Fresh pet foods are a great addition to the pet food market, but they are not all equal. If the fresh food revolution is tempting your pet’s palate, check out Dr. Treats’ primer on fresh food.
Attractive marketing campaigns—including the seemingly inarguable bowl-to-bowl kibble comparison versus fresh, familiar whole foods—have spurred devoted dog and cat owners to question their pet’s traditional diet. If the fresh food revolution is tempting your pet’s palate, check out Dr. Treats’ primer on fresh food.
What is fresh pet food?
The phrase fresh pet food has no clear definition. Like many pet food buzzwords (e.g., holistic, natural), fresh pet food is a nonspecific term with strong consumer appeal. This pet food diet category is offered in various forms, including dehydrated, freeze-dried, slow-cooked, low-heat cooked and fresh-frozen. Recipes generally boast minimal preservatives and do not contain filler ingredients (e.g. corn, wheat, soy,). To preserve nutrients while eliminating the health and safety risks that come with raw foods, fresh foods are cooked at temperatures high enough to kill pathogenic bacteria, but low enough to maintain nutrient integrity.
Food for thought
Ask your veterinarian about fresh pet food
Pets and humans have distinctly unique nutritional requirements, and as such, the foods that appeal to you aren’t necessarily biologically appropriate for your dog or cat. Furthermore, each pet has their own unique nutrient needs. This is especially true for growing pets and those who have known medical conditions. Therefore, before altering your pet’s diet, we recommend consulting with your Dr. Treat veterinarian who can provide specific guidance tailored to your pet’s age, breed, health, activity level, and other factors (e.g., whether your pet is sexually intact or altered, lactating, pregnant) and help you determine the best food type—fresh or otherwise—for your special pet.
“Pets and humans have distinctly unique nutritional requirements, and as such, the foods that appeal to you aren’t necessarily biologically appropriate for your dog or cat. ”
Recipe for success
Selecting the right fresh food for your pet
When every fresh pet food brand shares the similar brilliant marketing and basic characteristics, you likely have difficulties discerning the subtle—but important—differences among formulas. After consulting with your Dr. Treat veterinarian, choose the best food for your pet by following these criteria:
Choose fresh pet foods that meet the American Association for Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrient profiles, which ensures that a specific food provides the basic nutritional requirements for their intended life stage (e.g., growth, adult, all life). Although the organization does not test, regulate, or approve any pet foods, AAFCO-compliant diets follow a predetermined, nutritionally complete standard. Look for an AFFCO compliance statement on pet food packaging, usually printed near the nutritional information or in other marketing materials (e.g., website, pamphlets).
Veterinary nutritionist-designed recipes
When looking for fresh pet food that has received gold-standard nutritional oversight, select a food formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist (i.e., a veterinarian who has completed advanced specialty training and research in nutrition). Do not confuse the board-certified veterinary nutritionist title with certified pet nutritionists, coaches, or self-appointed pet health or pet lifestyle experts. They are not veterinarians and may have limited nutritional knowledge.
Manufacturing and ingredient sourcing
Fresh pet food companies should be transparent about their manufacturing process, including ingredient sources, preparation and cooking methods, health and safety protocols, recall history, and quality control testing. Look for a company that is open and informative about each production process step—from ingredient sourcing to finished product delivery. If a fresh pet food company’s website does not provide you with sufficient information, contact the manufacturer directly. Many companies are happy to discuss their process and products with potential customers.
High-quality, human-grade ingredients
Most pet owners make the switch to fresh pet food because they want to nourish their pet with the same high-quality whole foods that are fit for human consumption. As such, fresh pet foods should feature animal protein (e.g., chicken, beef, lamb, duck) as the primary ingredient, as well as foods that provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, such as a familiar carbohydrate source (e.g., rice, barley, quinoa etc.), vegetables, and fruits. Fresh pet food ingredient lists should not include unpronounceable compounds and chemicals, or artificial flavorings. If you have questions about a fresh pet food’s specific ingredient or its benefits, request further information from the manufacturer.
Adequate caloric density
Fresh pet foods have a higher moisture content than traditional dry dog or cat food and are typically less nutrient-dense per ounce. In plain speak, this means your pet may require larger fresh food portions to maintain a healthy body weight. Caloric density can vary greatly depending on the food formulation and the primary protein, so always check the label and consult your Dr. Treat veterinarian to ensure your pet’s fresh food serving size is correct. Once you begin feeding your dog or cat fresh pet food, periodically assess your pet’s body condition. This is the best way to ensure you are meeting your pet’s nutritional needs without underfeeding or overfeeding.
Fresh food storage and handling
Unlike traditional dry and canned pet food, fresh formulas can have unique storage and preparation requirements that you should consider before changing your pet’s diet. Perishable fresh foods must be kept frozen or refrigerated, which can be challenging if you have limited cold storage space or travel frequently with your pet. Frozen portions must be thawed before serving, which can be easy to forget when life gets busy. Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods have a long shelf life and are more suitable for travel. However, many pets—and owners—find the homogenous porridge-like consistency and lack of familiar whole food ingredients unappealing. Although fresh pet foods are typically precooked, you should still practice safe food handling techniques before and after preparing your pet’s food to prevent cross-contamination.
Cost and availability
Always consider fresh pet foods’ practical matters. Fresh food is typically more expensive per pound than dry or canned pet food and less calorically dense, so you’ll likely have to shop for your pet’s food more often—especially if you have a large dog. In addition, many fresh foods aren’t widely available, so you must plan ahead, use a locally stocked brand, or sign up for a subscription-based program to ensure you always have a supply of your pet’s food.
Refund and return policy
Fresh pet food is a financial and emotional investment, so you’ll want to see your pet’s health consistently improve. In addition, as with any pet food manufacturer, fresh pet food companies are not immune to challenges such as delivery issues, quality control, supply chain problems, palatability, and each pet’s unique digestive tendencies. Before starting your pet on a fresh food diet, learn the company’s refund and return policy if your pet’s dining experience isn’t a five-star success.
Fresh pet foods are a great addition to the pet food market, but they are not all equal. If you’re interested in optimizing your pet’s nutrition through fresh foods, ask our Dr. Treat team to help you navigate the confusing and often contradictory pet food world. To become a Dr. Treat One™ member, visit our membership page to learn how you can enroll, and provide your pet with an unparalleled veterinary care experience.