Just a few years ago, your dog food choice was simple: kibble or canned food. Today, however, there are many more options available for dogs, and picking the best food for your dog can be tricky. Two new options are freeze-dried or dehydrated dog foods. These foods are often processed from raw meat and minimal added materials, and you might not think there’s a difference between them.
However, the slightly different processes between freeze-drying and dehydrating do make a difference. Here’s a quick guide to these two types of food and why you might pick them.
What Is Freeze-Dried Food?
Freeze-drying is a method of preserving food by freezing it quickly and then removing the moisture while frozen. This usually involves high air pressure and a vacuum pulling out moisture as the temperature is raised. By the time it reaches room temperature again, it’s completely dry, leaving behind a crunchy food that often resembles kibble. Unlike kibble, this food is nutritionally a lot like raw food.
What Is Dehydrated Food?
Dehydration is another way of removing moisture, but it is a little bit lower tech. Dehydrated food is processed using a combination of low heat and moving air to remove moisture without cooking the food completely. This preserves the food while keeping it close to raw food.
Differences Between Freeze-Drying and Dehydrating
Both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are generally made from raw meat instead of cooked meat. This has some advantages nutritionally for dogs. Freeze-dried food changes less than dehydrated food, so freeze-dried food is closer to raw meat, while dehydrated food is more like partially cooked meat. Some proponents say that freeze-dried is better because it leaves the meat completely raw, but there hasn’t been much research on the nutritional value of different methods.
There is a texture difference as well. Freeze-dried foods tend to be paler in color and softer in texture. Dehydrated foods tend to be a little harder. They can also have a leathery or jerky-like texture. They are often processed into smaller pieces than freeze-dried foods to make up for this.
There can be a taste difference between freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. Some dogs prefer the taste and texture of one type of food over the other, and not every dehydration process results in the same taste.
Safety is a big concern with freeze-dried and dehydrated foods. Both food types can leave behind more bacteria than cooking the food. For this reason, it’s important to avoid giving this food to dogs with suppressed immune systems, elderly dogs, or puppies. You also should probably avoid keeping these foods in your home if you have small children, pregnant women, elderly people, or immune-suppressed people to minimize the chance of household spread.
It’s also important to make sure your foods come from a reliable company using high quality ingredients. Check your brand for past recalls. Freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are especially susceptible to contamination because of their lack of cooking. Check for the manufacturer mentioning a “kill step” or test and hold method of checking for bacteria.
Do Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated Foods Need Rehydrating?
Some freeze-dried and most dehydrated foods are designed to be rehydrated. This means that water should be added to the food before serving, bringing it closer to its original state.
Rehydrating freeze-dried food usually takes 2–3 minutes, while dehydrated food requires a little bit more time, around 5–10 minutes. Until you rehydrate these foods, they should be shelf-stable.
Regardless of the type of food you buy, make sure to follow all feeding and preparation instructions on the package. Also, pay attention to expiration dates and safety handling warnings.
Dehydrated vs Air-Dried Food
Another label you might see on pet food is “air-dried.” Air-drying generally refers to the same process as dehydrating food, with low heat and dry air being used to remove moisture. Air-dried food is the same as dehydrated food.
Which Food Should I Choose?
Both freeze-dried and dehydrated foods have their pros and cons. If you like these food options because they are minimally processed raw foods, freeze-dried is superior. However, many owners might like the slightly more processed dehydrated foods as a happy medium between raw food and kibble. Either way, these foods are only suitable for dogs in health situations that allow them to eat raw foods because they don’t have all bacteria and parasites removed as part of the drying process.
Overall, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods share a lot of similarities. They both allow you to feed your dog something closer to raw foods without needing to keep fresh food on hand. Freeze-dried foods are generally closer to raw foods than dehydrated foods, but there are reasons to consider both options.