Vital Essentials Dog Food

Vital Essentials Dog Food Review 2024: An Expert’s Breakdown

Our Final Verdict

We give Vital Essentials brand an overall rating of 4.95 out of 5 stars.

Quality: 4.9/5

Variety: 5/5

Ingredients: 5/5

Value: 4.8/5

More and more dog owners are learning about the benefits of a raw food diet for their furry family members. But feeding a raw diet is even harder than it sounds, especially when you consider what it takes to provide the right ratio of nutrients for healthy growth.

The answer? A high-quality prepared raw diet that is easy to feed and contains all the micro and macro nutrients your dog needs to thrive.

One of the oldest brands to claim space in this realm is Vital Essentials.

Their raw diets contain over 98% meat, organs, and bone. Not only that, but these “butcher cuts” come from hormone and antibiotic-free suppliers in the US and EU. And all their meals are made and packaged in their company-owned US facilities.

I had a chance to try three of their raw diet products on my dogs (and were they ever glad I did!). Keep reading to find out what makes Vital Essentials better than so many raw brands out there, why it’s so easy to feed, and more in my full Vital Essentials brand review.

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At a Glance: The Products We Received

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About Vital Essentials

Vital Essentials raw dog food

Vital Essentials is a raw dog and cat food company that focuses on creating single-protein diets for pets. Each recipe is available in multiple freeze-dried options as well as frozen and as treats and toppers.

What sets this company apart from other raw pet food brands is their use of whole prey and a handful of vitamins and minerals as the only ingredients in their recipes. Each meal product is free from added carbohydrates and is complete and balanced for all life stages and breeds.

Who Makes Vitals Essential and Where is it Produced?

Vital Essentials is owned by Carnivore Meat Company, a raw pet food manufacturer that has been in the game since 1968. They manufacture Vital Essentials products along with raw food for their sister company, Nature’s Advantage, and some small private-label pet food options in their Green Bay, Wisconsin facility.

The meat used in each recipe is sourced from farm-raised, humanely harvested protein in the US and EU.

Which Pets Is Vital Essentials Best Suited For?

With two lines of raw food, one for cats and one for dogs, Vital Essentials is a great option for all the carnivore pets in your home. Each meat-centric meal recipe is balanced with natural nutrients, enzymes, and a pinch of added amino acid mineral complexes to sustain cats and dogs of all ages and breeds.

And because these recipes are available in multiple forms, it’s easy to find the right one for your pet.

The raw frozen patties are great for those who want to feed raw in its true form and have the space in the freezer for it. For those who want the benefits of raw but without the storage hassles, the freeze-dried patties are a great option and, when mixed with water, have a texture most pets love. Lastly, for those who want raw that’s as easy to feed as kibble, the freeze-dried raw nibs are a great choice.

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Key Features

There are many features that set Vital Essentials apart from other commercial dog foods. There are also some key differences that put this brand above other raw food options out there. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of them, including the meal types you can choose from, the protein options available, the ingredients, and all their other great offerings.

Meal Types Available

If you thought raw food all came in the same form, Vital Essentials is here to set you straight.

Their meal recipes are available in five different forms so you can pick the one that is best for you and your dog.

  • Mini Nibs – These freeze-dried bites are about the size of your average kibble. They feature a freeze-dried coating that helps them hold their shape and gives them a nice crunch. Feed just like kibble—no water needed!
  • Nibs – Just like the minis, but in a larger size for big dogs who need some help slowing down so they can actually enjoy their food.
  • Mini Patties – These small, freeze-dried bricks are easy to break apart for dogs big and small. Rehydrate with water and feed as you would traditional ground raw or canned food.
  • Patties – Just like the mini patties, but in a larger brick for big dogs who can clear a bowl in seconds.
  • Frozen Patties – These frozen raw bricks are the same size as the large freeze-dried bricks. Thaw them in the fridge overnight, portion, and feed for complete and balanced raw without the work.

Each of these options contains the same basic ingredients, only the way they are processed differs. But, in all cases, the ingredients are never exposed to high heat or pressure, which means they retain all the great nutrients and enzymes that make raw food so beneficial.

Protein Options

When it comes to choosing a recipe from Vital Essentials, there is no shortage of options here, either.

