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When it comes to commercial cat food, you may think that the only options are dry food (or kibble) and wet food (canned food).
While this may have been true a few decades ago, in recent years the list of options has grown exponentially.
One of the most popular options in healthy cat food today is freeze-dried cat food. Before you turn up your nose, take a moment to learn what freeze-dried cat food is and how it could potentially benefit your cat.
What is the Best Freeze Dried Cat Food?
What is Freeze-Dried Cat Food?
When you hear the word “freeze-dried” you might think of astronaut food – those dehydrated meals that don’t look or taste like the food they are named after. In reality, freeze-dried cat food is actually one of the healthiest options on the market. What you need to understand about freeze-dried cat food is that the process through which is it made is very different from that of traditional commercial pet foods. Rather than going through the process of cooking and extrusion like traditional kibbles, freeze-dried cat foods are frozen at the peak of freshness then subjected to high vacuum pressure to remove the water content while the food is still frozen. This process is different than the one used for dehydrated cat food which involves cooking the food over very low heat for a long period of time to remove the moisture. Both of these methods do not incorporate the use of chemicals or heat damage so the majority of the nutritional value for the ingredients are preserved.
Freeze-Dried vs. Traditional Kibble
Now that you have a better idea of what freeze-dried cat food is, you can probably already guess at some of the nutritional benefits this type of cat food has to offer. In order to understand the nutritional benefits of freeze-dried cat foods over traditional dry kibble, take a moment to learn about the process through which regular kibble is cooked. The cooking process used by pet food manufacturers is called extrusion and it has been used for more than five decades. Before being cooked, the individual ingredients that go into commercial pet foods are weighed and then blended in accordance with the specific recipe. Once mixed, the ingredients are heated under high pressure and then force through a spiral-shaped screw as part of the extruder machine. The product is then forced through a die and the result is a ribbon-like product that is cut into kibbles and dried.
During the extrusion process, commercial pet foods are subjected to temperatures as high as 400°F in under 5 minutes’ time. This is long enough for the starches in the product to gelatinize and for the proteins to become denatured, among other physical and chemical changes. In the end, the dry kibble looks nothing like the original ingredients and it has a uniform size, texture, and flavor. The extrusion process is designed to make the finished product more digestible and to increase the shelf-life of the product as well. This is why commercial kibbles can sit on the pet store shelf for months without going bad. What many people do not realize, however, is the same process that makes dry kibble digestible and long-lasting also destroys a significant portion of the food’s nutritional value.
According to Authority Nutrition, cooking some foods to a temperature of just 180°F is enough to destroy up to 50% or more of certain key vitamins. This being the case, imagine the effects of cooking those foods to 400°F! This same resource states that certain cooking methods can destroy a significant portion of the nutritional content for some foods, but it may increase the bioavailability of other nutrients. Of the examples given, however, the maximum cooking temperature was 212°F – that is just over half the temperature used in the extrusion process for commercial pet foods. According to Karen Becker of Mercola.com, extrusion can lead to significant vitamin loss, especially for vitamins A, E, and various B-vitamins. Does that sound like something you want for your cat’s food?
The main difference between the freeze-drying and the extrusion process is the use of heat. Extrusion is a method of cooking while freeze-drying technically isn’t. The food is quickly frozen at low temperatures and then all of the moisture is sucked out of it – because the food hasn’t been subjected to heat, a majority of the original nutritional integrity for the ingredients is preserved. The resulting product has a very different texture from traditional dry kibble, however, which is why many freeze-dried cat food products need to be rehydrated before serving them to cats.
Pros and Cons of Freeze-Dried Cat Food
As you have already learned, one of the most significant benefits of freeze-dried cat food is the fact that it still contains much of the original nutritional integrity for the fresh ingredients. The product is flash-frozen and then dehydrated rather than being cooked, so important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes are not destroyed. This is very important because natural sources for vitamins and minerals are infinitely more biologically valuable for your cat than dietary supplements. This is why mineral supplements in dried cat foods are frequently bound to protein molecules – to make them easier for your cat’s body to digest and absorb. These minerals are called chelated minerals and while they are easier for your cat to absorb than non-chelated minerals, natural sources for these minerals are even more biologically valuable.
Another benefit of freeze-dried cat food which is closely related to the first benefit is the natural flavor. Because the ingredients are not subjected to high temperatures, they are not broken down and they retain most of their natural flavor. The artificial additives in many traditional kibbles that give it its flavor, color, and texture often come from chemicals that have been linked to negative side effects in pets. One thing you need to be aware of with freeze-dried cat food is that it does generally need to be rehydrated before you feed it to your cat. Once rehydrated, however, the food has a very palatable texture and a natural flavor that even the pickiest of cats tend to enjoy.
Though most of the benefits of freeze-dried cat food apply to your cat, there are some benefits for you as well! For example, because the food has been freeze-dried it does not need to be refrigerated or frozen – it has a similar shelf-life to traditional dry cat food. You also have peace of mind in knowing that the product is free from artificial preservatives (because they simply aren’t needed). You may also notice that after switching to a freeze-dried diet your cat’s stools become firmer and more compact – this makes it easier for you to scoop them up!
