The Pros and Cons of Feeding Dehydrated or Freeze-Dried Dog Foods
There are so many options for feeding our dogs. Commercial kibble diets, canned food, raw diets, homecooked diets, and now dehydrated and freeze dried dog foods have entered the mainstream pet food stores. What are they, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of feeding them to our dogs?
The Difference Between Dehydrated and Freeze-Dried Dog Foods
Freeze-drying is a form of dehydration. Dehydrated and freeze-dried dog foods are similar in that they both start from raw ingredients, which then have the moisture removed. Neither process uses chemicals to remove the moisture.
Dehydrated foods have the moisture removed using a high-heat process. Hot, dry air is circulated around the food in order to dry it out without actually cooking it. The heat may alter the taste, texture, and nutrients in the food. Some vitamins and minerals break down during the dehydration process and retain less nutrients when compared to freeze-dried foods. Dehydrated dog food is usually harder than freeze-dried food and takes longer to rehydrate. They are typically rehydrated with hot water.
Freeze-dried foods use a low-heat process. The food is first frozen, then the moisture removed with low heat, then sealed. The process acts as a preservative so nothing else needs to be added. The low-heat process preserves the natural taste and most of the nutritional value of the food. There are still some vitamins and minerals that will break down even in the low-heat process, and will retain less of their nutritional value when compared to fresh food. Freeze-dried dog foods can be prepared with either hot or cold water and some are ready-to-eat in just a few minutes.
In either case, you'll need to look for a food that's a complete meal. Read the fine print; there are many types of both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods that are meant for supplemental feeding only, rather than complete nutrition. Both dehydrated and freeze-dried foods are considered healthier than feeding kibble.
The Pros of Dehydrated or Freeze-Dried Dog Food
- Convenience. Both types of foods are easy to feed - you just add water, and wait. They're also great for packing in emergency or evacuation kits (for those of us who live in areas where hurricanes, wildfires, or flooding), or for power outages. And they're great for travel.
- They're lightweight and take little space. Both types of food weigh less than kibble (freeze-dried food being the lighter of the two).
- Long shelf-life. These foods can last for years in their packages. Once re-hydrated, though, they should be served promptly and the leftovers refrigerated.
- Nutritious. Next to fresh, raw foods, freeze-dried and dehydrated foods are nutritionally considered the next-best because they're the least processed compared to the other options. Note, nutritional analysis for freeze-dried and dehydrated dog foods are typically based on the product being rehydrated with water.
- Easy to store and transport. Anyone who's fed raw to their dogs knows how much freezer and refrigerator space it can take up. Some people even have an entire deep freeze dedicated to their dog's food! When traveling, carrying a raw diet can be tricky and inconvenient. Dehydrated and freeze-dried dog food is light and easily packed. It just needs to stay in a watertight bag or container until you're ready to use it.
- Not as messy to feed as raw. Raw food can get all over the dog and precautions have to be taken when preparing or feeding any type of raw food (just like you would if you were preparing raw meat for cooking, for your family). With dehydrated and freeze-dried dog food, all you have to do is put the food in a bowl and add water, much less messy than feeding raw.
The Cons of Dehydrated Dog Food
- It's pricey. Dehydrated food is usually less expensive than freeze-dried. Both tend to be more expensive than kibble.
- The texture may be off-putting to some dogs. Dogs who are accustomed to the crunch of kibble or the feel of raw food may not enjoy the texture of dehydrated or freeze-dried foods, which often have a consistency similar to oatmeal. Some dogs will overcome this especially if it smells really good to them. Be prepared to try several brands of food if your dog is a fussier eater.
- The taste isn't always natural. The process of dehydration can change the taste slightly, but enough so that dogs won't necessarily like it. Freeze-dried foods have a better track record of preserving natural taste.
- Rehydration time. Rehydrating the food can take anywhere from a few minutes to up to 24 hours, depending on the type and the brand. That means planning ahead. If the food is presented as a "patty" or a "nugget", breaking it up into smaller chunks can help it to rehydrate faster.
Where To Buy Dehydrated Dog Food
Many pet health stores carry dehydrated dog food, in many varieties. Dehydrated foods can have very different textures - from soupy, to oatmeal-like texture, to a more chunky, stew-like meal, or even patties or nuggets. Some dogs are very fussy about texture so try a small package first. The staff may be able to give you some feedback about texture and taste based on what their customers have been telling them. You can also buy dehydrated dog food online. Freeze-dried pet foods are also readily available.
You might have to experiment with amount of water and rehydration time, to get the texture that's right for your dog. Lots of pet owners turn to these types of foods because they want to feed as close to raw as possible, without actually having to deal with raw food. Remember that raw food naturally has a lot of water in it which is good for the dog... so don't feed dehydrated foods "dry". Always rehydrate!
Be sure to talk to your vet before changing your dog's diet if your dog has medical issues.
Gradually incorporate dehydrated or freeze-dried food into your dog's diet until you're sure that he's able to tolerate it. Consider rotating different flavors; dogs enjoy variety too, and mealtimes are probably one of their favorite parts of the day!