I've written about Freshpet in the past. And although I don't think it's a terrible food, I've learned a lot about dog nutrition and our dogs along the way. When FreshPet approached me about reviewing their new raw meals, I was excited to review the food, but I couldn't feed it to our dogs.
What does a dog nutrition blogger do?
Hope all is well! I just read your article on raw food and loved it. I’m reaching out again as we have new recipes that I’d love to send you to try. Our Vital Raw Rolls, which are now available at Petco stores. This offering is different than other raw diets out there because it is ready to serve from the fridge and is made with fresh fruits and veggies, plus probiotics. The probiotics grow and create an environment where pathogens cannot survive. This process helps to provide a longer shelf life on the product and also helps to support a healthy immune system.
Also because it’s simple and ready to serve there’s no thawing required, which means no watery mess.
It comes in two grain free recipes: Beef with Spinach and Cranberries, and Chicken with Spinach and Sweet Potatoes.
I politely declined.
Thanks for the email, XXXXXOur dogs aren't able to eat Freshpet products. Thank you for offering.Kimberly
Reviewing dog food is hard because I don't want to risk our dogs getting sick for a blog post. I'm not saying that the food brands ask me to review is unhealthy or unsafe. With protein allergies and sensitive digestive systems, I've learned to be careful about the foods I allow our dogs to test out, limiting them to reputable raw food brands. I call this a “biased review,” because, with the growing awareness of dog nutrition and more dog lovers looking at raw feeding as a viable alternative, I see more brands jump into the raw spectrum. My “attitude” taints my review a bit, but I will be fair in my critique of Freshpet Vital Raw.
What is Freshpet?
Freshpet is the brand that created a dog food that looks like a bologna loaf – remember the one with the olives and pimentos? Their food lives in the fridge at the big chain pet stores. They came to the market in 2006, and this is the first brand that I noticed offering something different in the chain pet stores.
I first tried the Freshpet bake-at-home cookies for our dogs. They were a hit. I had an opportunity to try the food but wasn't a fan of the look and smell of the loaf. It just didn't look like fresh food to me, and when compared to our dogs' current diet, it very much looks processed.
Ingredients in Freshpet Vital Raw Patties
Our dogs didn't try their raw patties because Rodrigo has a beef intolerance, and all of our dogs have a chicken intolerance.
Their raw patties look the same as their other products and the ingredients, to a novice, look great. I'm a novice, so I slowed down and looked up the ingredients. They're not terrible.
Freshpet Vital Raw Ingredients:
Chicken, Kale, Sweet Potato, Citrus Fiber, Water, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sea Salt, Celery Powder, Dextrose, Inulin, Dried Pediococcus acidilacticii Fermentation Product, Cherry Juice Powder.
Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid.
Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate.
What are Dextrose and Inulin?
While I'm waiting for a response from Freshpet (I emailed them three times) about the dextrose and inulin in their food, I thought it would be a good idea to define these items for this post.
Dextrose “is a double sugar, containing one part each of glucose (50%) and fructose (50%), chemically bound together. Enzymes in the intestine quickly and efficiently split sucrose into glucose and fructose, which are absorbed into the body as single sugars. HFCS is made from corn starch.”
Out of curiosity, I looked up inuline too. Inulin is a soluable fiber derived from root plants. I read that it's used in food as a prebiotic and although it's not digestible, it can aid in correcting digestive issues. The only problem is that this prebiotic not only feeds the good bacteria, it may feed the bad bacteria too. This isn't a “bad” ingredient.
But do we need to worry about these ingredients? After reading about salt in pet food ingredients, posted by Rodney Habib for Dogs Naturally Magazine, I don't give much credence to ingredients listed after sodium. “Anything that follows salt is basically found in tiny, minuscule amounts in the product.” Source: Dogs Naturally Magazine.
Update on Dextrose as an ingredient in Freshpet Vital Raw: I received a response from Freshpet a few hours after this post was published. “We also use a small amount of dextrose to help feed the probiotics in Vital Raw that help to preserve our foods and help to support a healthy immune system. This is how we keep our fresh raw foods fresher longer similar to human foods like all-natural yogurt. In the end dextrose is not available to your pet in the final product.” Karina, Social + Digital Marketing Manager for Freshpet
Comparing Ingredients to Other Raw Brands
Although the ingredients in the Freshpet Vital Raw seem okay, I thought it would be interesting to compare the ingredients to raw brands that I do feed to our dogs. I admit that I'm biased. I love the brands listed below, and I trust their ingredients. The below ingredients aren't exactly what's in the Freshpet Vital Raw patties, but it's close.
