The great cat food debate: dry food, being kibble, or wet food, otherwise known as canned food. These two are the most well known options that pet owners discuss online when searching for the best cat food. What you may not know is that you actually have a third option: freeze-dried cat food.
A few decades ago, yes, there was only dry and wet food. Now, you have many more available options for your choice of healthy cat food, with one of the most popular options being freeze-dried. You might be feeling skeptical, but let’s first take a look at what exactly freeze-dried food is and how it might be able to benefit your cat (besides the delicious taste!).
What is Freeze-Dried Cat Food?
The word “freeze-dried” leads to mental images of astronaut food or something. I’m sure you’re imagining your cat eating from dehydrated kinds of meals that don’t look great or live up to the taste either. The best freeze-dried cat food is actually a lot healthier than that, mostly because this type of food is made completely differently from other traditional cat foods.
Traditional kibbles are made through a process of cooking and extrusion, while freeze-dried cat foods are frozen right at the peak of freshness. They’re then put under high vacuum pressure to remove all the water content while the food remains frozen. This process is different than that used for dehydrated cat food as well, where the food is cooked over low heat over a long time to remove the moisture.
Still, both the dehydrated option and the freeze-dried option are meant to be healthy, since they don’t use chemicals or heat damage. This means that the nutritional value of the ingredients remains in-tact.
Difference Between Freeze-Dried vs Traditional Kibble
Okay, so you know what freeze-dried cat food is. You might also then be able to guess some of the nutritional benefits for this type of cat food. To understand more fully, and to see why the freeze-dried option is more traditionally sound compared to dry kibble, let’s take a second to learn about the kibble and how it’s cooked.
Cat food manufacturers have been using the same cooking process for dry cat food for decades. It’s called extrusion. Basically, before being cooked, the individual ingredients that make up the pet food are weighed and blended according to the recipe. They’re mixed, heated under high pressure, and then forced through a spiral-shaped screw on the extruder machine. This mixture is then forced through a die. You’ll receive a ribbon-like product that will be cut into kibbles and dried.
During this process, the dry cat food will be heated under temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit, all in under five minutes! Can you imagine what happens to the nutritional value of the food under such high temperatures?
Well, you don’t have to: in only five minutes, the starches in the cat food will gelatinize. This allows the proteins to become denatured, along with a few other chemical changes. By the time the food is ready to sell, it looks nothing like the original food, is made to be all the same size, and has the same texture and flavor in every bite.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The finished product is made to be more digestible through this extrusion process, and has increased shelf-life as well. When you go to the store, this is why those foods are fine to sit on the shelve for months at a time while remaining safe to eat. Unfortunately, however, you trade nutritional value for the longer shelf-life.
According to Authority Nutrition, when you cook foods only to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, you destroy up to half of the key vitamins. That’s only at 180 degrees. Think about what it means for food to be cooked at 400 degrees then!
The same source states that certain cooking methods don’t only destroy the nutritional content, but also increase the bioavailability of other nutrients. Even then though, Authority nutrition only tested foods up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which is only about half of the temperature used to cook commercial cat foods.
Other sources, like Karen Becker of Mercola.com, also talk about the process of extrusion. She states that this process can lead to a significant loss in vitamins, especially vitamins A, E, and various B-vitamins. You may like the fact that dry kibble stays good for a long time, but you’re definitely losing traditional value along the way.
You know all about extrusion and the high heat that’s used during the process. That’s the difference between extrusion and freeze-drying: there’s no actual heat used in the freeze-drying process, since this process doesn’t technically cook the food. When food is freeze-dried, it is quickly frozen at low temperatures before the moisture is sucked out of it.
The food isn’t subjected to heat at all, which of course means that none of the nutritional value has been compromised, or at least a majority of it hasn’t. You end up with a resulting product that has more nutritional value, although you’ll notice that freeze-dried cat food has a very different texture compared to the dry kibble. For many freeze-dried cat foods, you’ll have to rehydrate the food first before you give it to your cat.
Pros and Cons of Freeze-Dried Cat Food
One of the biggest benefits of the best freeze-dried cat food is that it still contained most of the nutrition that the initial fresh ingredients have. The flash-freezing process keeps the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in-tact for when your cat eats them. These are super valuable for your cat, much more so than any dietary supplements that are sometimes placed in pet foods.
In dry cat foods, the difference is that mineral supplements are usually bound to protein molecules, making them easier to digest so that your cat’s body can absorb them more easily. Yes, it’s true that your cat’s body can more easily handle these nutrients, known as chelated minerals, but natural sources for these nutrients will benefit your cat further. Think about your cat’s digestive system here, and if they’re stomach is too sensitive to dry this option.
Now, here’s the part your cat will care about: flavor. The ingredients in freeze-dried food are not subjected to high temperatures, meaning that they’re not broken down and will still retain their natural flavor. This is in contrast to kibbles, which are given flavor, color, and texture often from chemicals that can lead to negative side effects.
