Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Pet Food: What Is The Difference, Which Is Better?

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Our recommendation at Red Dog Blue Kat is to feed a raw, biologically appropriate pet food diets whenever possible, since whole fresh food is the healthiest option for your pet. However, we understand that not every pet parent has the ability to feed a raw food diet, or has access to high quality raw food from a trusted source.


So, let’s talk about what freeze-dried raw and dehydrated raw is, and what the differences are when comparing them to frozen, pre-made raw meals. Dried raw options may be a good introduction to raw for those pet parents not yet ready to prepare or handle raw meat for their pets meals, or for raw feeding pet parents wanting a more convenient option while traveling with their pets (i.e camping!)

Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Pet Food: What Is The Difference, Which Is Better?

What Is Freeze Dried Raw Pet Food?

Freeze dried raw food for dogs and cats is just what it sounds like – uncooked raw ingredients that have been frozen and then dried, resulting in the removal of its moisture content which makes a more shelf stable and lightweight product.


How Does Freeze Drying Work?

What is the actual process of freeze-drying food? It’s a three stage process.

  1. The first step is putting the food into the freezer to ensure all the liquid is solid.

  2. In the next stage the frozen food goes through a primary drying and sublimation process, reducing the water content in the product.

  3. The final phase is a secondary drying and absorption step that uses pressure and heat (in smaller amounts than in traditional pet food processing) to end up with the final product.

The idea of freezing the food first is to protect the protein cells in the meat so that there are as little alterations as possible to the natural ingredients’, vitamins and minerals.


One thing to note is that freeze drying is different from dehydrating food. Although each method is used with the goal of to preserving and extending the shelf life of raw pet food products, you do end up with different results.

Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Pet Food: What Is The Difference, Which Is Better?

What Is Dehydrated Raw Pet Food?

Dehydrating raw food for dogs and cats is similar to freeze-drying except that it skips the initial freezing process. This method of dehydration is used to remove moisture and preserve the natural ingredients is still slower and more gentle than the typical heat blasting, extrusion process used in the making of traditional kibble.


Loss of Nutritional Value

Just like raw and freeze-dried raw, dehydrated raw pet food is free of artificial preservatives and keeps a lot of the important nutrients and enzymes intact. However, since the dehydration process skips freezing the food and uses heat directly on the ingredients, it can sacrifice some of the nutritional value of the pet food.


Preserving Meat By Removing Moisture

Both practices of freeze drying and dehydrating preserve food by removing the moisture. The combination of heat and pressure is applied until moisture sublimates. However, as explained above, freeze-dried food has one extra step in production that aims at minimizing the impact on protein molecules in the food ingredients.


If you have a choice between dehydrated food and freeze-dried food, the more nutritious option is freeze dried!

Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Pet Food: What Is The Difference, Which Is Better?

Important Freeze-Dried Raw Food Considerations

Freeze dried raw diets are often quite a bit more expensive than traditional raw food diets. This is mainly due to how expensive it is to freeze dry food properly. Therefore, if you find a cheap freeze-dried food option, you should be asking how exactly the product was made or question the quality ingredients. If they did use the proper techniques, then they would still need to pass some of these costs onto the consumer. The old saying applies here: “you get what you pay for”.


The Need To Rehydrate Freeze Dried Food

Another important aspect to consider when feeding freeze-dried food to your pets is its moisture content . Having proper levels of moisture in the diet allows for proper digestion . Even though freeze-dried meals have about 20% moisture compared to only approximately 10% found in kibble, this is still not enough to allow for the critical steps in the digestion process . That’s why you MUST rehydrate freeze-dried food with water before feeding it to your pet (some people use broth for added nutrients).


Moisture Is An Actual Ingredient

Moisture currently is not recognized in the AAFCO system; however, it is an essential nutrient for pets (and humans) to have as part of their diet. If there is a lack of moisture, the body needs to compensate by using more stomach acid and enzymes resulting in the overall digestion process being slower and harder on the body. Rehydrating freeze-dried food with liquid gives it more of a natural state, but raw food is still superior in providing nutrition in the most natural form.


Furthermore, adding tap water to freeze-dried meals is very different than your pet consuming raw food that is unaltered – ie. The water that is in raw food, for instance, is naturally occurring as it was consumed by the animal eating or drinking while it was alive. Water that is naturally occurring compared to added tap water (often chlorinated) that is integrated into the food is completely differently!


Nutrients May Be Compromised By Preserving Processes

Although the freeze-drying process preserves some important nutritional aspects of the food, it still alters the food in some ways. Based on current studies, freeze-drying can impact Vitamin E and possibly Vitamin C content. It may also have a negative impact on taurine levels, as many companies add taurine back in after processing. However, in some cases, freeze-drying can be beneficial when using proteins that are from questionable origin that may have harmful bacteria present. However, if ingredients are high quality and sourced ethically, then feeding raw meals can introduce healthy beneficial organisms into your pets microbiome to achieve better diversification and overall health.

Freeze Dried vs Dehydrated Pet Food: What Is The Difference, Which Is Better?

Cats & Freeze-Dried Raw Pet Food

Cats Rely on Moisture Content In Their Food

Cats have a tightly run ship – they are obligate carnivores meaning they require a lot of protein to maintain metabolic function and overall health. What many people don’t understand is that they require lots of water to ensure that their body can properly digest those high levels of protein. Therefore, water should be seen, even more so for cats, as a vital ingredient and nutrient.


There’s a related, but untrue theory floating around claiming that high protein diets cause kidney issues. However, the only way this could happen is if cats lack moisture in their diet. New studies show evidence that feeding a raw or moist protein-rich diet doesn’t impact animals with a pre-existing condition such as kidney disease. Since many people use freeze-dried foods without adding moisture in, we highly recommend sticking to diets like raw to ensure your cat is getting enough moisture!


 

Is Freeze-Dried Still A Good Option

There are positives and negatives to each feeding method! For instance, most people consider freeze-dried raw food to be more convenient to feed. It also is shelf stable and can be stored more easily in many cases. As there are specific situations where raw food isn’t the most convenient option, for example camping or travelling. It is totally fine to alternate between the two types of diets based on your lifestyle and specific situation.