Freeze-Dried Dog Food

What’s the Difference Between Freeze-Dried, Dehydrated, and Air-Dried Dog Food?

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Kate Barrington

Researched & Written by

Kate Barrington

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

If you’ve ever gone on an extended hiking trip or spent a weekend backpacking, you’ve probably sampled freeze-dried food. It’s lightweight and shelf-stable, but the texture often leaves something to be desired. The benefit, however, is that you get all the nutrients of the original ingredients without having to lug around the heavier product.

Your dog isn’t particularly concerned about carrying a heavy bag of kibble around, but the idea of freeze-dried dog food might appeal to you as a dog owner.

Freeze-dried food is typically made with higher quality ingredients than commercial kibble – often raw ingredients – but it is processed to remove moisture which makes it shelf-stable. Your dog gets the nutritional benefits of raw food without the hassle of thawing and storing fresh food. 

Dehydrated and air-dried dog food are similar products in that they’re low in moisture and don’t need to be refrigerated. But what’s the difference between these three types of dog food and which option is the best one for you? That’s what we aim to find out. 

The Benefits of Raw Dog Food

Even if your dog looks nothing like a wild wolf, his body is biologically adapted to follow a diet very similar to his wild ancestors. Canines aren’t strict carnivores like cats – you may also be familiar with the term obligate carnivore – but they do require a lot of meat in their diets. 

The experts at Wellness suggest it may help to “think about your dog as having a carnivorous heritage with omnivore evolution.” 

Protein provides your dog with the amino acids he needs to build and maintain lean muscle mass. It also plays a role in various other bodily processes, supported by essential fats, energy from carbohydrates, and key vitamins and minerals. 

Moisture also plays an important role in supporting your dog’s health. That’s one of the key benefits of raw dog food.

Raw dog food is served fresh, though you can purchase it frozen and thaw a portion or two at a time. It’s made with raw ingredients, and it isn’t cooked in any way, shape, or form. This means it retains the nutritional value of the original ingredients and it’s in a form that’s highly appealing to your dog. 

The quality of a raw food diet depends on the quality of the ingredients and the formulation of the recipe. The best raw food for dogs includes a blend of muscle meat, organs, and raw bone. 

The experts at the AKC suggest raw dog food has the potential to provide the following benefits

  • Increased palatability and natural flavor
  • Higher energy levels 
  • Improvements in skin and coat health
  • Smaller, less odorous stools 
  • Improved dental health 

While raw food is an incredibly nutritious and species-appropriate choice for dogs, it isn’t always the most practical option for dog owners. It’s expensive, tricky to store, and there’s some risk for the transmission of food-borne illness. 

Now, we’ll introduce you to three alternatives: freeze-dried, dehydrated, and air-dried dog food. 

What is Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food? 

The freeze-drying process for pet food is fairly self-explanatory. The first step is freezing the food at low temperatures. Because it is flash-frozen, the product still retains the majority of its nutritional value. There is obviously no heat involved in the process, so very little nutritional breakdown.

The second step is to lower the pressure, removing ice crystals through a process called sublimation. The ice crystals go straight from a solid to a gaseous state, skipping the liquid state entirely.

The result of the freeze-drying process is a lightweight product that is shelf-stable. The food is still technically raw, but it does not need to be refrigerated or frozen. 

An unopened bag of freeze-dried dog food will last for several years, though it’s always wise to check the best buy date on the product. Some freeze-dried dog food brands recommend refrigerating the product after opening, though it’s generally not required. You should use an opened bag within 30 days. 

How is Dehydrated Dog Food Different? 

Dehydrating dog food involves a process similar to freeze-drying in that the moisture is removed. The process is slow and gentle, but it does involve the use of warm air so not all dehydrated dog foods are raw. The heat involved is minimal, however, so many products are. 

The benefit of the dehydration and freeze-drying process is that because the moisture is removed from the food, there is no need for artificial preservatives. The nutrients and enzymes in the raw ingredients are still intact as well, so the diet provides similar nutritional benefits to raw food. 

One thing to be mindful of with both freeze-dried and dehydrated dog food is that it is best rehydrated before serving. 

Moisture is essential for hydration in dogs as in people. Freeze-drying dog food removes between 90% and 95% of the moisture while dehydrating removes up to 99%. Both types of dog food should be soaked in water to reconstitute the product and boost your dog’s moisture intake.

