Whether or not you make an effort to stay up to date on pet food trends, you are probably familiar with the nutritional benefits of raw dog food compared to traditional kibbles. While raw dog food is great for improving your dog’s nutrition, it simply isn’t practical for some dog owners due to its premium price and the fact that you have to keep it frown or refrigerated. If you want to give your dog the nutritional benefits of raw food but retain the convenience factor for dry food, you may want to consider freeze-dried dog food. This type of food offers excellent nutritional value but it is also shelf-stable. Keep reading to learn more about what a freeze-dried food diet for dogs looks like and to receive some useful tips and information to take into account as you consider this type of food for your own dog.
What is Freeze-Dried Dog Food?
Before you can learn about the unique nutritional benefits associated with freeze-dried dog food, you first need to learn what freeze-dried dog food is. Traditional kibble is prepared by cooking the ingredients at extremely high temperatures to destroy pathogens, thus rendering the product shelf-stable. Raw dog food is not cooked at all so it needs to be kept frozen or refrigerated to prevent it from going bad. Somewhere in between these two options is freeze-dried dog food. Though the word “freeze-dried” might conjure up images of some kind of dry, crumbly product, many freeze-dried pet foods look remarkably similar to kibble but they offer a higher caliber of nutritional benefits.
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As the name suggests, freeze-dried dog food is subjected to a unique process that simultaneously freezes the food and removes moisture – the process is called “sublimation”. To prepare freeze-dried dog food, the raw food ingredients are placed in a pressurized chamber and frozen relatively quickly at very low temperatures to preserve the nutritional integrity of the raw ingredients. The product is then subjected to high air pressure which causes the frozen water in the raw ingredients to evaporate quickly, rendering the final product dried and shelf-stable. Because the moisture has been removed from the dog food, there is a low risk for the product spoiling. For this reason, freeze-dried dog foods have a much longer shelf-life than raw foods – some products can last for several months as long as they are key protected from moisture.
The Pros and Cons of Freeze-Dried Food for Dogs
If you think that freeze-dried dog food might be the best option for your dog, take the time to consider both the pros and cons of this type of food. As you may already know, freeze-dried dog food offers similar nutritional benefits to raw food, but what exactly are those benefits? Here is a summary of the nutritional benefits associated with freeze-dried dog food:
- Reduced risk for food allergies and sensitivities – Many dogs suffer from food allergies and sensitivities when they are fed a low-quality diet filled with grains and low-quality fillers. When they are switched to a higher quality diet made with natural ingredients, many of those problems disappear. Freeze-dried foods can still be made with common food allergens, but many of them are naturally grain-free, made with premium proteins, and are free from artificial additives and non-nutritive fillers.
- Improved skin and coat condition – Fresh, natural nutrition is the key to improving the condition of your dog’s skin and coat. Many dog owners do not realize it, but skin and coat problems are a common symptom of food allergies so when you remove those allergens from your dog’s diet, his skin problems will disappear. A complete and balanced diet will also include enough healthy fats to make your dog’s skin healthier and his coat shinier.
- Fresher breath and healthier teeth/gums – While the texture and composition of freeze-dried food is very different from that of raw food, the nutritional benefits of freeze-dried foods will help to improve your dog’s dental health while also freshening his breath.
- Improved digestion and smaller stools – Removing allergens and low-quality ingredients from your dog’s diet will give his digestive system a chance to heal and, once healed, he will be better able to absorb and utilize nutrients from the food he eats. The more efficient his digestion becomes, the smaller and more concentrated his stools will become as well. Also, because most of your dog’s immune cells are concentrated in his digestive system, improved digestion will also contribute to a stronger immune system.
- Healthy weight management – Many dog owners make the mistake of assuming that a weight loss formula for dogs needs to be low in protein. In reality, all dogs need a high-protein diet in order to maintain their lean muscle mass – fat content is the best way to reduce calorie content. Freeze-dried pet foods are very nutrient-dense and they are generally very high in protein as well – all of these things will help your dog achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
- Improved energy levels and overall health – As your dog’s digestion becomes more regular, he will be better able to absorb and utilize the nutrients from the food he eats. As a result of improved nutrition, he will also have more energy and will start to show other signs of improved overall health.
