We all want to give our dogs the best of everything to keep them healthy. And food, being one of the main pillars of good health, is right at the top of this set of considerations. Making this decision can be quite challenging while browsing all the food offerings online or in your local pet store. There are just so many dog food options wrapped up in pretty packages with cool marketing speak on the labels.
One of the newer and more controversial dog food diets is the raw food diet, specifically freeze dried raw foods. These diets contain nearly all protein that has been processed from raw meat into freeze dried pellets, pieces, or patties by one of several methods. Freeze dried foods tend to be pricier and tout a lot of health benefits. They also swirl up a lot of detractors who say freeze dried food still contains harmful bacteria and should not be consumed by dogs.
Non-biased, reputable information is the greatest tool for consumers to make the best decision for YOUR furry family. So... in that spirit, below are ten questions you should ask before you decide to feed your dog a freeze dried diet.
Here are the 10 questions we cover in this article. You can click on each question to go directly to that question.
- What is freeze dried dog food?
- How do companies freeze dry dog food?
- How do companies ensure freeze dried dog food is safe?
- How does freeze dried dog food compare to raw dog food?
- When should you not use freeze dried dog food?
- What are the pros and cons of freeze dried dog food?
- Is freeze dried dog food better than kibble?
- How do you reconstitute freeze dried dog food?
- How do you safely handle freeze dried dog food?
- What should you look for in freeze dried dog food?
1) What is freeze dried dog food?
Freeze dried dog food is a type of pet food that undergoes a freeze drying process to remove moisture, while preserving most of the food's original nutritional content. The process begins with freezing the raw ingredients, which typically include meats, vegetables, and fruits. Then, through a method known as sublimation, the frozen water in the food is converted directly into vapor, bypassing the liquid state. This method effectively removes the moisture content while keeping the cellular structure of the ingredients intact, thus retaining their nutritional integrity.
This type of dog food is appreciated for its close resemblance to a natural, raw diet. It is free from preservatives and often does not contain any artificial additives, making it a wholesome choice for many dog owners. The absence of moisture in freeze dried dog food gives it a lightweight and compact form, which contributes to a longer shelf life without the need for refrigeration. This makes it a convenient option for pet owners, especially those who travel with their pets or have limited storage space.
Once it's time to feed, the food can be easily rehydrated with water, restoring it to a state that's similar to its original form, both in texture and nutritional value. This rehydration process makes it more palatable and easier to digest for dogs, compared to dry kibble.
2) How do companies freeze dry dog food?
Humans have been freeze drying food for over 1,000 years. The process of freeze drying dog food is intricate and involves several key steps to ensure the final product is of high quality and safe for consumption. Initially, companies start with the selection of raw ingredients, which typically include meats, vegetables, and fruits. These ingredients are often chosen for their quality and nutritional value, ensuring that the freeze dried food will be beneficial for a dog's diet. Once the ingredients are selected, they are prepped and cut into uniform sizes to ensure even drying.
There are three methods for freeze drying raw proteins:
- The first method uses three steps to remove water from the protein. The protein is dried, then vacuum sealed, then dried again. Using this method, companies can remove up to 97% of the moisture and still retain essential nutrients. Packaging the freeze dried food in airtight containers protects it from air and moisture, which can degrade its quality. Packaging often includes oxygen absorbers to maintain freshness. The entire process, from preparation to packaging, is conducted in a controlled environment to prevent contamination and ensure the highest standards of food safety.
- The second method also uses three steps. The prepared food is rapidly frozen at extremely low temperatures to preserve the integrity and nutritional value of the food by preventing the formation of large ice crystals, which can damage cell structures. The protein is then vacuum sealed with elevated temperatures, which cause the liquid extraction phase to be skipped, going directly from ice to vapor. This is achieved by lowering the air pressure and applying a small amount of heat. The precise control of temperature and pressure during this phase is vital to ensure effective moisture removal while retaining the food's nutritional content and between 2 and 5% moisture.
- The last process uses a process called High Pressure Processing (HPP) to pasteurize the protein to remove bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E.coli.
