Are you curious about the growing number of dehydrated and freeze-dried pet food options available these days?
Let’s take a quick look at the differences between raw, dehydrated and freeze-dried pet foods so you can decide if one or both are right for your pet.
Dehydrated and freeze-dried pet foods are often thought to be interchangeable
Dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are both lightweight because most of the moisture has been removed.
Both are dry, have a long and stable shelf life, and do not require refrigeration until rehydrated. They often have a limited ingredient list containing mainly fresh, whole foods.
The nutrient value of these foods normally exceeds that found in kibble because of the ingredient quality and manufacturing process.
The manufacturing process is where we find the differences between dehydrated and freeze-dried formulas.
Freeze-dried formulas use low temperatures and pressure to remove moisture
Frozen food is placed in a vacuum chamber where the temperature remains below freezing. As the pressure and temperature changes, the ice crystals (moisture) in the food are vaporized rather than evaporated. The freeze-drying process prevents the moisture in the food from becoming a liquid before it is removed.
Because the moisture goes directly from a solid to a gas, freeze-drying has a minimal effect on the cellular structure of ingredients.
Some pet food companies produce both a frozen raw and a freeze-dried formula which are essentially identical with the exception of the moisture content. Other freeze dried formulas use lightly cooked meats and fresh produce in their formulas.
Freeze-dried foods are the closest alternative to a raw diet. These foods can be found in a formed shape like nuggets or patties, and well as flaked or granular mixes. Freeze-dried foods can be rehydrated with water before feeding, or fed directly from the package.
An added benefit to freeze-dried foods is that they can be crumbled and used as a topper.
Dehydrated foods use low heat for an extended period to remove moisture through evaporation
If you’ve got a dehydrator in your kitchen, you know it uses heat to dry food. Dehydrated pet foods use heat to evaporate water from their ingredients. Temperatures are kept low enough to evaporate water, and partially cook ingredients. The nutritional value of ingredients remains high enough that some still consider dehydrated foods to be raw.
Because of the low heat used, dehydrated foods are technically cooked, not raw. Another type of dehydrated pet food is “air-dried.” This is another form of dehydration which evaporates water from ingredients using warm air.
Dehydration has more of an effect on the cellular structure of ingredients than freeze-drying. As a result, dehydrated foods can be seen as more “processed.” How much, if any, of an effect this has on the nutritional quality of a formula, has yet to be shown.
Dehydrated pet foods are usually found in a granular mix form which is rehydrated with water before feeding. Air-dried foods are usually found in small pieces, and can be fed without rehydration.
Sticker shock is not uncommon when first looking at pricing for these lightweight packages
A primary reason for the higher cost of dehydrated and freeze-dried formulas is the amount of time and the equipment required for production. Keep in mind that these foods are highly concentrated since they no longer contain the moisture content of fresh food.
One pound of dehydrated or freeze-dried food can rehydrate to between 3-5 pounds of fresh food. This will vary by brand, and guidelines can be found on each package. Keep in mind that “fresh food” is NOT the equivalent of kibble. You can more directly compare fresh food quantities with raw diet quantities.
Freeze-dried and dehydrated pet foods are ideal for some situations
For pet parents currently feeding raw diets, freeze-dried formulas are ideal when traveling, hiking or camping. They take up less room and weight than other food forms. Since each meal can be mixed up minutes before feeding, they eliminate the hassle of having to juggle thawing and refrigeration.
Dehydrated or freeze-dried formulas are also ideal for pet sitters or family members who may be squeamish (or forgetful) about handling raw diets. They allow your pet to continue to eat a familiar and healthy diet, without worry or added stress while you’re away from home.
And finally, for those wishing to feed a raw diet but unwilling to deal with freezing, thawing, and conscientious cleanup, a raw dehydrated formula may be just the answer. If this describes you, just remember you’re still dealing with raw meat, so proper handling and cleanup is still very important!
You’ll find freeze-dried and dehydrated pet food from a variety of manufacturers
Listed below are links to some of the more popular dehydrated and freeze-dried manufacturers available at Smiley Dog. If you find some that look particularly tasty and would like more information or current pricing, just let us know!
Dehydrated and Air Dried foods: