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Freeze-Dried Dog Food: The Pros and Cons

Dog looking up eagerly with empty food bowl behind him
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Overview

  • Freeze-dried dog food has had its moisture removed, resulting in a shelf-stable product that lasts for years.
  • This type of dog food comes in a number of types and varieties for different dog diets.
  • Freeze-dried dog food can be a fast and simple alternative to a raw dog food diet.
  • To incorporate freeze-dried food into a dog's diet, it can be on its own, mixed into food or used as treats.

There are so many dog food brands and formulas on the market that—at this point—picking out the right food for your pup can feel more complicated than shopping for your own meals. Should you go with grain-free? Non-GMO? Organic? Kibble or wet? High-protein or carb-friendly?

One of the newer options on shelves, freeze-dried dog food, has become an increasingly popular choice in recent years (1). But what is it, exactly? And is it a safe option for your dog? Here’s everything you need to know about freeze-dried dog food.

What Is Freeze-Dried Dog Food?

Clear bowl of freeze-dried dog food

Humans have been freeze-drying food for a long time. Although for many of us, the prime example is still that “astronaut ice cream” you find in science museum gift shops, the global freeze-dried food market is expected to reach $85.3 billion by 2024 (2)—and part of that number comes from the rise of freeze-dried pet foods (3).

Like the human version, freeze-dried dog food has had all its moisture sucked out through freezing temperatures and a multi-step drying process. The result is a bone-dry, shelf-stable product that can last for years and be plumped back up by simply adding water.

In the case of freeze-dried dog foods, “what you’re getting is a different presentation of raw dog food,” says holistic veterinarian Dr. Ruth Roberts. But unlike fresh raw meat, some freeze-dried raw dog foods also go through high-pressure processing (HPP), a pasteurization process used to decrease quantities of bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli

Even after HPP, freeze-dried dog food is still considered a raw food. “For pet owners who want to feed raw but are concerned about bacteria, [freeze-dried] is a great way to go,” Roberts says.

Types of Freeze-Dried Dog Food

Dog looking up holding empty bowl in his mouth

Freeze-drying is a way to dehydrate dog food, but not all dehydrated dog food is freeze-dried. “Often dehydrated food is one where the water is removed using warm air,” rather than the cold-temperature process used to freeze-dry, says Dr. Joe Bartges, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and professor at The University of Georgia.

Just like other dog foods, freeze-dried products come in a number of formulations, from high-protein, to high-fat/moderate-protein, to varieties more similar to traditional kibble that include carbs like potatoes and legumes. Roberts notes that in any of these freeze-dried varieties, the proteins are still considered raw, and in some cases the starches are, too.

How Is Freeze-Dried Dog Food Made?

Close up of freeze-dried dog food pellets

There are several steps to the freeze-drying process—a technique so old it’s been traced all the way back to 1200 A.D, when Incas freeze-dried their potatoes. 

In the modern version, fresh food is first frozen solid. Then it goes into a vacuum chamber that evaporates nearly all of the solid water (ice). A second drying phase zaps away any lingering water molecules. By the end, roughly 97 percent of the food’s moisture has been sucked out, but many of its nutrients remain.

The Benefits of Freeze-Dried Dog Food

Dog looking up at owner who is feeding them

For pet parents who want to feed their dogs a raw diet but worry about finding, handling, and preparing fresh raw meat themselves, freeze-dried food can be a fast and simple alternative. And unlike plain raw meat, “all of the commercially available [freeze-dried] formulas are going to be complete and balanced for all life stages,” Roberts says—as long as you make sure they’ve been formulated to meet the standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Pet parents also like that it’s easy to find high-quality, organic ingredients—including grass-fed meats—in freeze-dried dog foods. Processing and additives are usually minimal, too, and even picky eaters tend to like the formulas. 

“For people who like the idea of feeding whole foods but don’t want to cook or make their own, it’s a good option,” Roberts says. She notes that freeze-dried foods may be especially helpful for people who travel with their pets, since the drying process condenses fresh food down into a much smaller, lighter, and shelf-stable form. It also frees up valuable freezer and fridge space, since it lives in pantry-friendly packages. 