The Mini Nibs, Mini Patties, and Frozen Patties are each available in five different protein types:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Rabbit

Aside from added herring oil, each of these recipes only contains the listed protein. This makes it super easy to find an appropriate food even if your dog has common protein allergies, such as chicken or beef.

This also makes it easy to keep things fresh by rotating recipes. Not only does this give your pup different flavors to keep them interested, but it also provides a wider selection of nutrients to keep them thriving.

Vital Essentials raw dog food

Ingredients

Regardless of the protein used, each recipe from Vital Essentials features about 45% muscle meat, 45% organs, and 10% ground bone.

The rabbit recipe, for instance, contains whole ground rabbit, rabbit liver, rabbit heart, rabbit kidney, and rabbit lung.

All of the meat used in Vital Essentials food is procured from farm-raised animals that are humanely processed in the US or EU.

This whole-prey model mimics what wild dogs eat and ensures your dog gets the right mix of protein, fat, and micronutrients. Because the mix contains ground bone, the company doesn’t have to add synthetic calcium. Instead, your dog gets this in its natural form, which makes the calcium easier to absorb and more effective for building strong bones and muscles.

Aside from the 98%-plus meat in each recipe, there are also a handful of nutritional additives.

The first is herring oil, a great source of omega fatty acids. Most recipes also contain mixed tocopherols (a natural preservative) and five amino acid mineral complexes. The fact that Vital Essentials only needs to add five nutrients (as opposed to the 20 or more found in most dog foods) is a testament to how nutritious their raw meat, organ, and bone blend is.

Beyond Meals

In addition to all the meal options we talked about above, Vital Essentials also makes a ton of great treats, chews, and toppers.

Most of their freeze-dried treats contain only one or two ingredients, such as beef liver or chicken breast. They also have chews like bully sticks, chicken necks, and freeze-dried minnows.

If you’re not ready to go full-on raw, you can still elevate your dog’s nutritional profile by adding one of Vital Essential’s toppers to their current food. These “Protein Mix-Ins” come in freeze-dried nib form and ground powder form. Each contains whole ground prey or a mix of whole prey and added organ meat.

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Reviews of the 3 Vital Essentials Recipes We Received

1. Freeze-Dried Raw Duck Entree Mini Nibs

Vital Essentials raw dog food

These duck mini nibs are the perfect raw solution for owners who want the nutritional benefits of feeding raw without any of the work. Each kibble-sized nib has a special freeze-dried coating that protects the crumbly, dry ingredients inside. This gives them a similar look and texture to kibble.

They are crunchy, but not hard, and require no thawing or rehydrating to feed. Scoop them into your dog’s bowl the same way you would any dry food. But do note that if your dog doesn’t drink a lot of water, these can be dehydrating without added water.

Almost all of the nutrients and calories in this recipe come from the first four ingredients: duck, duck gizzard, duck liver, and herring oil. On top of all those nutrient-dense meat, organ, and bone ingredients are five added vitamin and mineral supplements.

Most of these added nutrients are in amino acid complex form, which makes them more easily absorbable and therefore more useful to the body.

Like all Vital Essentials options, this one is very high in protein, high in fat, contains naturally occurring fiber, and is free from added carbohydrates and fillers. It is 49% protein, 26% fat, and 5% fiber by dry mass.

This protein-packed recipe is a great option for dogs of all ages and is especially good for free feeders since it can be left out as needed.

Pros

  • Over 98% meat
  • Very high in protein
  • Easy to feed
  • Easy to store
  • Great for free feeders

Cons

  • Can be dehydrating without added water

2. Freeze-Dried Raw Duck Entree Mini Patties

If you like the idea of feeding raw but don’t have the freezer space to spare, these mini patties are a great option.

Each pattie is freeze-dried, making them easy to store in the cupboard and much lighter than frozen raw food. And because they are easily broken apart, they make a great option for dogs of all sizes.

This raw form does require a bit more prep than others. It is best served rehydrated. I typically place the patties in my dogs’ bowls, pour water over the top, mash, and let them sit for about twenty minutes before feeding.

You can also crumble these patties over dry food as a flavor enhancer or serve crumbled without water. If you go this route, just make sure your dog has plenty of clean water in their water dish so they can stay hydrated.