Steve's Real Food
These ingredients are for the Turducken recipe and were copy and pasted from StevesRealFood.com. “Ground Chicken & Turkey, Broccoli, Duck Frames, Duck Necks, Duck Hearts, Turkey Liver, Chicken Frames, Carrots, Apples, Raw Goat’s Milk, Flaxseed, Dried Kelp, Cod Liver Oil, Anchovy Oil, Coconut Oil, Inulin, Sesame Seeds, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols, Eggshell Membrane, Dicalcium Phosphate”
Darwin's Natural Pet Food
These ingredients are for the Natural Selections duck recipe and were copy and pasted from DarwinsPet.com. “Free-Range Meat (74%): Duck Necks, Duck Wings, Duck Gizzards, Duck Leg meat, Duck Livers, Duck Hearts; Organic Vegetables (25%): Organic Carrots, Organic Sweet Potatoes, Organic Squash, Organic Zucchini, Organic Celery, Organic Romaine, Organic Parsley. (Vegetables may vary based on seasonality); Special Nutrient Mix (1%): Organic Ground Flax Seed, Sea Salt, Inulin (Extract of Chicory), Zinc Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin B12, Iodine, Vitamin D3 Vitamin E.”
Are the Probiotics in Freshpet Viable?
Another big selling point for the Freshpet Vital Raw patties is the probiotics in the food. I was under the impression that probiotics couldn't live long in a cold environment (the refrigerator).
I reached out to someone who knows digestive enzymes; Rebecca Rose of In Clover.
” Yes, products with probiotics should be refrigerated. That will keep the living organisms alive and stable while they are on the shelf or in distribution. It is very rare for that to actually happen. The fact that most probiotic products are kept in hot environments makes it difficult to find a probiotic that is really what it says it is and in the numbers they report. The good bacteria are often not the hardiest and will die off when stressed by temperature. This can mean a probiotic product without effective numbers of organisms or one that is taken over by a completely different but hardy organism. The ideal is to refrigerate the probiotic until you give it to the animal.” ~ Rebecca Rose, President at In Clover
Through further reading, I learned that probiotics could also survive freezing temperatures, which is good to know for people who like to stock up. “Probiotic bacteria themselves should be fine undergoing the process of freezing.” Source: Optibacprobiotics.co.uk
No Thawing Required with Freshpet Vital Raw
Another interesting characteristic of Freshpet's Vital Raw meals is that they are ready to serve straight from the fridge; no thawing required. This is great for dog lovers who don't want to deal with thawing their dog's food. Thumbs up! No. Not yet. I was stumped by the following statements in the email I received from a representative for Freshpet (see email above):
“This process helps to provide a longer shelf life on the product and also helps to support a healthy immune system.”
I'm confused by the ability for food to remain in the refrigerator for a longer period. I would like to know: how much longer, if it can be purchased in bulk and frozen, and if they're not using preservatives why is there a longer shelf life – because of probiotics? Update: Per Freshpet 9/3/15, the dextrose (sugar) in the food feeds the probiotics, which lead to a longer shelf life. “This is how we keep our fresh raw foods fresher longer similar to human foods like all-natural yogurt.”
Freshpet's explanation just raises more questions for me. I don't understand how it can be raw and only require refrigeration. Either there has been some processing (cooking) to allow it to last longer or it will be expensive to feed your dog this food if you're trying to avoid the “watery mess” mentioned below.
I did send a follow-up email asking approximately how long the food will last in the fridge and if there is any cooking involved in the processing, but I didn't receive a response. Update: I received a response! Due to the probiotic, they add to their meals, Freshpet has a long fridge life. “If unopened, our Vital Raw foods last as long as our other refrigerated foods at 24 weeks. If opened, it will stay fresh for 7 days.” ~ Karina, Social + Digital Marketing Manager for Freshpet
24 weeks is a long time. And to save you time doing the math, that's 6 months. A package of Freshpet will last 6 months, if unopened, in the fridge. And it's not cooked, according to the Freshpet representative. If you have a scientific brain, check out this article that discusses recent studies that have identified bacteriocins for application in food technology, which aims to extend food preservation time.
