Gone are the days when fresh dog food was an extravagance reserved for only pampered pooches. Today, fresh dog food is a rapidly expanding category in pet nutrition. And, faced with an increasing number of options (as well as decreasing costs), more pet parents than ever are choosing fresh food for their dogs.
Fresh dog food is often touted as a healthier, tastier alternative to commercial kibble and canned dog food. If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of fresh dog food, here’s everything you need to know before making the switch.
What Is Fresh Dog Food?
Fresh dog food is typically made with simple, whole-food ingredients, like fresh meat, vegetables, and grains. These are gently cooked and then frozen to maintain peak freshness. Some pet stores sell fresh dog food, but many manufacturers offer subscription and delivery services, so your dog’s fresh food can be shipped right to your doorstep. To serve, pet parents simply thaw the pre-portioned food packet in the refrigerator then feed it to their dog. The label will reveal how long a thawed package lasts in the fridge — usually three to five days.
Most fresh dog foods are made from wholesome, high-quality ingredients that are minimally processed and contain no by-products or preservatives. As a result, fresh dog food is generally better for your pup because it retains more nutrients and health-boosting benefits from its ingredients. Fresh dog food also tends to be tastier than most commercial kibble and canned foods, making it a great choice for picky eaters.
Fresh dog food also tends to be pricier than other types of dog food. Most fresh dog food companies are subscription-based, meaning you’re required to sign up and commit to regular, automatic shipments. Depending on the size of your dog, you might need a good amount of freezer space to store a few weeks’ worth of fresh dog food. Companies generally set up a shipping schedule that works well for you and your dog, and you can usually pause or cancel shipments if you will be out of town.
What Is Human-Grade Dog Food?
You may see the phrase “human-grade” proudly featured on some fresh dog food packaging. That definitely sounds appealing, but what does it really mean? In order to market dog food as human grade, the ingredients, manufacturing processes, and finished product must meet the same high quality and safety standards that govern food made for people.
Any dog food that does not meet these higher human-grade standards is deemed “feed grade.” That means it is suitable to be fed to animals, but could contain ingredients like bone meal or meat meal that are not approved for human consumption.
Where and how dog food is made also determines whether it is human-grade or feed-grade. For example, The Farmer’s Dog prepares its fresh dog food recipes in kitchens that meet all USDA and FDA safety and quality standards for human food. So not only can you be sure your dog is enjoying food made from ingredients you would eat yourself, you can rest easy knowing that it’s cooked and processed according to the good manufacturing practices established for human-edible foods.
All that said, fresh dog foods are still intended for dogs, not humans, and must say so on the label.
Fresh Dog Food: What to Look For
Most fresh dog foods have a lot in common when it comes to quality and ingredients. But each brand offers slightly different recipes, packaging, and delivery options. So be sure to shop around to find the fresh food diet that’s perfect for your dog…and convenient for you.
Start by checking out the recipes listed on the company’s website to see if you spot any ingredients that are a problem for your pet. In most cases, you can’t remove an ingredient from the recipe if your dog is allergic to it or flat out doesn’t like it. Though one company, JustFoodForDogs, does offer custom fresh dog food formulations, including prescription diets.
All dog foods, whether commercial or fresh, should be formulated to meet the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which ensures the food is nutritionally complete and balanced. Foods that meet AAFCO standards for “maintenance” are suitable for adult dogs. If you have a puppy, look for fresh dog food that meets the AAFCO standards for “growth” or “all life stages,” both of which would provide balanced nutrition to support your pup.
All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the author. However, Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Best Fresh Dog Food Delivery Services and Brands
Whether you’re looking for fresh dog food that will please your dog’s picky palate or simply want your pet to enjoy the health benefits of fresh fare, you have plenty of options to choose from. Here are our top picks for the best fresh dog food brands:
Get 50% off your first box of fresh dog food (valid for new customers only).
With The Farmer’s Dog, you not only get high-quality, protein-rich fresh dog food, you get a diet that’s personalized to your dog’s needs. When you subscribe to The Farmer’s Dog, you answer a questionnaire to create an incredibly detailed profile of your pet that captures everything from health concerns and food preferences to snacking habits and weight goals. Based on your answers, The Farmer’s Dog will suggest a meal plan personalized to your dog’s unique needs and characteristics. Your meal recommendations could include up to four different recipes — turkey, beef, pork, or chicken. You can choose up to three different recipes per shipment, or stick with one that your dog loves.
