What to Look for When Buying Complete Raw Dog Food


    If you’re thinking of switching to raw dog food you can either opt for a home-made diet, or commercial raw dog food. 

    For many responsible dog owners, the latter is preferable, but there’s an enormous range to choose from. If you’re considering moving to a complete raw dog food diet, here’s what you need to know.

    What is Commercial Raw Dog Food?

    Feeding your dog a raw food diet doesn’t mean you need to do all the legwork yourself. It’s perfectly possible to feed your canine a home-made raw food diet but that requires expert knowledge of canine nutrition. 

    What most dog owners opt for instead is a commercial raw dog food, also known as complete raw dog food. This ensures that your pooch gets all the goodness they need, and it’s usually more convenient too.

    What Makes a Complete Raw Dog Food?

    Your dog won’t stay healthy simply by eating chunks of meat; they need a wide range of nutrition which comes from a variety of ingredients. This could be anything from different types of meat – such as muscle and organs – as well as bones, veggies, seeds or nuts. 

    The exact make-up of a complete dog food varies slightly depending on the type of raw dog food diet you are following. Each one has a slightly different emphasis but meets canine nutritional requirements in full. 

    A complete raw dog food is as the name suggests: complete. This means that you don’t need to add anything to it to ensure that your dog receives all the nutrients they need. Aside from giving your furry pal some treats, you can simply put a complete raw food portion in their bowl without doing anything else, however, many dog owners add a few extras, such as vegetables, raw egg or fish to name a few.

    Just like cooked food, complete raw dog food comes in many different formats and we’re going to look at that next.

    Types of Commercially Prepared Raw Dog Foods

    When you think about feeding your dog raw food, the image of filling up their bowl with chunks of raw meat may spring to mind. However, complete raw dog food is available in a number of different formats which you can choose to suit your dog’s needs and your lifestyle. 


    This is a very popular type of complete raw dog food as freezing extends the shelf life and enables pet owners to buy more in one go. Freezing raw food can kill parasites and enables you to just defrost the amount you need for each meal. Of course, you’ll need to plan a bit in advance but that’s just part of being a responsible dog owner!


    Fresh commercial raw dog food is the hardest to handle because the shelf life is very short and it must be stored very carefully in the fridge to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. Some types of fresh raw food can be frozen but you’ll need to check with the provider to see if it’s viable.


    Freeze-dried complete raw food might not look like raw dog food as it’s often presented in a pouch and it can look like regular kibble. However, there’s no cooking involved when you choose freeze-dried raw food, it’s just been dehydrated using a special process. All of the water is removed during free-drying but the nutrients are left intact.

    This makes free-dried food convenient but also nutritious, a great combination. You’ll notice different textures for freeze-dried foods so you can pick the one that suits your dog. One of the big benefits of freeze-dried raw food is that it has a long shelf-life and is easy to take with you if you’re travelling.

    Cold Pressed

    If you like the concept of raw feeding but don’t have the freezer space, or you’re worried about how to handle the ingredients, cold pressed food is a good alternative. Unlike the majority of commercial dog food it’s not extruded, but instead processed at very low temperatures of 45-80 degrees. This preserves the nutrients and is comparable to raw food. It can also be included in a raw food diet, or used as an alternative if you’re travelling with your pooch.

    Air Dried Raw Dog Food

    Air dried dog food is another one which isn’t technically still raw, but contains all of the nutrients of a raw dog food. It contains more moisture than free-dried food and the texture isn’t quite as crunchy. It also doesn’t need to be rehydrated before being fed to your dog.

    Complete Vs Complementary Raw Pet Foods

    Just like cooked dog food, raw dog food can be complementary or complete. The former needs to be fed alongside other items to meet your pet’s full nutritional needs. The latter – as the name suggests – has everything your dog needs and doesn’t need to be supplemented with other types of food. 

    There’s no right or wrong choice here; what you prefer depends on your approach to feeding your dog. If you want to create a home-made raw food diet but want some extra supplementation, a complementary raw dog food might be the answer. Conversely, if you prefer the reassurance of knowing that your dog is getting all their nutrition in one package, a complete raw dog food might be preferable. 

    What To Look For From Complete Raw Dog Food

    A raw dog food sounds intrinsically healthier, but only if you pick a good quality provider. It’s important to check the label to find out exactly what is in your complete raw dog food, particularly if the separate components aren’t clearly visible. An AAFCO label on the food is the gold standard and will give you detailed information about what you’re feeding your canine. 

    It’s not just about the ingredients, although of course, that’s important. You should also look to see whether the raw food you are buying is ethical and high quality. 

    Things to look out for include food produced in the UK, British farmers, high welfare meat and ethically sourced ingredients. This can provide reassurance that you aren’t contributing to poor welfare practices.

    Many responsible dog owners who opt for a raw food diet are also interested in environmental factors. Raw food is better for your dog, and also the planet, and you can extend this approach further by carefully looking at the packaging you buy. Companies that use vegetable ink, compostable packaging, and packaging that can be recycled should come high on your list.

    Codes of Practice for Producers of Raw Foods

    The rapid rise in the popularity of raw dog food diets has led to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) releasing a set of guidelines that all producers are expected to adhere to. These guidelines have been developed in association with DEFRA, Public Health (England), the Food Standards Agency, and the Animals and Plant Health Agency.

    This multi-organisational approach ensures that the guidelines address the safety, nutrition and quality of raw dog food, while also addressing hygiene. They set out the recommendations for best practice and include regulatory requirements. 

    Having guidelines helps to provide peace of mind that the raw dog food you are purchasing meets the highest standards.

    How to Handle Raw Food Safely

    Making the change to a raw dog food diet can be very positive for many but the handling of the meat and ingredients must be scrupulous. It may sound daunting but many of the principles of handling raw food safety are just good common sense, and you’re probably doing it anyway!

    There are clear guidelines on how to handle raw dog food safely, which is broken down into the following areas:


    Practising good hygiene will ensure that any natural bacteria contained within the complete raw food will be contained, and won’t spread onto human food. Good hygiene practices include:

    • Always wash your hands with soap after touching raw meat 
    • Defrost, store and handle the raw dog food away from where you prepare meals for humans
    • All items which touch raw meat should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. This includes surfaces, storage containers, microwaves, bowls and any utensils.


    Freezing can be a good way to manage hygiene as it can kill certain parasites, but it won’t kill all bacteria. It’s therefore essential to be scrupulous in how your defrost the raw dog food. 

    When in the freezer, store your dog’s food in a separate compartment and ideally, double bagged. This could mean wrapping the raw food in a freezer bag, and then placing within a container. This ensures there is no chance that it could come into contact with human food. 

    When defrosting the complete raw dog food, be aware that any of the liquids could contain harmful bacteria. It should therefore always be defrosted away from surfaces which you use for preparing your own food. Make sure you wipe any leakage of the liquid and thoroughly disinfect any areas that it touches. 

    Where possible avoid using a hairdryer or water to defrost your complete raw dog food. This increases the risk of spreading bacteria. It’s possible to feed your dog partially frozen raw food without making them ill. 

    After defrosting, ensure all areas and utensils used or touched are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. 


    When preparing raw dog food:

    • Only defrost the food you need
    • Throw away any fully defrosted food that can’t be fed reasonably quickly
    • Use a dedicated area for preparing raw dog food
    • Have dedicated bowls and utensils for the raw food

    By following these guidelines on the preparing, handling and hygiene of your dog’s raw food, you will minimise any potential risks.