What You Need to Know About Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Dog Food

Rehydrate these meat-rich dry diets to make them a complete and balanced meal for your dog, or feed them dry as treats. Either way, your dog will love them.

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Freeze-dried or dehydrated dog foods have certain benefits when compared to traditional wet (canned) or dry (kibble) dog foods. Before incorporating these foods into your dog’s diet, it’s important for you to learn more about those benefits, as well as the process for making these foods, including safety measures.

BENEFITS OF FREEZE-DRYING OR DEHYDRATING

The methods used to radically lower the moisture content of rehydrated or freeze-dried foods have the following advantages over baking or extruding the foods at high temperatures:

  • These methods preserve the food (nearly stopping the biological activity that causes a food to decay) with less damage to the ingredients’ natural enzymes or vitamins than cooking temperatures cause.
  • This means the meats and other ingredients are, by strict definition, raw. For those who believe in the benefits of raw diets, this is huge. (We’ll discuss those who consider raw foods to be dangerous in a minute.) 
  • When rehydrated, these foods are highly palatable to most dogs. It may be due to the concentration of flavor in freeze-dried food ingredients or their minimal processing. Dogs with poor appetites (like very senior or chronically ill dogs) may accept these foods when nothing else appeals. 
  • As a generalization, the makers of these products are targeting the top end of the market and have an extraordinary commitment to sourcing top-quality ingredients 

SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Click here to see Whole Dog Journal’s list of approved freeze-dried and dehydrated dog foods

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FREEZE-DRYING AND OTHER DRYING METHODS

Freeze-dryers expose foods to low temperatures, freezing them relatively quickly, and then to high air pressure. When the pressure inside the freeze-drying chamber is high enough, small heating units are turned on, heating the trays that the food sits on, and causing the frozen water (a solid at that point) in the foods to transform into a gas (water vapor). Pumps pull the vapor out of the chamber while keeping the internal air pressure high. 

Like freeze-drying, air-drying can be accomplished at low temperatures, but it takes longer and leaves meats and fats vulnerable to oxidation (spoilage); most foods are dried with temperatures of 140ºF to 180ºF. At these temperatures, the food is actually lightly cooked; the cellular structure (and thus the aroma and taste) of meats, fruits, and vegetables actually changes and the taste and appearance. In contrast, proper freeze-drying doesn’t affect the appearance or taste of foods as much.

The freeze-drying process sounds extreme, but the process actually leaves most foods less damaged than dehydration, which toughens meats and other ingredients. 

RAW SAFETY

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 contains zero-tolerance policies for pet foods that test positive for pathogenic bacteria. For this reason, some of the manufacturers of freeze-dried raw foods subject their products to a “kill step” known as high-pressure processing (also known as high-pressure pasteurization, and in either case abbreviated as HPP); they don’t want to risk increased surveillance or recalls from food control officials.

The owners of some other companies, however, believe so strongly in the benefits of raw foods that they refuse to use a kill step. Instead, they rely on the quality of their ingredients and their own food “hazard analysis and critical control points”(HACCP) plans to prevent selling contaminated products. They understand that the FSMA policies are present to protect dogs and their owners, and that today’s human food supply does sometimes contain pathogens – but they also have observed that most healthy dogs can easily digest and benefit from raw foods – even raw foods that may contain some pathogens. (Few healthy dogs have trouble with Salmonella, for example, though Listeria and e. Coli are another story.) And, importantly, they engage and educate their consumers about these facts.

There are food-industry experts who feel strongly that HPP is a very safe technology, and others who worry that it may alter foods on a molecular level. We feel fine about HPP; we’ve been to HPP plants and observed the raw dog food before, during, and after treatment and have confidence that it is not harmed or made unsafe to feed. On the other hand, we respect the right of owners to feed raw foods that have not undergone a kill step – as long as they are informed about the risks to which they are subjecting themselves and their dogs.

Some of the companies utilize a “test and hold” program whereby finished products are tested for pathogens and not released for sale until results indicate the products are uncontaminated. Buying a product from companies that employ a test-and-hold program is a good way to ameliorate fears about a raw and unpasteurized diet.

SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Click here to see Whole Dog Journal’s list of approved freeze-dried and dehydrated dog foods

13 COMMENTS

  1. So, okay I have a question. Our dogs eat freeze-dried raw food. I do NOT rehydrate it. Why? Because that (part of their daily intake of calories in the form of meals) is their reinforcement for training. It’s much, much, much easier to dole out “treats” that aren’t rehydrated. They both eat the food readily without being rehydrated. So is this a bad thing? I go easy on “real” treats for health and weight control, but yes, sometimes use real dog treats and even human foods like cheese or turkey hot dogs when I need really high value stuff.

  2. That strategy works for training but leaves them without the moisture that the get and need from their food. I’d give them a bowl of fish stock or goats milk during the day to ensure they are getting a good amount of moisture.

  3. I am happy to see this article, as I use several brands’ freeze dried morsels as training treats, as well as Ziwi Peak. I also use Small Batch brand frozen raw, as well as freeze dried sliders when we go camping or traveling. I love that they source humane meats , use organic veggies and herbs, and add no synthetic supplements. Is there a reason they didn’t make the WDJ approved list?

  4. Excellent article, thank you.
    Would very much like to see repeated articles of this nature, much the same way you do for other topics, please.
    This was a good reminder that our household preference is freeze dried over dehydrated, however our goal is to go full raw with foods the family can eat too when we cook our portions……”breaking bread” with our canine ”brothers” and ”sisters”, or ”pet children,” is a blessing we do not think people fully understand.

  5. I have fed my now 10 year old Aussie a raw diet since I got her at 8 weeks and have never had a problem with it, but now since we have moved to Fl., I keep freeze dried food on hand incase we have to evacuate because of a hurricane. Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet in the 8 years I’ve lived here. That being said, I occasionally mix in the freeze dried with her raw so she will be used to it. I always add some warm water to the freeze dried first, and then mix in the raw and she loves it. I used to feed my two dogs prior to this one Ziwi Peak, along with their raw, but it became too expensive to give to my current dog, and every brand of freeze dried I’ve checked out is way too expensive to feed my 50# Aussie full time.

    • Diana is 100 lb and Freyja is likely up to 50lb by now so feeding both of them a raw or dehydrated diet just wouldn’t be possible. I do give them a lot of meat as rewards and treats and at least one meaty dog bone per week.

  6. While I appreciate these foods and their nutrients and generally by good raw food makers, they are SUPER $$$$ due to the technology. So, with a multi-dog larger breed household, they just don’t work. As a backup sure, but daily we’d go broke 🙂

  7. Good article. I have been feeding a freeze dried, raw, food to my dog for over 3 years now. He has done very well on it, and since he only weighs 8.4lbs and so doesn’t eat huge quantities, it’s affordable for me. One thing though, I’m curious as to why from what I’ve learned from my own research, are two of the best brands, neither were reviewed? I think each of them have even managed to make it onto Susan Thixton’s – (The Truth about Pet Food,) coveted annual list of only around 25 commercial dog foods she approves of! One brand is Small Batch, the other is the one I purchase, The Simple Food Project. The Simple Food Project, a small, independent, company in Wisconsin, uses US sourced ingredients, no chemically produced vitamins, and pasteurizes their products for food safety. (I’m in no way associated with either of these two companies, I’m just a happy, regular, purchaser of The Simple Food Project’s freeze dried, raw, dog food.)

  8. I buy liver chunks from the “dog food” freezer at my local butcher, then dehydrate them for about 36-48 hours until they are hard and crisp. I use them as high value rewards in training. If they’re too big I cut them while they are starting to defrost before putting them in the dehydrator.

    Because of pathogens I am really hesitant to buy any dog food that says it’s “raw” no matter what process it’s gone through. I know my dogs would love it. I’d rather buy human grade meat for them but I would still cook it.

  9. Have used Freeze Dried Stella + Chewey both beef, chicken for one Pomeranian
    Who lived 14 Years in perfect health

    The next Pomeranian I also stayed with Stella Chewey

    This time I decided to try something different and now have switched to
    OPEN FARM AND STEVE’S FREEZE DRY

    RESEARCH SHOWS FREEZE DRIED MUCH MORE NUTRITIONAL THAN KIBBLE

  10. I have tried the freeze dried cat and dog food but I always let them rehydrate in broth. Since they are dried I am concerned about my fur babies not getting enough water or moisture and them having lots of trouble. Even with rehydrating them there stool seems to be dryer. I am concerned as 1 of my cats had a problem with blocked intestines so I mix rehydrate and freash. Is this ok?

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