“Also because it’s simple and ready to serve there’s no thawing required, which means no watery mess.”
I wonder what watery mess they're referring too? The blood that comes with raw feeding? Well, that is a problem if someone is squeamish about blood or handling raw meat.
What About the Freshpet Mold Problem?
I'm an avid reader of The Truth About Pet Food. This is one of the sites that encouraged me to start looking deeper into the food I feed to our dogs. In May 2015, “Freshpet Pet Food Having Mold Problems?” was published along with images of Freshpet food with mold straight out of the packaging that had been posted on Facebook.
At first, it was reported that there was a problem with handling the food at the pet stores selling a moldy product. Then Freshpet reported that there might be an issue in the manufacturing process. CLICK HERE to read more.
I wasn't able to find a report of a recall or solution. I checked the Freshpet Facebook page and found a customer reporting mold in a new bag just last week (see image above). Of course, there's no way of knowing if this report is accurate.
Where Does Freshpet Source their Meat?
The pet food world is a competitive, ugly place, and I've heard rumors about a couple “raw” brands and I now make a point of asking about where the meat is sourced.
According to Freshpet.com, “97% of Freshpet ingredients come from the USA and Canada. 70% of Freshpet ingredients come from local farms. No Freshpet ingredients come from China.”
And “all Freshpet poultry, beef and fish ingredients are sourced from USDA registered suppliers who follow all USDA regulations for safe handling. Freshpet lamb is sourced from New Zealand and is natural, free-range, and BSE free. The poultry used in our Nature’s Fresh recipes are antibiotic and hormone free.”
I wasn't able to find a clear explanation of what it would take to become a USDA registered supplier, so my research stopped here. If you have information on this, I would be very interested.
How Much Will it Cost to Feed Freshpet Vital Raw?
Today, Thursday 9/3/2015, PetSmart is selling Freshpet Vital Raw for $16.99 per 2-pound package. There are four 8 ounce patties in a 2-pound package.
Per the feeding guidelines, our four dogs will eat 3.5 patties (14 total) each per day, which will equate to $59.46 daily or $1,783.80 monthly.
My math for a 2-pound package at $16.99…
- 3.5 patties x 4 dogs = 14 patties
- $16.99 / 4 patties (in each 2# package) = $4.24 each
- $4.24 x 14 patties = $59.36 daily
- $59.36 x 30 days = $1,780.80 monthly
- $1,780.80 x 12 months = $21,369.60 annually
My day job is accounting. I was shocked by these figures and ran them several times. This is obviously not a food being marketed towards a multi-dog home. Or it's only meant to be an occasional meal.
If we only had one dog, we would still be spending $445.20 monthly. Our current raw budget is $125/month for each of our dogs (versus $445.20 per month for one dog).
I did send an email to Freshpet asking what the ideal target market for their food, however, I didn't receive a response. Update: I heard back from Freshpet and learned that they priced their raw “to align with other raw pet foods in the category.” Commercial raw in pet stores is expensive. Very expensive.
My Bottom (Biased) Line about Freshpet Vital Raw
This isn't a product I would feed to our dogs, for five very simple reasons…
1. The protein options are too limited; due to protein intolerances, our dogs are unable to eat this food.
2. I sent the brand questions about their ingredients (three times), and no one responded to my emails.
3. The mold issue in Freshpet food is still occurring (according to customer reports on Facebook).
4. We can't afford to feed our dogs Freshpet.
5. It's unclear where Freshpet sources their food. The rumor mill makes me nervous about this brand.
So there it is. Freshpet is on my DO NOT BUY list. Below is a list of commercial raw brands that I do recommend:
- Darwin's Natural Pets
- Raw Paws Pet Food
- Primal Pet
- Steve's Real Food
- Read more about raw brands I recommend on my Top Raw Dog Food Brands List.
In my experience working with (and buying from) raw brands, I've found the people to be open, forthcoming, and committed to making sure I was feeding our dogs well. These are people who experienced first hand the benefit of raw feeding and wanted others to have the same experience. I didn't get this feeling from Freshpet. I think they want to sell food and thought I'd review it because I feed raw and write about it. I'm more than just a blogger who does reviews in exchange for free things. I'm passionate about my dogs, their health, and I want them to be with us forever. That's why I feed raw.
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