But of course, the big con for freeze-dried cat food is that you can’t just serve it to your cat. You need to rehydrate it to give it a more palatable texture and the natural flavor your cat will enjoy. This can take around 15 minutes, which your cat may not appreciate when they’re rubbing around your ankles and meowing for food.
Your cat isn’t the only one reaping the benefits of the cat food either though; you’ll see some benefits too! Since this food has been freeze-dried, you don’t need to refrigerate or freeze the food, and it will be able to remain on the shelf about as long as traditional dry cat food without all the artificial preservatives.
Thanks to the new diet of freeze-dried food, you might also notice that your cat’s stools will be firmer and more compact. In the end, this makes it much easier for you to scoop them up.
Let’s take a look at a few downsides to freeze-dried cat food too. Cost is probably the biggest one. Generally, kibble will cost you maybe 25 cents a day, while higher quality options will range from 40 to 60 cents. Raw cat food diets run at around 60 cents a day. For the freeze-dried option, you’ll be spending at least 1 dollar a day, and probably around $1.50 per day.
Feeding Tips for Freeze-Dried Cat Food
If you can afford the freeze-dried option, and your cat can wait to eat, your cat will receive much more nutrition in the end. It’s up to you to choose what you’d like your cat to eat though. Before you make your choice, consider just a few more things first, like transitioning your cat to a new type of food.
As with any new cat food, your cat will need time to switch from dry kibble to freeze-dried food. Making sudden changes to your cat’s diet can cause digestive problems even in a healthy cat. Some cats are pickier than others too, and may not be too thrilled about the switch right away. To help the process along, take at least a week to transition by mixing in some of the new food with the old food to give your cat the time they need to adjust.
Think about portion sizes too. How much freeze-dried cat food you provide should be calculated based on your cat’s weight. To maintain your cat’s weight, you’ll want to provide them with 2 to 2.5 percent of their weight. To lose weight, make that 1.5 percent, or to gain weight move up to 3 to 3.5 percent.
Remember that the weight is based on the rehydrated weight of the cat food, so be sure to read the feeding instructions on your package. This will help you give your cat the right amount. Check your cat’s weight as you go along too, and adjust how much you give them as needed.
Top Brands for Best Freeze-Dried Cat Food
Now that we’ve gone over everything you need to know about freeze-dried cat food, you might be thinking about starting your cat on a freeze-dried diet. If you’re going to transition your cat to this new food, it can be hard to find a place to start. Here are some freeze-dried cat food brands you can look into starting with:
Nature’s Variety Instinct Rawboost Mixers
Nature’s Variety is based in St. Louis, and they’re an independent pet food producer that believes strongly in the benefits that wholesome nutrition has for pets. They aim to provide pets with the highest quality nutrition by using a holistic approach to pet nutrition; with fresh, high quality ingredients their food improves pet health from the inside out. The main Nature’s Variety food products are branded in two lines, Instinct and Prairie pet food. The Prairie line of food is good quality nutrition, but has more limited recipe and meal options. The Instinct foods recipe line gives pet owners a lot more choice, and variety. Some of their offerings include canned foods, kibble food, limited ingredient diet cat food, raw food, and, of course, freeze-dried foods for your cat.
Nature’s Variety has a more unique selection of freeze-dried cat food than many other brands. They give pet owners more choices for how they feed their cat, and how they customize their pets meals. There are several different options, whether you prefer to get an all-in-one type of cat food, or whether your prefer to mix your other with some extra nutrition, or even if you want to make your own special supplement blends for your cat. For instance, the Instinct Raw Boost Mixers; these little freeze-dried bites can be added to the cat food you already use, for a ‘boost’ of nutrition in either Rabbit or Chicken. They also have a freeze-dried line of kibble food, which is a combination of freeze-dried food and kibble, available in Rabbit, Chicken, and Duck. If you want the complete nutrition recipes, they have three choices: Rabbit, Lamb, and Chicken. They never add artificial ingredients; the recipes are all natural and free of grain and gluten. This is a food line your cats will love, whether you use it as a complete meal, or use it to add extra nutrient value to food your cat already eats.
Primal Freeze-Dried Nuggets Chicken and Salmon
Having begun manufacturing cat food more recently, the San Francisco, CA based company Primal Pet Foods came about in 2001. While they may be a newer company, they’ve become one of the leading producers of raw, frozen, and freeze-dried pet foods. Their main goal as a company is to deliver nutritionally balanced, wholesome foods for cats and dogs alike. They also produce a supplement line that enables pet parents to create DIY pet foods. By using only high quality, human grade ingredients without chemicals, hormones, additives, antibiotics, or steroids, they create nutritionally sound pet food to keep your pets healthy.