3) How do companies ensure freeze dried dog food is safe?
The production of freeze dried dog food involves stringent quality control measures to ensure the safety and nutritional value of the product. Manufacturers typically implement a series of checks throughout the production process. This starts from sourcing high-quality raw materials, ensuring they are free from contaminants and suitable for freeze drying. Each batch of raw ingredients undergoes testing for pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli, as these bacteria can pose significant health risks to both pets and humans.
In addition to raw material testing, manufacturers also closely monitor the freeze drying process itself. This process must be precisely controlled to effectively eliminate moisture without degrading the nutritional content of the food. Regular equipment checks and maintenance are crucial to ensure consistent quality. The final product is often tested for nutrient content, moisture levels, and microbial safety before packaging. These rigorous quality control measures are vital for maintaining the integrity and safety of freeze dried dog food.
There is, of course, concern about pathogens that survive the freeze drying process. The Royal Society in the UK has written extensively about these risks. Linda Case of The Science Dog references the findings of a study of 15 different frozen raw foods and two freeze-dried raw foods conducted by the Kasetsart University in Thailand. These findings indicate that the freeze-dried foods tested were below allowed limits for bacteria.
4) How does freeze dried dog food compare to raw dog food?
Comparing freeze dried dog food to raw dog food involves examining several key aspects including nutritional value, shelf life, storage, and ease of preparation. Nutritionally, both freeze dried and raw dog foods aim to provide a diet close to what dogs would naturally eat in the wild. However, freeze drying can better preserve certain nutrients that may be lost in some raw food processing methods. Freeze dried dog food retains most of the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes present in raw ingredients, thanks to the low-temperature dehydration process.
In terms of shelf life and storage, freeze dried dog food offers a significant advantage. While raw dog food requires refrigeration or freezing to prevent spoilage, freeze dried food can be stored at room temperature without spoiling, making it more convenient for long-term storage and travel. This extended shelf life is due to the removal of moisture, which inhibits the growth of bacteria and mold.
Ease of preparation and feeding is another area of comparison. Raw dog food often requires thawing and may have a more complex preparation process, especially for balancing nutrients correctly. Freeze dried dog food, on the other hand, is typically more user-friendly. Although it requires rehydration, this process is generally simpler and quicker than preparing raw food, and it also eliminates the risk of handling raw meat, which can be a concern for some pet owners in terms of hygiene and potential contamination.
Lastly, safety concerns differ between the two. Raw dog foods carry a risk of bacterial contamination like Salmonella or E. coli, which can affect both pets and humans. Freeze dried dog food, through its processing and lack of moisture, significantly reduces these risks, offering a safer alternative while still providing the benefits of a raw diet.
Veterianarian, Dr. Alice Athow-Frost compares freeze-dried dog foods with dehydrated dog foods at Hepper.
5) When should you not use freeze dried dog food?
There are certain situations where freeze dried dog food may not be the best choice for your pet. One of the primary considerations is when a dog has specific health conditions that require a strictly controlled diet. For example, dogs with kidney disease may need a diet with restricted protein levels, and since freeze dried food is often high in protein, it might not be suitable for these pets. Similarly, dogs with certain allergies or sensitivities might react negatively to the ingredients commonly found in freeze dried food.
Age and dietary restrictions also play a significant role. Puppies, especially large breed puppies, need a diet that is specifically formulated for their growth and development. While some freeze dried foods are suitable for all life stages, others may not meet the nutritional requirements for growing puppies. Senior dogs, who might have more sensitive digestive systems or dental issues, may also find it challenging to consume even rehydrated freeze dried food.
Furthermore, the cost and preparation time of freeze dried dog food can be prohibitive for some pet owners. While convenient in terms of storage and shelf life, freeze dried food can be more expensive than other types of dog food, and the rehydration process adds an extra step to meal preparation.
Lastly, in emergency situations or when traveling, access to clean water to rehydrate the food can be a concern. In these cases, having a more readily edible option like kibble or canned food might be more practical.
6) What are the pros and cons of freeze dried dog food?
