There’s been a surge of dehydrated and freeze-dried “limited ingredient” cat and dog food on the market. Also labeled as “human grade” pet food, these products can offer nutritional benefits when carefully incorporated into your pet’s diet. If you aren’t cautious in your use of freeze-dried food you can place your cat or dog at risk for a nutritional deficiency and other health problems.
3 Things to Know about Feeding Freeze-dried Pet Food
We’ve got the scoop on three important aspects of feeding freeze-dried or dehydrated food to your cat or dog:
methods used for dehydrating pet food
benefits of freeze-dried food for a pet
tips on the best way to introduce freeze-dried food to your cat or dog
How is Freeze-dried Pet Food Made?
Freeze-dryers expose foods to low temperatures, freezing them relatively quickly, and then exposing the food to high air pressure. In freeze-drying the frozen food is put in a vacuum to sublimate the water content (changing from ice to vapor). Next, the food product is sealed in air-tight packaging. This dries out all moisture from the food, making it more shelf-stable at room temperature for longer periods of time compared to non-freeze-dried foods.
Freeze-dried cat food is a raw food product, meaning it has not been cooked or pasteurized with heat. It may be sold on its own as a meal or a treat, or it may be used to coat kibble or mixed with kibble.
Other Pet Food Dehydration Techniques
Two other techniques, air-drying and dehydrating are sometimes used. Freeze-drying leaves most foods less damaged than dehydration, which toughens meats and other ingredients. Air-drying food can be done at similar temps as freeze-drying, but it takes longer and the food is at risk for oxidation, which spoils the food. So temperatures used in the air-drying process are typically higher than in freeze-drying. This partially cooks the food, altering its chemistry and affecting the aroma, flavo, texture, and nutrient density. For meats, fruits, and vegetables, freeze-drying is the best approach to retaining the natural flavors and quality of the food.
Benefits of Freeze-Dried Food for Your Cat or Dog
There are quite a few advantages to freeze-dried food over baking or cooking at very high temperatures.
Food Preservation. Freeze-drying preserves the food and nearly all biological activity that causes a food to decay. There is less damage to the food’s natural enzymes and vitamin content compared to other cooking methods.
Raw Nutrients. With less damage and higher degree of preservation, the food is left in it’s most natural and “nearly raw” state.
Pets Love the Flavor. When rehydrated or even when served dry (as may be the case for some freeze-dried products) flavor is retained and your pet will really enjoy that! If your pet is a notoriously poor or picky eater, such as an older pet or one with a medical condition, it may more readily eat and be able to digest these foods when nothing else appeals.
Precautions with Freeze-Dried Food
Because a dehydrated food, regardless of preparation method, is technically a raw food, there are health precautions you want to take before you begin feeding these foods to your cat or dog.
Bacteria Left Behind: Even in a commercial pet food facility, some bacteria and parasites can survive freeze-drying processes. If you are freeze-drying raw food at home for your cat or dog, you need to be extra careful about bacteria and parasites getting into the food preparation process. Work closely with a veterinarian trained in pet nutrition or seek out a pet nutritionist so that you can be sure you are preparing food properly and safely.
An Infection in a Pet Can Carry to Humans: If your pet acquires a food borne illness, family members, especially children, who play with the pet can get the pet’s saliva on their skin and be at risk for serious illness. Likewise, if you are handling an ill pet’s food dishes, cleaning up fecal matter, etc. there is a risk for contracting food-borne bacteria and illness.
Nutritional Health Concerns: If you feed only freeze-dried food adn don’t understand how to vary it for nutritional balance for your cat or dog, you run the risk creating a nutritional deficiency. You can also tax the organs of digestion and elimination if the freeze-dried foods you feet are too high in certain nutrients or have too much fiber. If you notice your pet is struggling with constipation, has diarrhea or appears bloated, seek immediate medial attention.
Tips for Feeding Freeze-Dried Food to Your Pet
Start slowly. Don’t give your pet freeze-dried foods at every meal.
Mix It Up. Offer a variety of freeze-dried foods one at a time and observe: How does your pet respond? Any digestive concerns? Any reactions that might indicate an allergy or infection?
When is Doubt... If you aren’t sure what are the best freeze-dried foods for your cat or dog (there are foods that are poisonous to pets), consult with your veterinarian.
Whole Dog Journal: “What You Need to Know about Dehydrated and Freeze-dried Pet Food.”
PetMD: “Is Freeze Dried Cat Food Better?”
DogsNaturally: “Freeze-Dried Dog Food: The Pros and Cons”