, with no grain, preservatives, added hormones or unnecessary additives.... Earlier this year, we moved manufacturing of several of our beef and lamb products to New Zealand. We can now offer better quality meats, direct from the ranch to finished product on site, with fewer manufacturing steps and less handling
of the raw ingredients. As a result, we can more easily control manufacturing and deliver a fresher, better quality product to the consumer.”
“We own and operate our own USDA-inspected and certified manufacturing facility in Manchester, CT. Our facility is one of the very few in the country to meet the USDA standard for processing both pet food and human grade products. Our manufacturing partner in New Zealand meets an equally high standard for processing and quality regulated by their USDA
equivalent, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.”
Safety is a top priority.... We follow all of the USDA and FDA guidelines for manufacturing raw diets. We also are experts at preparing and protecting the product as it moves through the manufacturing process. Raw meats are always stored at proper temperatures and are treated with all-natural washes to reduce the likelihood of contamination without compromising the nutritional value of the end product.... Since 2007, we have tested every batch for pathogens before it leaves the factory. The results are posted on our website. We do not use high pressure processing or irradiation; we believe this process reduces the nutritional value of the food.... We work only with distributors who are experts in the storage and shipping of our raw products to our retailers. Our retailers are equally vigilant
about product safety.
Darwin’s Natural
Pet Products
Seattle, WA
(206) 324-7387
darwinspet.com
Darwin’s offers two lines of complete and balanced foods: Natural Selections is its premium quality line, and uses free-range, pasture-fed meats and organic vegetables. ZooLogics is an economy-priced line, using “ordinary” human-quality meats and vegetables. Each line offers five single-species varieties: chicken, turkey, duck, beef, and buffalo. Each contains about 70% meat, ground bone, and organ meat; about 30% vegetables; and a vitamin/mineral supplement. Products are vacuumpacked into 1- or 2-lb. “flat-pack” bags.

Guaranteed analysis includes fiber, pH of product, and calcium:phosphorus ratio. Complete nutrient analyses are available in hard copies for veterinarians or consumers upon request. “We are presently completing fatty acid analyses for all canine products.”
Company founded seven years ago. Formulas developed by holistic veterinarian Jacqueline Obando, DVM, refined by Ed Kane, PhD, Animal Nutritionist, and lab-tested (at EXOVA, Inc., Portland, Oregon, formerly Bodycote Food Laboratory). “Steve Brown helps fine tune our formulas and develop new ones. Further fine tuning and advice are provided by holistic veterinarian Karen Becker, DVM; and Beth Taylor, co-author of See Spot Live Longer and Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Pets.Products are available nationally direct to the
consumer from the manufacturer, or through select holistic
veterinary practices.
They are not available at retail.
Darwin’s sources its own ingredients. “All of our products are from the western U.S. (CA and WA) except buffalo
(from ND) and duck (from IN). We have
visited each farm, processing facility, or met personally with our suppliers. It is important to us that each feed animal had the best possible life. We embrace Temple Grandin’s philosophies
in processing.... Darwin’s Natural
Selections (our flagship product) is produced
with free-range, antibiotic-free,
hormone-free meats and organic vegetables....
ZooLogics uses conventional
human-quality meats and vegetables.
The company owns and operates its own manufacturing facility. “We produce our meals
at a constant 28-36 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize pathogen
growth. The finished meals are immediately returned to a solid frozen state (-10° F) after production. We produce one meat-source per day to minimize cross-contamination, then our production equipment
is sterilized in advance of the next day’s production.”
“Darwin’s utilizes standard HACCP manufacturing polices and procedures. Periodically we test select incoming meats for protein and fat content at Exova Labs. We test products from all new suppliers for protein and fat and compare these with computer simulations.... Because fats, especially polyunsaturated fats (from poultry) can oxidize when frozen, we ensure that our products are fed within three months of production. We do not include fish oils, because these are too fragile to survive in the freezer, especially when mixed with minerals (even in the form of amino acid chelates). This helps ensure that our dog customers are not consuming rancid fats....Our animal-sourced ingredients are not sterilized. We are looking into natural pathogen control additives such as plum extract and natural occurring microphages to digest bacteria.”
Fresh Is Best, Inc.
(Formerly Companion
Natural Pet Food)
Milwaukee, WI
(866) 617-7735
freshisbestinc.com
Four single-protein, complete and balanced diets are available: beef, turkey, duck, chicken. Diets include meat, ground bone, organ meat, vegetables, other food supplements (such as apple cider vinegar and kelp), and a vitamin/
mineral supplement. Products are available packed in 8-oz. “sausage rolls” or 2-lb. tubs.