The Farmer’s Dog offers healthy, tasty recipes dogs love, made with human-grade ingredients and without preservatives or by-products. Every recipe is gently cooked in USDA-inspected kitchens, then flash-frozen to preserve maximum nutrients. The food arrives individually portioned, vacuum-sealed, and packed with dry ice in eco-friendly packaging. And if you’re a new customer, you can use this link to get 50% off your first box — all of which puts The Farmer’s Dog at the front of the pack in our book.
- Made with human-grade ingredients
- Prepared in USDA-inspected kitchens
- Since it’s freshly cooked, there’s no high-heat processing
- Contains no by-products or preservatives
- Recipes are formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists
- Pre-portioned meals shipped on a schedule according to your dog’s size, needs, and preferences
Things to Consider:
- Must sign up for a subscription
- Can’t customize recipes, though the plan is customized based on individual preferences, health concerns, breed, size, age, and lifestyle
- Must register to view the recipes and ingredients on the website
Sample Buyer Review: “My dog was beginning a downward slope. We decided to make a change to her food…and we chose Farmer’s Dog. The difference is ASTOUNDING. She eats with gusto, her energy levels are back up, her teeth and coat are even better quality…she’s like a whole different dog.”
Use this link to save 50% off your two-week trial with code GREATPET50
Spot & Tango’s palate-pleasing Original Fresh recipes bring all the elements you seek in a healthy, great-tasting dining experience directly to your dog’s food bowl. Well, delivered direct to your doorstep…you take it from there.
Every meal is made using nutritious, whole ingredients you can easily recognize–lean proteins, fresh fruits and veggies, and high-quality carbohydrates–all sourced from local farms and cooked in small batches to guarantee healthy, well-balanced meals for your pup.
Spot & Tango offers three delectable Original Fresh recipes, developed in partnership with animal nutritionists for optimal balance and benefits: Turkey & Red Quinoa, Beef & Millet, and Lamb & Brown Rice.
Not sure which is best for your pet? No worries. Simply register and enter your dog’s details, and Spot & Tango calculates the perfect customized meal plan for your dog based on their age, weight, breed, and health goals.
The price per package varies according to your dog’s weight and activity level and the meal selection(s) you choose. For example, the Turkey & Red Quinoa fresh recipe is the most affordable option based on a 25-pound purebred Spaniel who is fairly active at $2.28 per meal. It’s also the most popular recipe, according to the brand.
Spot & Tango recipes are designed to appeal to even the pickiest palates, as well as a variety of health and dietary needs. Two of the three Original Fresh recipes are grain-free (Turkey & Quinoa and Beef & Millet), while the Lamb & Brown Rice recipe is hypoallergenic and contains healthy grains. And the Beef & Millet recipe has a reputation for appealing to picky eaters.
Best of all is the brand’s 100% Happy Pup Guarantee. If your dog doesn’t love their Original Fresh recipes, Spot & Tango will give you your money back.
- Made with 100% fresh, whole ingredients you can actually recognize in your dog’s bowl.
- Contain no growth hormones, meat by-products, artificial additives, or chemical preservatives.
- Recipes are formulated for all life stages by a team of veterinary nutritionists.
- Each recipe is complete and balanced for both puppies and adults according to AAFCO’s nutritional standards.
- Each meal is gently cooked in small batches in a USDA kitchen for nutritional integrity.
- No gluten, soy, wheat, or corn in any of the recipes.
- Recipe info, ingredients, and nutritional analysis are available on the Spot & Tango website.
Things to Consider
- Must store the food in your refrigerator or freezer.
- Pet parents must sign up for a meal subscription.
- The recipes cannot be adjusted, but three recipe options are personalized to your dog’s needs.
Sample Buyer Review: “I have to say that I have tried basically all fresh dog foods out there, every single one on the Dog Food Advisors List (only five stars with no recall history). My friend introduced me to Spot & Tango when my fur baby was having a sensitive stomach. After one try, I decided to subscribe. She is healthier than ever and I want to enthusiastically recommend trying Spot and Tango for your puppy if you are a mommy like me!”
JustFoodForDogs offers a wide variety of fresh dog food (and cat food, too). You can choose from fresh-frozen meals, PantryFresh (self-stable fresh food), prescription diets, custom meals for dogs with food allergies or other special needs, and DIY Homemade kits (recipes and nutrient blends to make your own dog food at home). The fresh-frozen line features seven delicious recipes, including Beef & Russet Potato and Venison & Squash. The PantryFresh line features eight recipes, including specialized formulas, such as Joint & Skin Support. All recipe details, including the ingredients and nutritional analysis, are listed on the JustFoodForDogs website.
JustFoodForDogs can be ordered online and shipped to your home (auto-ship is available, but not required). You can also purchase meals made with human-edible ingredients from one of JustFoodForDogs’ USDA-inspected kitchens or at one of the company’s pantries, located inside select veterinary clinics and pet stores.