In addition to considering the nutritional benefits of freeze-dried dog food products, you should also consider the practical aspects of making this switch – there are pros and cons here as well. In terms of convenience, freeze-dried dog food is very similar to traditional kibble because it is shelf-stable. This simply means that it does not need to be kept in the refrigerator or the freezer to be kept fresh, though you should keep the package sealed and the product protected from moisture. Each product is different, but most freeze-dried dog foods remain fresh (when unopened) for three months or more. Another practical benefit of freeze-dried dog food is that it is similar to kibble in shape, size, and texture. Again, each product is different, but most freeze-dried dog foods can be fed as-is without rehydrating them.
Though freeze-dried dog food does offer some practical benefits, there are a few downsides to consider. Freeze-dried dog food can be similar to kibble in size and shape, but the texture is going to be a little bit different because most of the moisture has been removed from the product. Picky or finicky eaters may not like the texture of freeze-dried dog food at first, though many get used to it fairly quickly. To help your dog get used to the new texture you can try mixing it with some of his old food or you can try adding some water or broth to soften it. Some freeze-dried dog food manufacturers actually provide specific instructions or tips for transitioning dogs to their product.
Another potentially negative aspect of freeze-dried dog food is the price – it is generally not as expensive as raw dog food but it is similarly priced. If you are committed to providing your dog with a high-quality pet food product, however, you should be prepared to pay for it. Price is not always an indication of quality, but high-quality pet foods do tend to cost more. In most cases, the price of the product is related to the quality of the ingredients and the complexity of the manufacturing process. Quality ingredients are not cheap and many freeze-dried pet food manufacturers take things one step further by choosing human-grade and/or organic ingredients. If you are concerned about the price of freeze-dried pet food, many manufacturers offer coupons on their websites or you can look for sales at your local pet stores.
Tips for Choosing Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Before you commit to making the switch to freeze-dried dog food, you should briefly consider all of your options to ensure that you are making the right choice. Freeze-dried dog food is undoubtedly one of the most high-quality options in terms of dog food, but you still need to be careful when shopping for a specific brand of dog food. No matter what kind of dog food you are shopping for you should take the time to review the product label, focusing on three key portions:
- The AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy
- The guaranteed analysis
- The ingredients list
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is responsible for regulating the manufacture and sale of pet food – they perform a similar role for pet food that the FDA serves for human food. More importantly, AAFCO makes sure that pet food products are formulated to meet the minimum nutritional requirements of the pets they are intended for. AAFCO has created nutrient profiles for puppies, adult dogs and pregnant/lactating dogs and each product is compared to the corresponding nutrient profile before it can be sold. If a specific dog food product meets AAFCO nutritional requirements, the pet food label will contain a statement that looks something like this:
“[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages”.
When examining a specific pet food product, you should look for the AAFCO statement first and, if it is there, you can at least rest easy knowing that the product will meet your dog’s minimum nutritional requirements. This statement is not necessarily an indication of quality, however – you still need to check the ingredients list to determine that. The ingredients list for pet food products is organized in descending order by volume – this means that the ingredients present in the highest volume are at the top of the list. This being the case, you want to make sure that a quality source of animal protein is listed as the primary ingredient in any dog food product you are considering. Because freeze-dried dog foods are dried and not cooked you may see ingredients like “dried chicken” instead of simply fresh chicken or chicken meal. You should also check the guaranteed analysis on the label which tells you the total volume of crude protein, crude fat, and crude fiber in the product. The higher the protein content the better – you also want to see moderate fat content and low fiber content.
As you read over the ingredients list for freeze-dried dog foods, look for high-quality and digestible ingredients to complement the proteins. Some freeze-dried dog foods use whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal as digestible sources for dietary fiber, but you want to avoid any products made with corn, wheat, or soy ingredients because they are low in nutritional value for dogs and have a high risk for triggering food allergies. Grain-free freeze-dried dog foods are often made with sweet potato, peas, or other fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also useful as natural sources for key vitamins and minerals, though you may also see some synthetic supplements – if supplements are used, chelated minerals are some of the best.