Complete nutrient analysis is available for each product on company website.
Company president and
founder Stacy LaPoint chose the ingredients to be used in the recipes, then sought the professional consultation of Dr. Keith Cummins, of Auburn
University. Dr. Cummins
manages data calculations/ comparisons and makes sure that everything meets AAFCO nutritional profiles for all life
stages in dogs.
Sold in retail stores regionally (Wisconsin
and Illinois); also offered direct-to-consumer via company
website.
“Our diets are made from conventionally
raised, USDA-inspected, humanquality meats. Most of our vegetables
are certified organic and from Wisconsin
farms.... We have launched a new organic and sustainable line of
frozen chicken dog food available in stores (not yet offered on our website). This is made from 100% certified
organic chicken and vegetables. The
ingredients are raised and processed in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The product is packed in biodegradable plastic
casings that break down in the landfill
within 2 years.”
“Our frozen pet food products are manufactured at a local
sausage plant in Milwaukee,
WI. It is a small, stateinspected,
family-owned plant
with fewer than 10 employees. We have staff on-site when our
products are being made.”
“Our co-packer, a human food processing plant, follows a HACCP plan that is required by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture for safe/sanitary handling/processing of meat. Inspectors are on-site every day and quality is carefully monitored. Our products are not sterilized at this time. We may incorporate HHP if needed in the future, but have not had a call for it from our customer base.”
Nature’s Menu
Lake Geneva, WI
(866) 333-3729
naturesmenu.com
Complete and balanced diets come in five varieties: beef, lamb, turkey, chicken, and organic chicken. Each contains about 80% muscle meat and 20% organ meat and has a vitamin/mineral supplement added. Diets do not include bone, but utilize high-quality calcium carbonate and “pure milk calcium” as sources of calcium. Products are available in 1/4-lb. patties, packed into 3-lb. bags.

Crude fiber is included in the guaranteed analysis.
Company founder Rose Estes developed the formulas with assistance from board-certified veterinary nutritionists Dr. Gary Pusillo and Dr. George Fahey. Contract Comestibles used to manufacture the product for the Estes family; then the company bought Nature’s Menu.Sold at select vet clinics, pet stores, and health food stores in WI, IL, IN, LA, NE, and OR. Direct shipping available to anywhere in the continental U.S.“We strive to make our diets economical enough for the average person to afford. We source all the ingredients. We buy boxed frozen beef that has been USDA downgraded as ‘not for humans.’ Turkey is end-of-day overruns from a large turkey grinding operation. Chicken is from regular mainstream chicken production.... We also carry lamb and organic chicken; both are USDA-inspected and passed for human food, and in accordance with all regulations for humane handling.... These diets are more expensive due to the cost of the raw materials.”Products are manufactured at Contract Comestibles. “We make, store, and ship the products ourselves.... Contract Comestibles is a small food manufacturer with about a halfdozen workers. We specialize in contract manufacturing primarily of human food. The process for making Nature’s Menu diets is intentionally low-tech and as natural as possible.”“No chemical, radiation, or high-pressure techniques are used on Nature’s Menu diets. We recommend that people handle our meat diets as they would any other raw meat product in their home. After an initial adjustment to a raw diet, healthy animals, as well as many unhealthy ones on their way to better health, do not suffer from the bacteria that may be present in the diet.”
Nature’s Variety
Lincoln, NE
(888) 519-7387
naturesvariety.com
Available in seven varieties: organic chicken, chicken, beef, bison, lamb, venison, and rabbit. Only the organic chicken, beef, and lamb varieties contain proteins from a single species. Chicken variety contains chicken and turkey, turkey liver, and turkey heart. Bison formula also includes beef kidney. Venison variety also includes lamb heart, lamb liver, and lamb bone. Rabbit formula includes pork fat, pork liver, and pork heart. All varieties include fruit, vegetables, and other food supplements; none contain a vitamin/mineral supplement. Product is available in “medallion” or “patty” form. Company is the only manufacturer whose raw diets have been substantiated as complete and balanced for all life stages of canines using AAFCO feeding trials.

