Freeze-Dried and Dehydrated Pet Foods and Treats: How Old Food Preserving Methods Created a New Food Category for Pets

Kathy LaFollett
Whether your pet is an American bulldog, Maine coon cat, or African gray parrot, the food market is changing for better shelf life.Photo byAdobe Express Pro

Healthy eating is the first defense of a healthy life. For man, or beast. Freeze-dried and dehydrated pet food are two newly popular choices for companion pet lovers who are looking for shelf life, nutrition, and a wide variety of options. Freeze-dried and dehydrated pet food and treats are making deep inroads into the pet food industry for several reasons. Shelf life and food variety being the top two. Food preservation is nothing new as dehydrating foods by sun, wind, and salt has been an option for a millennium. Freeze drying pet foods as a product line is a new idea. Dehydrating has been part of companion animal food production longer, as well as an in-home option for personal food storage.

The freeze-drying method involves removing water from food by freezing it and then subjecting it to a vacuum, which allows the frozen water in the food to sublimate directly from solid to gas. This process helps to keep the flavor, texture, and nutritional value of the food while extending its shelf life. The process leaves a product that is lightweight, has a long shelf life, and keeps the food’s nutritional profile. A popular choice for hikers, campers, and astronauts.
Freeze dried fruit mix made up of mango, grapefruit, oranges, apples, papaya, and starfruit.Photo byKathy LaFollett

Freeze-drying is not limited to food. It’s used in a variety of applications, including the preservation of documents and artwork, manufacture of pharmaceuticals, and production of industrial materials. The process can remove water from almost any substance, which makes it a versatile tool in several industries.

Dehydrating is one of the oldest methods of food preservation, dating back thousands of years. Before refrigeration, people used the sun, wind, salt, and fire to remove the moisture from food. Dehydrating is popular for hikers, campers, and preppers.
Dehydrated parrot food mix including fruits, vegetables, grains, and pastas.Photo byChristine Wood

Dehydrating food preserves the nutrients in the food, making it a healthier alternative to processed snacks. Unlike snacks that are high in sugar, salt, and preservatives, dehydrated food can be an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s lightweight, nutritionally sound, and has a long shelf life. The method you choose will depend on the type of food you’re dehydrating and the equipment you have available. Fruits and vegetables dehydrate in just a few hours, while meat can take several days to dry properly.

Comparing Freeze Drying to Dehydrating:

Preservation Time: Freeze drying is a more effective method of food preservation than dehydrating. While both methods remove water from food, freeze drying removes about 98% of the water, while dehydrating removes about 85-95%. This means that freeze-dried foods can last much longer than dehydrated foods, with some freeze-dried foods having a shelf life of up to 25 years. Dehydrated foods typically have a shelf life of 1-2 years.

Nutritional Value: Freeze-drying is a gentler method of food preservation that preserves the nutritional value of the food better than dehydrating. Because the food is frozen and then dried under vacuum, the structure of the food is better preserved, as well as the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. In contrast, dehydrating food can cause some nutrient loss, especially if dried at high temperatures.

Cost and convenience: Dehydrating is a more affordable and convenient method of food preservation than freeze-drying. Dehydrators are relatively inexpensive and can preserve a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats. In contrast, freeze-drying equipment is much more expensive and typically requires professional expertise to operate. Freeze-drying can be time-consuming, with some foods taking up to several days to complete the process, while dehydrating can complete in a matter of hours.

I sought the expertise of one of the food industry’s leaders in specialized companion pet foods. Christine Wood, CEO and founder, has been working in the dehydrated and freeze-dried pet food market for years. She’s a leader in the curated specialty market of parrot food. You can find her dehydrated and freeze-dried foods being used and sold in zoos to veterinarian offices. Christine’s Chop Shop is based in Mesa, Arizona.

“I decided to go with freeze-dried for many reasons, not everyone was thrilled with just dehydrated so we wanted to offer a bigger variety. We prefer the freeze-dried because of the shelf life. Dehydrated is several months up to a year. Freeze-dried has a shelf life of many years.”

Kathy: “What are the differences that stand out for you and your company processes?”

Christine Wood: “I feel freeze dried is superior for a couple reasons, the shelf life for one and freeze-dried retains almost all nutritional value, like 99%. Freeze-dried is as easy as dehydrating, but it takes longer. A freeze-dried batch is 2-3 days. Dehydrating is 18-24 hours. The freeze-drying machine is much bigger, the size of a small washer.”

Kathy: “As far as customer base, does one process sell better than the other?”

Christine Wood: “Our best-selling product by far is our Daily Maintenance for small birds. It’s made with 50% dehydrated veggies and tons of healthy grains and seeds. It’s great for any size bird really and is a really good way to convert seed eaters to a healthier diet.”

Kathy: “As far as investment costs, what’s the difference? What would a person need to spend to make their own freeze-dried foods or dehydrated foods at home?”

Christine Wood: “A large freeze-drying machine (5 trays) will cost almost $6,000.00. A good dehydrator with 9 trays will cost about $250.”

Kathy: “That’s a massive difference. Which explains the personal preferences for dehydrating at home.”

Christine Wood: “It is expensive. And the machine itself isn’t a simple thing at all. It’s a professional level idea. If you aren’t going to keep food for 25 years, and you really are looking to preserve foods at home, dehydrating is the way to go. Buy the freeze-dried items your companion loves. The hardware pricing is still commercial level, and the machine is a commercial grade operation.”

How to serve freeze-dried and dehydrated food to your dog, parrot, or cat:

  • Rehydrate the food: This not only makes the food easier for your pet to eat, but it also helps to ensure that they are getting enough water in their diet. To rehydrate freeze-dried food, simply add warm water to the food and allow it to soak for a few minutes. Once you’ve rehydrated either type of preserved food, the shelf life ends.
Rehydrated mix from a dehydrated state. Done right, you'll not taste, or mouth feel the difference.Photo byChristine Wood
  • Balance their food choices: While freeze-dried and dehydrated food can be a great option for your pet’s diet, it should not be the only food they eat. It’s important to provide a balanced diet that includes a variety of protein sources, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, along with any necessary supplements recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Introduce new food gradually: When introducing any new food to your pet, it’s important to do so over the course of a week. This will allow your pet’s digestive system to adjust to the new food and help to prevent any digestive upset.
  • Store the food properly: Like all pet food, store freeze-dried food and dehydrated foods in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Be sure to follow the storage instructions on the packaging to ensure that the food remains fresh and safe for your companion pet to eat.
  • Always have fresh water available for your companion pet. No matter what variety, brand, or preservation mode you choose to serve.
  • Don’t forget the opinions of your companions about this idea.

Although freeze drying is a more effective method of food preservation for nutritional value and allows for longer shelf life, it is a more expensive and time-consuming process. Dehydrating is a more affordable and convenient method of food preservation that still provides many benefits with just marginally less nutritional value as well and has a shorter shelf life compared to freeze-drying. Freeze-dried or dehydrated food can be a great option for you and your companion pets. The companion animal lifestyle is full of choices. And the companion pet food market is more than willing to create what you are looking for, for your best friend.

The small business pet food creator is a great place to explore the wider variety of options. Big companies are slower to pivot to new ideas, while small business owners and operators are nimble and ready to deliver your next great request.

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Florida author, speaker, and wildlife/companion animal advocate writing about life in the Sunshine State from my cityscape, St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg, FL

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