Because freeze-dried dog food has a little more moisture to begin with, it may only take a few minutes to rehydrate. Dehydrated dog food, on the other hand, may take 10 minutes or more. It all depends on the size of the product, however. Smaller pieces rehydrate quickly while patties may take an hour or more.

What About Air-Dried Dog Food? 

Popular dog food brand Sundays describes their air-dried dog food as “the middle ground between dehydrated and freeze-dried.” 

Air-drying involves removing moisture from the ingredients through evaporation, but the end product retains more moisture than freeze-dried or dehydrated food. As a result, it doesn’t need to be rehydrated before feeding and the texture is similar to dry dog food or kibble. 

Another brand that produces air-dried dog food is Ziwi. Ziwi’s air-dried dog food has a maximum moisture content of 14% which is much higher than the 1% to 10% found in freeze-dried and dehydrated dog food. 

Which Option is Best for You? 

When it comes to choosing your dog’s staple diet, it’s best to select the highest-quality product you can consistently afford. While it’s great to include some variety in your dog’s diet if he can tolerate it, too much variation can lead to stomach upset. 

A dog food made with wholesome, natural ingredients is best. Raw dog food is arguably the highest-quality option, but freeze-dried, dehydrated, and air-dried dog foods are excellent alternatives.

Freeze-dried, dehydrated, and air-dried dog foods are generally more expensive than commercial kibble but often less expensive than fresh or frozen raw food. These products offer the shelf-stable convenience of dry food but the nutritional benefits of raw food. 

If you’re looking to skip the step of rehydration, air-dried dog food might be the best option of the three. This food is similar in moisture content to dry dog food – maybe a little higher than some- and you can pour it directly into your dog’s bowl for feeding. As with any dry diet, however, we still recommend taking additional steps to ensure your dog’s needs for moisture are met.

For a product more directly similar to raw food, go with freeze-dried or dehydrated food.

Both of these options require rehydration, but you can find a wide variety of recipes as well as foods that come in kibble-sized pieces as well as larger patties. Take your dog’s preferences for flavor into account as well as any food allergies or sensitivities to make your choice. 

Wrapping Up

As a dog owner, you’re always concerned for your pet’s well-being but that doesn’t mean you’re not open to taking the occasional shortcut. Raw dog food is great, but it isn’t always practical. Between the price and the hassle of freezing and thawing, you might be looking for a simpler option. 

Freeze-dried, dehydrated, and air-dried dog food offer a level of convenience similar to dry dog food, though the price and quality is closer to that of raw food.

That being said, it’s completely understandable if none of these options is financially possible for you. If that’s the case, consider buying a bag of freeze-dried, dehydrated, or air-dried food and use it to supplement your dog’s regular dry or wet dog food diet. 

As long as your dog can tolerate a little variety, including premium dog foods as often as you can is a great way to boost the quality of his overall nutrition without busting your budget. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is freeze-dried dog food the same as dehydrated?

These two processes yield a similar product but there are a few differences in the details. Freeze-drying involves first freezing the food at very low temperature then reducing pressure to remove the frozen water crystals. Dehydration is a slower, more gentle process that utilizes warm air to remove moisture. 

Does dehydrated dog food need to be rehydrated?

The dehydration process removes between 90% and 95% of the moisture in the dog food. Because moisture is such an important part of your dog’s diet, it’s recommended that you rehydrate the product before feeding. It generally takes at least 10 minutes to rehydrate dehydrated dog food, though larger pieces and patties may take an hour or more.

Does freeze-dried dog food need to be rehydrated?

Again, moisture is an essential element in your dog’s diet so it’s best to rehydrated freeze-dried dog food. Not only does it add back some of the removed moisture, but it makes the product more palatable to dogs. Some dogs dislike the texture of freeze-dried dog food compared to air-dried food which is more similar to dry food in texture. Freeze-dried dog food generally rehydrated in less than 20 minutes.

Can air-dried dog food be rehydrated?

The air-drying process for dog food is very similar to the dehydration process in that it involves removing moisture slowly through evaporation. The benefit of air-dried food over traditional kibble is that the product isn’t exposed to high heat during extrusion. The end product is shelf-stable and similar in appearance and texture to dry food, however, and generally doesn’t need to be rehydrated. 

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