Full nutritional analyses are available on company website. Analyses are based on actual wet chemical testing of the finished product, not from computer models.
Products are formulated to mimic an animal’s ancestral diet. Diets formulated by a team, including a pet food consultant with a PhD in nutrition, professional formulators, meat industry experts, and our Director of Research and Development (who has a PhD in Biology with continuing education in Nutrition). Diets have been on the market for nearly 10 years.Products are available in the U.S. and Canada, from online and independent pet retailers and some veterinary clinics.“We source all of our ingredients for our raw products based on quality, nutritional profile, availability, and vendor reputation.... We source ingredients domestically and internationally; we have done our homework and know these are the best suppliers. In addition, we require our vendors to go through a certification and approval process.... All of our meat sources are raised and slaughtered humanely.”“We own and operate our state-of-the-art raw manufacturing facility, cold storage, and dry warehouse. At present we do use a co-manufacturer for the HPP process.... This copacker undergoes audits and certification on a regular basis.”HACCP system in place. “We have written and implemented a comprehensive quality and vendor manual, employing six individuals to oversee daily production, vendor compliance, and overall plant sanitation. Part of our QA program requires our raw diets to be sent for HPP processing, followed by a pathogen test and hold procedure on every lot of finished goods.... Routine microbiological and chemical testing is performed on all products. We have an internal microbiology lab that does all non-pathogen raw material, finished product, and environmental testing. We use a third-party lab for wet chemicals, which assures regular and routine verification of guaranteed analysis and other chemical parameters on a routine basis.”
Pepperdogz
Bellevue, WA
(866) 866-3649
pepperdogz.com
Four complete and balanced varieties are available: bison, chicken, turkey, and beef. Each type is about 70% muscle and organ meat and 30% whole fruits, vegetables, and food supplements. Ground eggshell is used as calcium source; no vitamin/mineral supplements are included. Product is made into ½ lb. patties and sold in 5 lb. bags.

Guaranteed analysis includes calcium and phosphorus. “We are in the process of obtaining a complete nutritional analysis of all our foods. This information should be available on our website by the end of this month.”
Company founded by Sean and Karen Youssefi in 2002. Diets are formulated in consultation with Jacqueline Obando, DVM, a holistic veterinarian who champions the cause of raw dog food.Available in retail outlets in Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado.Pepperdogz sources local, USDAinspected bison and all nutritional supplements. Co-manufacturer sources all other ingredients. All poultry is USDA-inspected, local, cage-free, hormone- and antibiotic-free. Beef is USDA-inspected, local, with no added growth hormones. Vegetables and fruit are local and whole. Supplements are all products of USA.Co-manufactured at a stateinspected facility near Portland, OR, equipped with state-ofthe- art equipment, where other premium-grade pet foods are made.Manufacturer follows a HACCP program and is equipped with an advanced metal detection system. All ingredients are stored in stainless steel containers and maintained at -25° during manufacturing, before product is formed and sent to the blast freezer, where they are flash frozen at -10 degrees. Product is maintained at 0 degrees while in storage and during transportation to the warehouse facility....We are currently investigating the advantages and disadvantages of HPP, which eliminates food born pathogens (but) can also destroy some beneficial bacteria.... We do not use irradiation.”
Primal Pet Foods
San Mateo, CA
(866) 566-4652
primalpetfoods.com
Primal offers nine complete and balanced, raw frozen formulas, eight of which contain a single-species protein source: beef, chicken, duck, lamb, pheasant, quail, rabbit, and venison (the ninth is turkey and sardines). Each contains meat, ground bone, organ meat, and organic fruits, vegetables, and other food supplements (such as kelp, alfalfa, and salmon oil). All formulas are grainfree and gluten-free. Each product is available in 1 oz. nuggets, 8 oz. patties, and 5 lb. chub rolls. Food sources are used to supply specific vitamins or minerals; a vitamin/mineral premix is not used.