- Dogs like the taste of foods high in meats and fats
- Helps pets with digestive problems
- Most freeze dried foods are grain free
- Healthier and better well being due to nutrient retention
- Can help create a more shiny coat, better breath
- Higher nutrient density means smaller serving sizes
- High meat content ranging from 80% to 95% meat, organs and ground bone
- Low carb content.
Freeze dried dog food offers several advantages that make it a popular choice among pet owners. Firstly, it retains most of the nutrients found in fresh, raw ingredients due to the freeze drying process, which involves removing moisture at low temperatures. This method preserves the natural vitamins, minerals, and enzymes present in the raw ingredients, making freeze dried food highly nutritious and beneficial for a dog's health.
Secondly, freeze dried dog food is extremely convenient. It's lightweight and has a long shelf life, making it ideal for storage and travel. Unlike raw food, it doesn't require refrigeration, thus simplifying the feeding process. This convenience does not compromise the quality of the food, as rehydrating the food brings it very close to its original state, maintaining its taste and texture, which is often more appealing to dogs compared to conventional kibble.
- Ensuring a complete and balanced diet
- Much more expensive
- More time consuming prep
- Can be harder for dog to digest
- Potential existence of microbial pathogens in freeze dried raw foods
- freeze dried raw foods introduce bacteria into home and could infect children, elderly people or anyone with a compromised immune system
While freeze dried dog food has its advantages, there are also potential drawbacks to consider. One significant concern is the cost. Generally, freeze dried dog food is more expensive than traditional kibble or canned foods. This higher cost can be attributed to the more expensive ingredients typically used, as well as the more complex and energy-intensive freeze drying process. For pet owners on a budget, this can make freeze dried food a less feasible option for regular feeding.
Another potential drawback is the preparation time. Unlike kibble, which can be served as is, freeze dried dog food often requires rehydration before feeding. This extra step can be inconvenient for some pet owners, especially those who are used to the convenience of simply scooping food from a bag. While the rehydration process is not necessarily time-consuming, it does require planning, especially if you're in a hurry or traveling.
Additionally, while freeze drying does a great job of preserving nutrients, some vitamins may degrade over time, especially if the food is not stored properly. Exposure to air, light, or heat can reduce the nutritional value of the food. This makes proper storage essential, which might require additional space or containers.
Lastly, not all dogs may like the texture or taste of rehydrated freeze dried food. Some pets may prefer the crunch of kibble or the moisture of canned food, leading to potential issues with palatability and feeding.
K9 of Mine has reviewed 6 freeze dried dog food options as well as detailed considerations for switching your dog to a freeze dried diet.
7) Is freeze dried dog food better than kibble?
Freeze dried food is different than kibble in that it only contains about 5% moisture, about half the moisture content of kibble. By contract, most kibble contains about 9-10% moisture.
The debate over whether freeze dried dog food is better than kibble centers on several key factors: nutritional value, convenience, and palatability.
Nutritionally, freeze dried dog food often has an edge over kibble. The freeze drying process preserves the natural nutrients of the ingredients more effectively than the high-heat methods used in making kibble. This means that freeze dried food can retain more of the original vitamins, minerals, and enzymes present in the raw ingredients, offering a diet that is closer to what a dog would eat in the wild.
In terms of convenience, kibble has long been favored by many pet owners due to its ease of storage and feeding. It requires no preparation and has a long shelf life, making it a practical choice for busy pet owners. However, freeze dried dog food, while needing rehydration, is also relatively easy to store and has a long shelf life, thanks to the removal of moisture which inhibits bacterial growth and spoilage.
Palatability is another important factor. Some dogs prefer the taste and texture of freeze dried food, as it more closely resembles fresh meat once rehydrated. On the other hand, kibble's dry and crunchy texture is also favored by many dogs, and it can be beneficial for dental health, helping to reduce tartar buildup.
Cost is a consideration as well. Generally, freeze dried dog food is more expensive than kibble, reflecting the more costly ingredients and the complex freeze drying process. This can be a significant factor for pet owners when choosing between the two types of food.