Like the mini nibs recipe, this Duck Entree contains duck, duck gizzard, duck liver, and herring oil as the main ingredients. It also contains a handful of nutrients and amino acid complexes.

With 49% protein and 26% fat (dry matter), these patties are perfect for active and growing dogs. They also work well for less active and adult dogs, just make sure you feed appropriate portions. Once rehydrated, these patties are highly palatable and a great option for picky eaters.

Pros

  • Whole prey formula
  • 49% protein
  • Easy to store
  • Lightweight and great for travel
  • Good for picky dogs

Cons

  • Requires some preparation

3. Frozen Raw Turkey Entree Patties

Vital Essentials Dog Food

For those who want true raw but don’t have the time to make it themselves, these frozen raw patties from Vital Essentials are perfect.

They come in frozen bricks about the size of the freeze-dried mini patties. Simply store the bag in your freezer and pull out as many bricks as needed to thaw in the fridge overnight. Once thawed, they are easy to portion out, though you may have to take out a couple of meals’ worth at a time to ensure no leftovers, depending on the portion size.

Each patty of this turkey recipe contains turkey, turkey heart, turkey liver, and herring oil as the first four ingredients. This plus just five vitamins and amino acid mineral complexes make up the entire ingredient list. Because it’s frozen raw, it contains zero preservatives.

If you’re looking for protein, this turkey recipe has it. Each serving contains 58% protein, 25% fat, and 4% fiber by dry matter. This makes it an exceptionally good option for working dogs and growing puppies.

The texture of this food also makes it a wonderful choice for picky eaters and those who prefer canned or soft food. It’s also a great option for summer since turkey is known to be a cooling meat.

Pros

  • Very high in protein
  • No preservatives
  • Highly palatable
  • Lots of healthy fats
  • Single protein source

Cons

  • Requires some prep
  • Must be stored in the freezer

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Our Experience With Vital Essentials

Vital Essentials raw dog food

When my dogs were younger, they were fed only a homemade raw diet. The benefits of this diet were evident in every aspect, from their shiny coats to their high energy to the very minimal stools they produced.

But once I got pregnant with my daughter, making raw was no longer an option. Now, with a growing kiddo, finding the time to do all the work required to make homemade raw has proved impossible. That’s why I was very excited to try these easier raw options from Vital Essentials.

I tried a variety of their products, including mini nibs, mini patties, and frozen patties.

The mini nibs are the perfect size for Papyrus, my seven-pound Chihuahua, and Ragz, my 30-pound Dalmatian mix. And I love that I can put these nibs into their treat balls without making a huge mess. They feature all the same great benefits of raw food but in a package that can be used exactly like kibble.

The freeze-dried patties require a little more prep and consideration, but I like how easy they are to store. I’ve also used them for feeding during travel since they are super lightweight and can be used in a variety of ways. Ragz and Papyrus happily ate them in rehydrated and dry form.

I am also a sucker for the frozen patties. These, of course, remind me the most of my raw diet days.

When thawed, they look like bricks of raw meat. No fruits, veggies, or unnecessary carbs anywhere in sight.

The only issue I had with the patties was thawing the right amount to get my dogs’ portions right without having too much leftover. This was mostly a challenge when transitioning them off their old food since I was only using about a quarter of the patty each meal at first. But once they were fully transitioned, one patty was about perfect to split between them at each meal.

In terms of which one my dogs prefer, it’s hard to say. They happily gobble up all the options without a second thought.

After just about two weeks of alternating between these diets, I have already noticed improvements in their stool consistency and digestion. I’m very hopeful that after a few more weeks of this high-quality, high-meat raw food, I’ll start to see more of the benefits I noticed back when I made my own raw.

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Conclusion

If you want to take advantage of all the benefits a raw diet can offer your dog but don’t have the time or energy for homemade raw, I highly recommend Vital Essentials.

Not only does this company offer a long list of different types of raw, from freeze-dried to frozen, but each recipe is packed with quality whole prey ingredients. You won’t find any unnecessary carbs, fillers, or synthetic nutrients here. Instead, you’ll get over 98% muscle meat, organs, and ground bone—exactly what your carnivore canine needs.

And all this in a package that is easy to store and feed so you can do less while your pets get more.

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