A full nutrient analysis for each diet is available.
Primal was established in 2001. “Primal Formulas, our complete diet line, was originally developed and formulated as a collaboration between the company’s founder and a local holistic veterinarian.”Sold nationally through independent pet food retail outlets. Primal will direct-ship to consumers who don’t have a retailer nearby.Primal sources all of its ingredients. “All Primal products incorporate 100% USDA human-grade meats, poultry, and game from the U.S. and New Zealand. The meats and poultry are raised antibiotic-free with no additional hormones. All fruits and vegetables used in our products are domestically sourced and we primarily use certified organic produce. Primal sources all proteins from farms and ranches that utilize sustainable farming practices as well as humane animal care practices.”“Primal operates its own manufacturing facility in San Mateo, CA. In addition, Primal utilizes the services of comanufacturer in Portland, OR.”“Primal production facilities follow strict HACCP programs to ensure food quality, freshness, and safety. HACCP programs are in place to track product time and temperature from the arrival of raw materials to the completion of final product. Primal production facilities are inspected by the USDA and State Department of Agriculture. Detailed sanitation programs are in place at both Primal facilities and strict sanitation practices are implemented as part of our standard operating procedures. Primal implements random testing to ensure nutritional integrity and food safety of all products.”
Raw Advantage
Kettle Falls, WA
(866) 331-5185
rawadvantage
petfood.com
Two complete and balanced products are available: Organic Turkey Dinner and Organic Chicken Dinner. Both diets contain about 50% meat and ground bone, 36% organic slow-cooked whole grains, 9% organic vegetables; the balance is organic whole food supplements. A vitamin/mineral supplement is not used. Both diets are available in 1 lb. chubs.

Guaranteed analyses also include fiber, ash, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium content. Additional nutrient information available upon request.
Company founded in 2001 by Ara Bush, educated in human food science and experienced in the human health food industry. Formulas “are the result of more than 15 years feeding and formulation by holistic vets, primarily Douglas Yearout, DVM.” Formulas also influenced by books by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, and Ian Billinghurst, BVSC.Available in retail outlets in 27 states, mostly in west. Direct shipping available for those outside the current distribution area.Raw Advantage sources all of its ingredients; sources are listed on the company website. 100% grown and harvested in the U.S., reputable sources used in the human health food industry. “They are not only humane, but also sustainable certified organic growers. Pasture-raised, the best of the best.”“We own and operate our manufacturing facility. We are registered with the FDA and USDA and have been designated a Certified Organic Processor by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. We offer tours of our plant.”We have a ‘good manufacturing practices’ plan that includes HACCP and FDA recall procedures. We annually test the guaranteed analysis and randomly test for bacteria using outside labs. We’ve never had a detectable level of bacteria reported on our product. We use temperature control and safe handling procedures throughout transportation and processing to ensure safe and healthy products. We’ve purchased raw materials from the same vendors for over a decade. To further ensure ultimate quality control, all products are produced in 100 lb. batches.
Stella & Chewy’s
Muskego, WI
(888) 477-8977
stellaandchewys.com
Four complete and balanced diets are available: beef, chicken, lamb, and a duck/goose mix. Each contains meat, organ meat, raw ground bone, organic fruit and vegetables, food supplements, and a vitamin/mineral premix. Available in small or large patties.

Guaranteed analyses only. “We are making some minor changes to our vitamin/mineral mix and the products will be re-analyzed in the coming weeks for publication on our website.”
Formulations by two professors of animal science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison: Thomas Crenshaw, PhD, Animal Sciences; and James Claus, PhD, Food Science.Products are available nationally, only through independent pet retailers. No direct sales to consumers.“We source all of our own ingredients. All of our meats and poultry are sourced in North America. Beef and lamb are pasture-fed; chicken and duck are cage-free. All meat and poultry is free from added hormones and antibiotics. All fruits and vegetables are certified organic. We use a U.S.-manufactured vitamin/mineral premix, as well as a freeze-dried, natural probiotic.”“We manufacture all of our own products in our FDAinspected facility in Muskego, WI.”“We have used a patent-pending ‘Secure By Nature™ Food Safety Process’ since January 2007. It encompasses HHP, a strict HACCP plan, and plant sanitation procedures.... We employ a “test and hold” policy. All testing is done at an outside lab. We test every batch for Salmonella and E. coli. We post these test results on our website; customers can match the batch code on any Stella & Chewy’s product to the test result on our website.”
Steve’s Real Food for Pets
Murray, UT
(801) 784-8364
stevesrealfood.com
Offers four complete and balanced diets: chicken, turkey, “turducken,” and beef. Meats are ground with bone included; same-species organ meats are also included. Each contains vegetables, fruit, gluten-free rice bran, flaxseed, and sardine/anchovy oil. Available in 1/4-inch nuggets and 8 oz. patties.