Recommended Brands of Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Although freeze-dried pet food is a fairly recent development, there are still a wide variety of different brands that offer this type of product. While it may be tempting to choose the product with the lowest price, you need to remember that high-quality pet foods are generally not the cheapest options on pet store shelves. Instead, you should be focused on the quality of the ingredients used in the formula and the overall nutritional balance of the product. To help you get started with your search you will find reviews of some of the top brands of freeze-dried dog food below:
Primal Pet Products Freeze-Dried – The Primal Pet Products company was only founded in 2001 but it has already made a name for itself in the natural pet food industry. Based in San Francisco, all of this brand’s products are manufactured in the United States in state-of-the-art, USDA-certified facilities. Not only does Primal Pet Products take very seriously the quality and safety of their manufacturing processes, but they are also dedicated to using the freshest premium ingredients available. This company was founded with the goal of “improving the quality of life and overall health and happiness of pets through wholesome raw foods that mimic the diet of animals in the wild”. This being the case, you can count on Primal Pet Products to offer your dog complete and balanced nutrition made up of all the quality nutrients he needs, and none of the things he doesn’t.
When it comes to their pet food offerings, Primal Pet Products is committed to a raw food philosophy for pet nutrition. In addition to various raw frozen formulas, this company also offers an assortment of freeze-dried, premium-quality products. Each recipe features a single source of human-grade animal protein such as chicken, duck, turkey, and lamb. Primal Pet Products sources their proteins from local farms and ranches to ensure that they are all antibiotic-, steroid-, and hormone-free. In addition to loading their products with premium-quality proteins, Primal Pet Products’ freeze-dried formulas are supplemented with organ meats, ground bone, and fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure nutritional balance. When you feed your dog Primal Pet Products freeze-dried dog food, the benefits will be noticeable very quickly and he will love the fresh, natural flavor.
Nature’s Variety Instinct Freeze-Dried – Nature’s Variety is an independent pet food company based in St. Louis with manufacturing facilities located in Missouri and Nebraska. This company has grown rapidly in recent years to become one of the top names in natural pet nutrition, offering a variety of wholesome, natural, and premium-quality pet food products. Nature’s Variety has two different product lines, the larger of which is the Instinct line of foods which includes a variety of kibbles, canned foods, raw frozen recipes, raw bones, and freeze-dried raw diets. This company understands the power and importance of quality nutrition which is why they are so passionate about following a holistic approach to animal nutrition. All of their recipes are carefully formulated with specific ingredients to provide your dog with complete and balanced nutrition made up of the highest quality, natural ingredients available.
Though Nature’s Variety offers a wide selection of different product types, their freeze-dried raw formulas are some of their most popular. The Instinct Raw Market line of products is thoughtfully crafted in small batches, made from a variety of real-food ingredients and carefully freeze-dried to ensure nutritional integrity. These meal blends come in three protein options – chicken, beef and lamb – and they are supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots, apples and cranberries as natural sources for key vitamins and minerals. If you are looking for a more affordable product but want your dog to have the benefits of freeze-dried food, consider the Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Boost line of kibbles. This is a high-quality line of kibble that contains freeze-dried pieces of premium proteins for a boost of nutrition and flavor.
Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Dog Food – Stella & Chewy’s follows the tagline, “only the good stuff,” which is an accurate portrayal of their products. While this company may have a strange name, it is one of the highest quality natural pet food brands on the market. When it comes to their product offerings, Stella & Chewy’s has two types of dog food – raw frozen and freeze-dried raw. Not only does this company offer high-quality pet food products, but their website is loaded with helpful information to help pet parents make the right choice. For example, Stella & Chewy’s provides a detailed breakdown of the freeze-drying process they use which yields “shelf stable, freeze-dried patties, mixers or nuggets ready for packaging”. Furthermore, Stella & Chewy’s states that all of their products are designed to promote healthy appetite, relief from food allergies, improved skin and coat, healthy teeth and gums, improved stamina and vitality, and a stronger immune system.
