Although it costs more than kibble or canned, many dog owners say feeding their dogs raw dog food is worth it; several report that their pets' skin problems, bad digestion and other ailments cleared up after switching to raw or near-raw food. You can buy complete raw diets for dogs either frozen or dehydrated.
The Honest Kitchen Embark (Est. $95 for a 10-lb. box) is a top choice in this category. It's a top pick of every single top expert source that rates dehydrated/raw food. Users weighing in at sites like Chewy.com and Amazon.com give it top grades as well.
The Honest Kitchen comes as a dehydrated powder, which you mix with water to make a moist food. Each pound of powder yields roughly four pounds of food, so the largest 10 pound box is good for 40 pounds of dog food.
The Honest Kitchen uses only human-quality ingredients, and it's made in a U.S. human-food factory. It's one of the few pet food companies that is permitted to use the term "human grade" in its product labeling, having received a formal statement of No Objection from the FDA. It's also one of handful of pet food companies that have signed the Pledge to Quality and Origin at Susan Thixton's website, TruthAboutPetFood.com, disclosing every ingredient and its source.
Unlike some other The Honest Kitchen varieties, Embark is grain-free. Turkey is its first ingredient, followed by organic flaxseed, potatoes, celery and spinach. Vitamins and chelated minerals are added to make this a complete, balanced food for dogs.
The ingredients aren't quite raw; they're steamed to kill pathogens. The Honest Kitchen recalled some of its food in 2013 after its parsley supplier recalled a shipment for salmonella, and now steams its greens as well as its meats and fish. (It also dropped that parsley supplier.) While most recalls are a cause of alarm, experts and pet owners gave the company kudos for the way they reacted to this one. "They handled the recall in a very upfront and personal way with customers," says Carlotta Cooper at DogFoodGuru.com.
If you're willing to accept a little grain in exchange for a slightly lower price, The Honest Kitchen Thrive (Est. $85 for a 10-lb. box) is worth considering. It rates a little lower than Embark at DogFoodAdvisor.com, but others rate it on a par. Chicken, organic quinoa, sweet potatoes, spinach, and parsley are the top five ingredients.
A BARF diet might sound unappealing to the uninitiated, but it comes closest of all to replicating what a dog would naturally eat in the wild. BARF stands for "biologically appropriate raw food" (though some folks refer to it as "bones and raw food," and generally focuses on bone-in chicken, bone-in beef, veggies and fruits. In short, you can throw your dog a whole raw chicken or a whole fish and a bunch of carrots every day and he'll thrive, advocates say. (Raw bones will not splinter and injure a dog as cooked ones will.) If you are interested in learning more, the BARF FAQ page at NJBoxers.com is one of a number of good resources on the Internet.
One of the leading proponents of a BARF diet is an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst, who suggests that a dog eat 2 percent of its body weight per day. For example, a 50-pound dog would eat about 1 pound of food per day (this varies, of course, in terms of how active the dog is, how old, metabolism, general health, etc.).
In the U.S., BARF products are manufactured by BARFWorld, and available online or through a handful of local distributors. The products are delivered in freezer packs, with 24 pounds of food per pack (Est. $125 plus shipping). The ingredients are high quality and include beef, lamb, chicken, pork, finely ground beef bones, liver, kidneys and tripe, with fruit and vegetables among the lesser ingredients.
Nature's Variety, Nature's Logic and several other brands sell similar raw frozen diets (in smaller sizes) through local and major online pet-food chains, like Petco.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Reviewed Dog Food: From budget friendly kibble to premium dog food that rivals what you'd feed your family, we name top choices and explain what separates the best foods from dog food you should avoid.
Dog Food Ingredients: While reviews help, an informed shopper can make excellent dog food choices just by reading the label. Here, we tell you what to look for -- and what to avoid -- in every dog food in every category.
Best Dry Dog Food: Kibble can be a dog owner's best friend. It's inexpensive compared to other dog foods, convenient and nutritious -- or can be if you choose wisely. This is what to look for.
Best Canned Dog Food: Canned foods can be fed regularly or as a supplement to your dog's kibble diet. These dog foods are the canned varieties that experts and users deem to be best.
Buying Guide: Not sure where to start to find the best food for your dog and your budget? We explain what you need to consider and make suggestions to help you in your search
Our Sources: These are the reviews and other sources we consulted to find the best-rated dog foods of all types. They are ranked in the order of their expertise and helpfulness.