There are a great many benefits associated with freeze-dried cat food, but there are some downsides to consider. The main downside with this type of cat food is the cost. A low-quality commercial kibble for cats might cost you under $0.25 per day while a high-quality kibble will be closer to the $0.40 to $0.60 range. Commercial raw cat food diets cost upwards of $0.60 per day, by comparison. For freeze-dried and dehydrated cat foods, the cost may be upwards of $1.00 per day, often closer to $1.50 per day. You also have to consider that freeze-dried cat food takes about 15 minutes to rehydrate after you add warm water – if your cat is impatient he may not appreciate this factor.
Feeding Tips for Freeze-Dried Cat Food
As you should now be able to tell, the benefits of freeze-dried cat food greatly outweigh the drawbacks. Still, it is entirely your decision which type of cat food you choose for your cat. Before deciding if freeze-dried cat food is the best option for your cat you have a few more things to consider. For one thing, it may take some time for you to transition your cat onto a freeze-dried diet from traditional kibble. As you may already know, making sudden changes to your cat’s diet can cause digestive upset and some cats are pickier than others which may delay the process. It is recommended that you take at least one week to transition your cat onto freeze-dried cat food, mixing some of the new food in with the old food to give his digestive system time to adjust.
Another thing you need to be aware of with freeze-dried cat food is that the portion sizes may be different than what you are used to with traditional kibble. In general, you will need to calculate your cat’s daily portion for freeze-dried food based on his weight. In order to maintain your cat’s current weight you should feed him about 2% to 2.5% of his current body weight. If your cat needs to lose weight, a percentage around 1.5% is best and if your cat needs to gain weight, bump it up to 3% or 3.5%. Keep in mind that this weight is based on the rehydrated weight for the freeze-dried product of your choice and you should read the feeding instructions on the package to make sure you are feeding your cat the right amount. Keep an eye on your cat’s weight for two to three weeks and then make adjustments to his daily portion, if needed.
Recommended Brands for Freeze-Dried Cat Food
If after learning the ins and outs of freeze-dried cat foods you believe that it is the best option for your cat, you may be wondering how to get started with this type of diet. If you want to try freeze-dried cat food for your cat, consider some of the following brands:
Smalls for Smalls is a human-grade cat food delivery service. What does human-grade mean? Human-grade cat food means that the ingredients used in the recipe would be fit for human consumption. Smalls for Smalls believes that if the food isn’t good enough for you, it isn’t good enough for your cat. Smalls for Smalls Freeze-Dried Raw Turkey recipe has the nutritional benefits of a raw, high-protein diet, but with the added crunch sometimes preferred by cats. This recipe is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, giving your cat optimum nutrition at every meal.
The Primal Pet Foods Company began only recently in 2001 but they have quickly risen through the ranks of commercial pet food to become one of the leading providers of freeze-dried, raw, and frozen pet food products. Primal Pet Foods makes it their mission to create complete and balanced formulas for dogs and cats as well as a full line of supplements to enable pet owners to make their own pet food products at home. Based in San Francisco, CA, Primal Pet Foods uses human-grade raw ingredients and all of their recipes are completely free from antibiotics, steroids, hormones, and artificial additives. They use only the freshest, most high-quality ingredients in carefully formulated recipes to ensure maximum nutrition for healthy pets.
In addition to offering an assortment of raw and frozen cat food products, Primal Pet Foods also offers twelve freeze-dried products, five of which are for cats. These formulas include Beef & Salmon, Chicken & Salmon, Pork, Turkey, and Venison. Like all of their products, Primal Pet Foods’ freeze-dried cat food is made with human-grade meats as well as certified organic produce to help provide nutritional balance – they also include fresh ground bone for calcium supplementation. Each and every recipe is designed to provide optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, and digestive enzymes to ensure that your cat gets the nutrition he needs in a tasty and digestible product he will love. These freeze-dried foods are easy to serve – just rehydrate them with warm water and serve them up!
Nature’s Variety is an independent pet food company that is based out of St. Louis, Missouri. This company believes in the transformative power of quality nutrition for pets, and that is exactly what they aim to provide through their extensive line of dog and cat food products. Nature’s Variety is passionate about providing pets with wholesome, holistic nutrition that nourishes the body from the inside out and they use only the freshest, most high-quality ingredients in each of their recipes. Nature’s Variety products are divided among two product lines – Prairie and Instinct. The Instinct line of products is the more extensive of the two, offering a variety of raw foods, kibbles, limited ingredient diets, canned foods, and even freeze-dried products for cats.