If you aren’t sure which formula your dog will like best, start with the JustFoodForDogs variety packs. Whether you have a puppy, a dog with a sensitive tummy, or any size or type of dog, a variety pack is made with your pup in mind. Take 50 percent off your first variety box and enjoy the savings while your dog enjoys his tasty meals.
- Made with premium ingredients sourced from restaurant suppliers
- Minimally processed to retain nutrients
- Wide variety of recipes and types of food
- Customized recipes available, including prescription recipes
- Vet-formulated recipes promote proper immune system health
- Convenient auto-delivery is available, but not required
Things to Consider
- Feeding amounts vary depending on the recipe and the type of food
Sample Buyer Review: “My dog used to hate all her food, and now she’s so excited to eat. It means the world to us that she’s happy and healthy. Thank you for creating JustFoodForDogs!”
Subscription-based PetPlate offers four fresh dog food recipes — Chompin’ Chicken, Barkin’ Beef, Tail Waggin’ Turkey, and Lip Lickin’ Lamb. All recipe information, including the ingredients and nutritional analysis, can be found on the PetPlate website. You can even get a quick cost estimate based on a few general details about your pet without having to register. Made with human-grade ingredients, PetPlate fresh dog food is minimally processed and gently cooked in USDA-inspected facilities, then frozen for shipping.
Though most fresh dog foods come in vacuum-sealed packaging, PetPlate comes in small, recyclable, plastic tubs with lids, which means you don’t have to transfer the food to a separate container after opening it. The company also offers two different meal plan options — a Full Plan if you want to feed your dog a 100% fresh-cooked diet, or a less-expensive, scaled-down Topper Plan, which provides enough fresh food to mix in with your pet’s current diet.
- Vet-designed recipes made with real ingredients in human-grade kitchens
- Formulated to promote healthy weight, shiny coat, allergy relief, more energy
- Minimally processed; contains no by-products or preservatives
- Conveniently packaged in recyclable plastic tubs with lids
- 100% money-back guarantee on your first order
Things to Consider
- Must sign up for a subscription
- Recipes can’t be customized
Sample Buyer Review: “My dog loves this food. Her digestion is more regular too. I feel so much better that my dog is getting a well-rounded diet. Knowing the correct portions to give my dog per day takes the guesswork out of it.”
Ollie offers four fresh dog food recipes (beef, chicken, turkey, and lamb) made with human-grade ingredients. All recipe details, including full ingredient list and nutritional analysis, are listed at myollie.com. Ollie fresh dog food is made without by-products, fillers, artificial flavors, and preservatives. After being gently cooked to preserve nutrients, the food is frozen into bricks and vacuum-sealed in plastic with peel-off tops. The first shipment comes with a reusable plastic “pup-tainer” and lid to help keep thawed food fresh, plus a handy serving scoop for easier feeding. If your pup turns their nose up at any of the recipes, Ollie will send a different recipe or offer a refund.
Subscription-based Ollie is home delivered on a schedule that is tailored to your dog’s needs and unique meal plan. If you will be traveling during an upcoming shipment, Ollie can send the food to your temporary destination (anywhere in the continental United States) with advance notice. You can also opt to pause your delivery until you return home.
- Made with human-grade ingredients gently cooked in small batches
- 100% real food, no by-products, fillers preservatives, or artificial flavors
- Recipes are formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist
- Starter pack comes with bonus pup-tainer and scoop
- 100% money-back guarantee
Things to Consider
- Must sign up for a subscription
- Recipes can’t be customized
Sample Buyer Review: “Before Ollie, Eevie wasn’t excited for breakfast or dinner and sometimes didn’t even want to eat. Now she’s excited every morning and every night because she loves eating her fresh food from Ollie!”
Fresh Dog Food: Tips and Advice
Talk to your veterinarian before making the switch to fresh dog food to find out if your dog has any special dietary needs. As with any food change, it’s best to gradually introduce the new food by mixing it with your dog’s previous food. This will help avoid any stomach upset, which can happen if you abruptly change your dog’s food to something new.
Start with 25% fresh food and 75% old food for a few days, then move on to a 50/50 mix for a few more days. Finally, mix 75% new food with 25% old food before feeding 100% new food. The entire transition process should take about a week.
Fresh dog food contains no preservatives, so it must be stored in the freezer until you are ready to serve it. Thaw one day’s worth of food at a time in the refrigerator overnight (or follow the specific instructions given by the company). Once opened, fresh dog food lasts anywhere from three to five days in the fridge (check your food packaging or instructions to find out how long yours lasts after opening).