Once you start looking at all the offerings, confusion is probably not far behind. You start questioning do I get freeze-dried, air-dried, or dehydrated. Let’s look at each. First and foremost they are all without moisture, but not interchangeable as terms go.
Air dried pet food is a unique process. It’s like making jerky, you hang it and let it dry at room temperature. The air drying process does not damage proteins, vitamins, nutrients, or enzymes. It simply removes moisture.
Now freeze-dried pet food and the process is more complicated. Raw food is placed in a pressurized chamber and frozen. The process is known as sublimation (ice converts directly into a water vapor, skipping the liquid phase). This process has no changes to the food. It is a very slow process, but as stated, it does not change the food structure, and it gives the food very shelf stable. To feed simply crumble (patties or nuggets) and add water.
Dehydrated pet food basically takes raw food, and gently removes the moisture by utilizing low heat so as not to break down the nutrients and enzymes. Again like making jerky. Also to feed, you need to re-hydrate.
So what’s the difference? The temperature of the processes is the main difference. While freeze-dried foods don’t necessarily need to be rehydrated for feeding, Most will agree that increased moisture to any of these products is key to the health and wellness of our beloved pets.
Some will ask if these foods are considered raw. Air dried and freeze-dried would be considered raw, while dehydrated, due to the heat used, would probably not qualify. Questions regarding the ingredients or preparation should be directed to the company website. Most will detail ingredient information (sourcing, safety, and process used to manufacture).
Most of these products are complete and balanced diets. I can not stress enough to check the labels to ensure your pet is getting all the nutrients needed for a balanced diet. You can also see which food your pets like. I have a few finicky pets.
A few other considerations in making your choice are price, weight, storage. Freeze-dried foods are pricey, because of the process of manufacture. The lightweight and long shelf-life are the advantages. It gets your attention when a 5 lb bag of freeze-dried dog food rehydrates to about 25 lbs, or a 25 lb bag equals 125 lbs.