When it comes to freeze-dried cat food, Nature’s Variety Instinct offers a number of unique choices. Their Instinct Raw Boost Kibble consists of their high-quality kibble mixed with bites of freeze-dried raw food for added nutrition – it comes in three flavors including Chicken, Duck, and Rabbit. There is also the Instinct Raw Boost Mixers line of freeze-dried raw bites that come in Chicken and Rabbit flavor – these can be added to your choice of kibble for a boost of raw nutrition. Nature’s Variety also offers three recipes for complete and balanced freeze-dried meals – Chicken, Lamb, and Rabbit. These recipes are made with all-natural ingredients that are both grain-free and gluten-free, full of natural flavor that your cat is sure to love. Feed them as a complete and balanced meal or use them as a mixer with your cat’s choice of kibble.
Though their name might be a little strange, Stella & Chewy’s is inarguably one of the best pet food brands on the market. This company understands that choosing a high-quality pet food is one of the biggest decisions that a pet owner has to make and it is their goal to make that choice a little bit easier by offering a variety of wholesome, balanced meals for cats and dogs. Not only does Stella & Chewy’s do its part to provide pet owners with high-quality products for their pets, but they give back to the community by donating millions of bowls of pet food to animals in need each and every year. All of Stella & Chewy’s products are made in FDA-inspected plants right here in the United States and they are made with the highest quality ingredients available such as grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken, and wild-caught fish as well as seasonal fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to cat food products, Stella & Chewy’s offers an assortment of freeze-dried and frozen dinners. For frozen dinners there are three options: Chick, Chick, Chicken; Duck Duck Goose; and Absolutely Rabbit. The first two flavors are also available in freeze-dried form with the addition of Sea-Licious Salmon & Cod, Tummy Ticklin’ Turkey, and Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken. Stella & Chewy’s freeze-dried dinners are loaded with natural flavor and healthy nutrition in recipes that your cat is sure to love. They are naturally free from gluten, grains, and fillers as well as antibiotics and hormones. Each recipe is 100% complete and balanced for cats in all life stages, made with 98% meat, organs, and bone. They are also supplemented with taurine and probiotics for healthy digestion.
Ziwipeak is an all-natural pet food company based in New Zealand, though they have offices in the United States as well. This company sources all of its ingredients from New Zealand, using only the freshest lamb, venison, beef, seafood, and shellfish. Each and every recipe is formulated with natural meats and organs plus fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritional balance. Ziwipeak prides itself in delivering nutritional excellence, avoiding the use of grains, potatoes, sugars, and artificial preservatives – their recipes are also free from antibiotics, hormones, and other artificial additives. Though Ziwipeak’s products are not strictly freeze-dried, they still offer the same nutritional benefits. Ziwipeak air-dries its products to ensure nutritional integrity with the added convenience of a long shelf-life and easy feeding – you do not need to reconstitute their products before feeding.
When it comes to cat food products, Ziwipeak offers four different recipes: Lamb, Beef, Venison, and Venison & Fish. Real meat is the first ingredient in each of these recipes and their formulas are inspired by the ancestral diet of wild felines. The process through which Ziwipeak’s cat foods are dried minimizes any nutritional loss to ensure that each recipe provides similar benefits to a raw meat diet. A full 90% of each product comes from meat, organs, and seafood with the remaining 10% made up of carbohydrates and natural herbs. Ziwipeak’s air-dried cat foods are ideal for cats that suffer from food allergies because their ingredients are all-natural and grain-free, made with only the best ingredients available, sourced from local New Zealand farms.
The Wysong Company is unique because in addition to dog- and cat-specific formulas, they also offer pet foods that are designed for both species. Wysong was established in 1979 as one of the first natural pet food companies and providers of holistic pet health products. The Wysong Corporation believes in the power of pet nutrition and all of their products are developed in-house by pet health doctorate professionals and they are produced in their very own dedicated manufacturing facilities. Each and every one of Wysong’s products is formulated with high-quality ingredients with healthy supplements to ensure sound nutritional balance, not to mention plenty of natural flavor. Their products are designed to help pets with common ailments like arthritis, food allergies, and malnutrition while also meeting the needs and desires of dedicated pet parents.
When it comes to Wysong cat food, there are three different product lines to choose from: Original Diets, Optimal, and Epigen Starch-Free. Wysong also offers one freeze-dried recipe, their Archetype formula which is designed for both dogs and cats. The Archetype formula comes in three different flavors – Chicken, Rabbit, Pollock, and Quail – and it is freeze-dried to ensure nutritional integrity. This meat-based formula is entirely starch-free and fortified with vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. Archetype freeze-dried cat food is rich in protein and healthy fats but free from non-nutritive additives like artificial colors, flavors, and dyes. This recipe is complete and balanced for cats in all lives stages, providing a whopping 44% protein and 36% fat. Simply put, this recipe is a great choice if you are considering freeze-dried food for your cat.
In the end, it is up to you which kind of cat food you offer your cat but you should think carefully before you make your choice to ensure that your cat’s nutritional needs are being met. If you want to feed him a high-quality product with sound nutritional integrity, freeze-dried cat food is a great option.