K9 Magazine has a terrific, thoughtful article comparing freeze dried raw food with kibble.
8) How do you reconstitute freeze dried dog food?
Reconstituting freeze dried dog food is a simple yet important process to ensure your dog receives a meal that is both nutritious and enjoyable. The key to rehydration is using the right amount of water. Typically, the packaging will provide specific instructions, but a general rule is to add an equal amount of warm water to the amount of freeze dried food. This helps to bring the food back to a state that is close to its original form, both in texture and taste.
The time it takes for the food to fully rehydrate varies depending on the brand and the size of the food pieces. On average, it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. It’s important to ensure that all pieces are adequately soaked, so stirring the mixture halfway through the waiting period can help achieve a more even rehydration. Some pet owners choose to add a bit more water for dogs that prefer a softer texture or to increase their dog's water intake.
Once rehydrated, the food should be consumed within a short period, ideally immediately. If there are leftovers, they should be treated like fresh food - refrigerated and used within a day or two to prevent spoilage.
9) How do you safely handle freeze dried dog food?
Handling freeze dried dog food safely is crucial to maintain its quality and to ensure it remains a healthy option for your pet. The first step in safe handling is hygiene. Always wash your hands before and after handling the food, as you would with any other type of pet food. This reduces the risk of contamination and the spread of bacteria, which is especially important since some freeze dried foods are prepared from raw ingredients.
Storage recommendations are also key for maintaining the safety and quality of freeze dried dog food. The food should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Once the original packaging is opened, it's important to seal it tightly after each use. Some brands may recommend transferring the food to an airtight container to further prolong its shelf life and maintain freshness. Including desiccants or oxygen absorbers in the storage container can also help in preserving the quality of the food.
Avoiding contamination is another important aspect. Ensure that the utensils and bowls used for serving the freeze dried food are clean. If you’re rehydrating the food, use clean water, and avoid cross-contamination with other food items, especially if you're dealing with freeze dried food that is made from raw ingredients. After serving, any uneaten rehydrated food should be treated as perishable, refrigerated, and used within a day or two to prevent spoilage.
The national Library of Medicine published an article based on a survey of dog and cat owners on the proper way to store and preserve dog and cat foods.
10) What should you look for in freeze dried dog food?
When selecting freeze dried dog food, there are several key factors to consider ensuring you are providing the best option for your pet. Firstly, it's important to look at the key ingredients and their nutritional content. High-quality freeze dried foods typically list real meat, poultry, or fish as their first ingredient, reflecting a high protein content which is essential for a dog's diet. Additionally, check for the inclusion of fruits and vegetables which provide necessary vitamins and minerals. It's also beneficial to look for foods without fillers, artificial preservatives, or additives, as these can be unnecessary or harmful to your dog's health.
Brand reputation and reviews can provide valuable insight into the quality and reliability of the freeze dried dog food. Researching the brand, looking into their manufacturing processes, and reading customer reviews can help you understand the quality of their products and their commitment to pet nutrition and safety. A brand with a good reputation for quality and transparency is more likely to produce a superior product.
Price and availability are also practical considerations. While freeze dried dog food can be more expensive than other types, comparing prices and checking availability can help you find a product that fits your budget and is readily accessible. Sometimes, purchasing in bulk or looking for sales can make higher-quality options more affordable.
National Library of Medicine: One Veterinarian's Experience with Owners Who are Feeding Raw Meat to Their Pets
The Science Dog: Is Freeze-Dried Raw Safer to Feed?
Pet Food Express: Pet Food Faceoff: Air-Dried vs. Freeze-Dried
Journal of Animal Science: 399 Freeze Dried Pet Food Process
National Library of Medicine: Raw Diets for Dogs & Cats: A Review with Particular Reference to Microbiological Hazards
Pet Food Industry: Freeze Dried Pet Foods Amino Acids Digestibility Tested
Dogs Naturally: Freeze-Dried Dog Food: The Pros and Cons
The Whole Dog Journal: What You Need to Know About Dehydrated and Freeze Dried Dog Food