If you peruse the company website you will find that Stella & Chewy’s offers eight different recipes for freeze-dried dog food. These products feature quality proteins like chicken, duck, goose, and lamb as well as digestible carbohydrates and fresh fruits and vegetables. Each recipe contains 90% to 95% meat, organs, and bone and is free from grains, glutens, fillers, and artificial additives. Many of Stella & Chewy’s fresh fruits and vegetables are certified-organic, and all of their proteins are cage-free, grass-fed, farm-raised or wild-caught. Each recipe is complete and balanced for all life stages, plus they are full of natural flavor. These products are designed to be as close as possible to the natural diet of wild carnivores, just the way nature intended. Any dog would be lucky to receive one of Stella & Chewy’s freeze-dried dog food products.
Orijen Freeze-Dried Dog Food – The Orijen company was founded in 1975 and since then it has become one of the most well-known names in the pet food industry. This company is based in Alberta, Canada and manufactured by the Champion Pet Foods company, the same company that produces Acana dog food. What Orijen is most known for is for offering what they call “biologically appropriate diets” for dogs and cats. These are products designed to “nourish your dog as nature intended,” keeping to a whole-prey philosophy of pet nutrition. Every recipe is protein-rich, formulated to mirror the evolutionary diet of wild dogs with meat-rich ingredients and no high-glycemic carbohydrates or vegetable proteins. Not only does Orijen use high-quality, natural ingredients but they source many of their ingredients regionally from sustainable farms and ranches. Orijen products are products in award-winning, company-owned facilities that adhere to the strictest standards for quality and safety.
When it comes to their pet food products, Orijen offers seven traditional dry food recipes and three freeze-dried products – they also offer an assortment of freeze-dried meat dog treats. Orijen’s freeze-dried dog foods are designed to “offer all the flavor and nutritional benefits of raw foods, just as Mother Nature intended” with no artificial additives or non-nutritive fillers. The three recipe options are Adult Dog, Regional Red, and Tundra. The Adult Dog formula features whole-prey ratios of fresh poultry ingredients as well as whole eggs and fresh fish. The Regional Red recipe features regional red-meat ingredients like angus beef, wild boar, and fresh lamb. The Tundra recipe offers a combination of whole game, fish and fowl supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables for balanced nutrition. All of Orijen’s freeze-dried recipes consist of at least 90% fresh meat ingredients; 10% fresh fruits, vegetables, and botanicals; and 0% grains, potato, and plant proteins.
Vital Essentials Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food – The Vital Essentials is an exclusively raw brand of pet food that produces and manufactures all of its products in USDA-certified, U.S.-based facilities. This company is family-owned and its history dates all the way back to 1968 as one of the first producers of raw pet food products. Vital Essentials not only manufactures its products in the U.S.A., but all of their ingredients are locally sourced as well. This brand uses only USDA-certified and inspected animal proteins and they follow a whole-prey philosophy for pet nutrition. Vital Essentials understands that dogs and cats are natural carnivores which is why all of their products are loaded with proteins and free from grains, fillers, and artificial additives. Furthermore, every recipe is deemed complete and balanced for all life stages. Simply put, when you feed your dog Vital Essentials dog food you feed him the best quality money can buy.
In terms of their pet food products, Vital Essentials offers both freeze-dried and frozen raw diets. According to the website, this brand uses an exclusive freeze-drying process that “retains all the active nutritional elements and allows the food to be safely and conveniently stored without refrigeration”. Every recipe begins with fresh, raw, USDA meats, organs, and bones, cooked over a period of 48 hours so that the life-sustaining nutrients are never lost. For their freeze-dried products, Vital Essentials offers four different meal options, all of which are grain-, gluten-, and guilt-free. The four flavor options are beef, chicken, turkey, and duck and they come in patties, mini patties, nibblets, mini nibs, and toppers. Each recipe starts with a single source of protein and is balanced with fresh, high quality ingredients such that synthetic vitamins and minerals are never needed. When it comes to quality and balanced nutrition, Vital Essentials freeze-dried dog foods are hard to beat.
When it comes to quality nutrition, few commercial pet foods offer the same level of nutritional quality as freeze-dried pet foods. If you compare the nutritional value of freeze-dried dog food to that of raw dog food, you will find that they are very similar. In fact, freeze-dried dog foods are almost identical to raw foods except for the fact that they have had the moisture removed – this is because these two types of dog food are made with the same kinds of ingredients. If you decide that freeze-dried food is the best option for your dog, consider starting with one of the recommended dog food brands reviewed above.