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Think Outside the Bag: Frozen Raw, Dehydrated, Freeze-dried, and Canned

Let’s give another round of applawse for Tripawds Nutrition correspondent Alison Martin, author of these terrific blog posts about animal nutrition. Alison just wrote another informative article about feeding healthy, we hope you find it as informative as we do. And remember, if you have a blog post you’d like to contribute, contact us today.

Honest Kitchen Force Dehydrated Grain-Free Chicken Dog Food (4 lbs)As many of you know, the pet food market is vast and often overwhelming. So what can you do when your dog says, “No, thanks!” to his regular old kibble? Start thinking outside the bag!

Frozen raw is just that, frozen raw ingredients. You can get a variety of styles – patties, nuggets, niblets, and scoopable cartons – depending on your needs and available space.

Freeze-dried and dehydrated are often confused but they are two different processes. The nutritional differences are negligible, but there can be noticeable differences in texture and palatability.

Freeze Dried vs. Dehydrated Food

Freeze-drying uses cold air to remove the moisture from the food while dehydration uses hot air, which means dehydrated foods are actually lightly cooked. Dehydration also has a more significant impact on the cellular structure of the food and can alter taste and texture more than freeze-drying; rehydrated freeze-dried foods will much more closely resemble their original form than will rehydrated dehydrated foods.

Sojos Complete Dog Food MixFreeze-drying is a more costly process which makes it impractical as the primary diet for many, especially dogs over 40lbs, but thanks to its great palatability, freeze-dried formulas can be used as a nutritious, tasty mix-in to other diets to make mealtime more appetizing. Some companies, like Sojos, will use dehydrated fruits and veggies mixed with freeze-dried raw meats to maintain that raw meat texture and taste while keeping costs more reasonable.

Canned food is fully cooked and is certainly one of the most convenient options to feed. It is also much easier to find in stores.

The caveat to canned food is that it contains binders which prevent the mixture from separating in the can. These binders are sticky, which can expedite the accumulation of plaque and tartar on your pet’s teeth.

Adding some water to the canned food will break down some of those binders to help prevent excess buildup on your pet’s teeth.

AAFCO – the Association of American Animal Feed Control Officials, which is the governing association for pet foods – defines pet food in one of two ways: “complete and balanced” meaning that it meets AAFCO’s nutrition standards or “supplemental or intermittent only” meaning that it does not meet those requirements. Be sure to look for these statements if you are shopping for alternatives to kibble; I have not come across a regular dry dog or cat food that is not complete and balanced but it does happen with some frequency in these alternative diets.

Many of the options available are complete and balanced, some are intended for supplemental or intermittent feeding, and some can be made complete and balanced with the addition of one or two other ingredients.

For example, Answers Pet Food has two lines of frozen raw for dogs, their Detailed Answers line is complete and balanced but their Straight Answers line is considered supplemental or intermittent. However, by feeding Straight Answers with their Additional Answers Raw Goat’s Milk, it is then considered a complete and balanced diet. The Answer’s raw cat formula is complete and balanced.

Many formulas have additional fruits and veggies to round out the nutritional profile of the food, most use a vitamin and mineral pre-mix to meet the AAFCO standards. A few companies, like Vital Essentials, formulate their foods to be complete and balanced with the addition of as few non-meat ingredients as possible, instead relying heavily on organ meats, blood, and bone meal to meet the AAFCO guidelines.

Vital Essentials Canine Freeze Dried Beef Nibblets Entree

In both their frozen and freeze-dried lines, Vital Essentials adds only two vitamin sources to all their foods, herring oil for vitamin D and tocopherols for vitamin E. their cat food also has added raw goat’s milk, a great source of pre- and probiotics, and apple cider vinegar, which helps palatability. Everything they make is grain-free and many of their formulas are made from a single protein source which can be very helpful when trying to feed a pet with allergies or intolerances. Because there are no added fruits, veggies, or grains, the Vital Essential line is also exceptionally low-carb, a big plus for cancer warriors.

The Honest Kitchen , a favorite around here, is a dehydrated formula that is, at this time, still the only pet food made in a US human food facility. THK products are complete and balanced (with the exception of the base mix) with a great variety of options, including grain-free, novel proteins, lower calorie, and higher protein options. Foods like THK can be used exclusively or you can use them in smaller portions as a mix-in with kibble or other diets to help with palatability.

Weruva Green Eggs and Chicken Canned Dog Food Case

At this point, canned food is still the most readily available but quality varies widely with canned foods. Many grocery store brands are still full of grains, preservatives, and by-products. If you don’t have a high quality pet supplies store nearby, canned food can be shipped fairly easily from a variety of online retailers.

Weruva is a favorite with many of the staff and customers where I work. The company is very particular about their meat sourcing – no hormones, antibiotics, or by-products – and manufactures in a human food facility in Thailand (a world leader in food production and safety standards). When you open a can of Weruva dog or cat food, you will know exactly what you are feeding, without looking at the label – their Paw Lickin’ Chicken looks just like the canned chicken you would buy for yourself at the grocery store, except that Weruva’s chicken is nutritionally complete for your pets and not loaded with a ton of sodium.

This side of the pet food market is an ever-changing landscape.

  • Read labels but also do some research on your own.
  • If you have a knowledgeable pet supplies store in your area, ask them questions.
  • If not, use those 800 numbers you see on pet food labels and web sites. Speaking from personal experience, the people on the other end of the line are usually more than happy to answer your questions about their products.

Life is a little easier when you find a complete and balanced option, but if you don’t, talk to your vet about a multivitamin – or call the company to ask if there is a simple way to make their food complete. I’m always willing to help if you have some questions, too.

Recommended Reading

Tripawds Nutrition Blog: The Basics of Cat Nutrition

Tripawds Nutrition Blog: Grain-free vs. Low Carb: Understanding the Differences in Dry Food







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