Their largest recipe lines consist of frozen and raw pet food, although they have a selection of five different freeze-dried foods for cats, out of a total of 12 freeze-dried foods. As with all food they produce, it’s made of organic produce and raw, human grade ingredients. They strive to achieve nutritional balance, and even add ground bone for extra calcium. All the recipes are carefully formulated to deliver the exact levels of amino acids, digestive enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. The Primal Pet Food freeze-dried recipes for cats include venison, pork, beef & salmon, turkey, and chicken & salmon. These foods are easy for you, and your cat, to love. Just add warm water to rehydrate the freeze-dried food and you’re ready to go.
Stella and Chewy’s Chick, Chick, Chicken Dinner
The name probably sounds a bit odd, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that this is one of the best pet food brands available. Stella & Chewy’s is a brand that knows pet owners go through a lot when they search for a good pet food, and they aim to make that search easier for you. If providing nutritious, top tier pet food isn’t enough. They donate millions of meals to pets in need annually. So you can feel good about buying this pet food. Stella & Chewy’s pet foods are produced with ingredients of the best quality, including cage-free chicken, seasonal fruits and veggies, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed beef. Not only that, all of their pet foods are made in the USA, in facilities inspected by the FDA.
Stella & Chewy’s pet foods are totally free of grains, antibiotics, gluten, hormones, and fillers. They have three different frozen cat food recipes, two of which are available as a freeze-dried option. Their frozen meals include: Duck Duck Goose, Chick, Chick, Chicken, and Absolutely Rabbit. Their chicken and duck recipes are also available as freeze-dried meals. Other freeze-dried recipes include: Yummy Lickin’ Salmon & Chicken, Sea-licious Salmon & Cod, and Tummy Ticklin’ Turkey. These meals have all the nutrition you want your cat to have, with the natural flavor your cat wants. All their recipes are made with 98% meat, bone, and organs. They also include probiotics and taurine for extra support. All are 100% nutritionally balanced and complete, no matter what age your cat is.
ZiwiPeak Daily Cat Lamb
Based in New Zealand, ZiwiPeak also maintains US offices, although all their ingredients are sources from New Zealand. All their recipes are nutritionally balanced with natural organs, meat, and fresh produce. ZiwiPeak strives to create the most complete, nutritional recipes. They include the best and freshest seafood, beef, shellfish, lamb, and venison. They always leave out hormones, antibiotics, grains, preserves, potatoes, additives, sugars, and artificial preservatives. ZiwiPeak makes a different type of pet food. While it isn’t technically freeze-dried, it does undergo a special drying process to preserve nutrients to add the same level of nutritional support. Since they air dry their food products, you don’t need to reconstitute them before your cat’s mealtime. The process gives the food a long shelf life without losing any original nutrition.
They have four distinct cat food recipes, including Beef, Venison & Fish, Lamb, and Venison. These recipes are inspired by the diets of your cat’s wild ancestors. Because of this, meat is always the first ingredient. The recipes are about as close to raw meat as your cat can get. This is because the food is processed with minimal (if any) nutrient loss. Only 10% of their formula comes from natural herbs and carbohydrates, and an impressive 90% is from meat. With recipes from all natural, grain and gluten free ingredients from local farms in New Zealand, this is an excellent cat food for felines with food allergies and sensitive stomachs.
Wysong Archetype Freeze-Dried Chicken Formula
Wysong was established in 1979. They were one of the first companies to produce holistic products for pet care and natural pet foods. Wysong strongly stands behind the power of pet nutrition. And they supply not only recipes for cats and dogs, respectively. They also have recipes for both.
Wysong also use their own facilities, with staff professionals with doctorates in pet health. That’s why each recipe contains the perfect blend of flavor and wholesome nutrition, made with supplements and top quality ingredients. Not only do they cater to the requirements of pet owners, their recipes are formulated to assist pets suffering with malnutrition, arthritis, and food allergies.
Under the Wysong company, there are three lines of pet food available: Epigen Starch-Free, Original Diets, and Optimal. Their Archetype recipe is made for both dogs and cats, and is their sole freeze-dried option. The freeze-dried recipe helps to maintain nutritional content, and comes in different flavors, including Quail, Rabbit, Chicken, and Pollock. The Archetype formula is enriched with important probiotics, minerals, and vitamins, and the formula is completely free of starch. Wysong doesn’t add in artificial additives and colors, nor flavors or dyes. This line is high in healthy fats and proteins, with an impressive 44% protein and 36% fat content. No matter the age or life stage of your cat, Archetype is a well balanced, complete recipe. In short, if you want to try and start your cat on freeze-dried food, this is a freeze-dried food to go for.
Any change to your cat’s diet needs to be made with proper consideration and care. Since it’s up to you as the pet parent to make that choice, your priority should focus on finding the best, most complete nutrition for your cat. Like other pet owners, you want your cat to eat food that doesn’t have harmful additives. You want to know that your cat is getting the fullest nutritional value from their food. If that sounds like you, freeze-dried cat food is a solid choice that you and your cat can love.