Full nutrient analysis is available for each product.
Products were formulated by company founder Steve Brown. CEO Gary Bursell has 30 years in the pet food business starting with Nabisco and American Nutrition.Products available in pet supply stores and via online retailers; company does not directship to the consumer.Ingredients are sourced by the company and its co-manufacturer. The beef products are grass-fed, hormone-free, and from Oregon and Washington. Fruits and vegetables are from Del Monte. They are triple-washed and pesticide-free.“We are partnered with Interstate Meats in Clackamas, OR, who developed equipment for the extrusion pump process for our nuggets. The equipment is installed at a plant in Aumsville, OR, and includes Formax as well as extrusion processing of frozen nuggets and patties.”“The plant is kept at low ambient temperature so that the raw material can be kept at 37 degrees or below when processing. All employees wear smocks, hair nets, and white gloves while processing. Quality control and raw ingredients must be kept at the highest level to avoid contaminants that would require sterilization.”
Vital Essentials
Green Bay, WI
(800) 743-0322
vitalessentialsraw.
com
Three complete and balanced products are available: beef, chicken, and tripe. Each includes meat, organ meat, ground bone, kelp, and a vitamin/mineral supplement. Available in “nibblets” or patty form. Note: This is a new company, built on the foundation of Animal Food Services and Nature’s Advantage. “We are the most tenured raw diet manufacturer in North America, making a preymodel diet for dogs, cats, and zoo animals since 1968.”

Guaranteed analysis for beef and chicken varieties includes ash, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Oher info available upon request.
“Diets developed in 1968, designed after the diet of the ‘Alpha’ male and female as they would eat in their natural habitat. Comprehensive composition of vital whole organ ingredients – heart, liver, lung, kidney, tripe – comprising 45% of the diet.” Formulated by company founder Warren “Gerry” Nash and Richard Patton, PhD, animal nutritionist.Products are sold nationally and internationally in pet specialty stores, vet clinics, health food stores, farm & feed outlets, and zoos. Approved for export to the EU and Canada.All meats are USDA-inspected and passed, from family farmers in Wisconsin; beef is grass-fed except in winter. Animals are humanely harvested, system designed by Temple Grandin.Company owns and operates its own USDA-Certified Pet Food facility in Green Bay, WI; establishment number A-27506 USDA shield is present on all packages. Strategically located two blocks from beef harvest facility. Fresh raw materials arrive daily; harvest to package in less than 72 hours.Monitored internally and also by on-site USDA inspection personnel; HACCP program; comprehensive sanitation program; FDA audits and inspections. Raw materials are processed at 32 degrees F or less. Random/periodic sampling and testing of finished food, including compositional analysis. We do not employ HPP, HHP, or irradiation due to the degradation of nutritional value, along with the detrimental chemical and physical changes that occur in the food as a result of the these processes.

9 COMMENTS

  1. What about SmallBatch out of San Francisco, one of the only companies that makes frozen raw that is not high pressure sterilized? Aunt Jeni’s is one of the only other companies that does not high pressure sterilize but hard to find this brand in CA. I used to like Steve’s Real Food For Dogs but now that they also sterilize with high pressure just like Primal, Stella and Chewy and most of the others, their meat is now also grey/beige. The high pressure process absolutely changes the meat and maybe the fats. The product changes to a grey beige color and the fragrance is no longer that of fresh meat. I can only describe the odor as grey-beige. If given the choice between a high pressure product or a fresh