Potential Downsides of Freeze-Dried Pet Food Formulas

Dog laying on floor looking up and worried

Roberts has two main concerns about freeze-dried dog food. First, when you take food out of its natural state—in this case, by drying it out and rehydrating it later—it is “never quite as easy to digest as it is in its original form,” she says. Second, it’s “hideously expensive,” she adds, “so the convenience comes at a cost.” 

According to Nielsen data, freeze-dried pet food clocks in, on average, at $33 per pound, compared to $10 or $11 for air-dried or dehydrated pet foods (4).

Many veterinarians also worry about illness-causing bacteria. “Freeze-drying alone, without a prior heating/cooking step, is not an effective way to eliminate microbial pathogens” like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, says veterinary nutritionist Dr. Megan Shepherd, who is also a clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. “Therefore, I recommend avoiding raw and freeze-dried animal tissue-based products, unless the manufacturer can confirm that the finished product is pathogen-free.”

AAFCO, which sets standards for pet foods in the U.S., offers a similar warning on its website, noting that most nutritionally complete pet foods have been heat-treated during manufacturing to prevent microbial contamination. AAFCO further warns that any raw foods you’re feeding your pup could put humans in the house at risk for illness—especially children, elderly people, or anyone with a compromised immune system. And the same bacteria can make your dog sick, too.

Freeze-Dried Dog Food Brands

Woman in shop looking at dog food packs

All featured products were chosen at the discretion of the Great Pet Care editorial team and not directly recommended or endorsed by the author of this article. Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.

With all that in mind, the best freeze-dried dog food depends on what your pet likes, what you feel safe feeding her, and what areas of her diet you’re planning to use it for. 

A variety of prominent dog-food brands now offer freeze-dried formulas. Companies offering freeze-dried dog food include:

If you’re seeking food that’s explicitly been high-pressure processed in the pasteurization process outlined earlier, Primal uses the process for their raw poultry products, including the grain- and gluten-free freeze-dried nuggets that it also markets as complete and balanced. Stella & Chewy’s uses HPP for its freeze-dried products, too, as do Vital Essentials Raw, Northwest Naturals, and a growing list of others.

6 Freeze-Dried Dog Foods, Toppers and Treats to Consider

Front of the Pack Freeze-Dried Raw Treats

FlavorWild Alaskan SalmonRabbitBeef Tripe
FormFreeze dried treatFreeze dried treatFreeze dried treat
Protein (Ingredients)SalmonRabbitGreen beef tripe
Meets AAFCO Standards?Not intended to be fed as a complete and balanced dietNot intended to be fed as a complete and balanced dietNot intended to be fed as a complete and balanced diet

If you’re unsure whether you want to make the switch to feeding freeze-dried dog food, treats can be a good way to test the waters. Some freeze-dried raw dog treats are made with limited ingredients or a single source of protein, which is ideal for dogs with food allergies or sensitivities. For example, Front of the Pack’s freeze-dried dog treats feature wild Alaskan salmon, free-range beef tripe, or farm-raised rabbit—no added fillers, flavoring, or rendered by-products. Front of the Pack uses a slow 48-hour freeze-drying process to lock in nutrients without cooking the meat.

Highlights

  • Free shipping
  • Vet recommended
  • No added fillers, flavoring or rendered by-products
  • No artificial flavors or colors
  • Made in the USA

Things to Consider

  • Intended as a treat or reward, not a substitute for a balanced diet
  • Only comes in a 2.5-oz bag

Sample buyer review: “My dogs enjoy these treats! They have food allergies so having these treats gives me a peace of mind that I know ingredients and they will not result in an allergic reaction.”

Open Farm Freeze Dried Raw Morsels

Open Farm Freeze-Dried Draw Food
FlavorSurf & TurfGrass-Fed BeefHomestead TurkeyHarvest ChickenPasture-Raised LambFarmer’s Table Pork
Life StageAllAllAllAllAllAll
FormFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze dried
Protein (Ingredients)Humanely raised beef, beef hearts, wild Pacific salmon, beef kidneys, beef livers, ground beef boneHumanely raised beef, beef heart, beef kidneys, beef livers, ground beef boneTurkey with ground bone, turkey livers, turkey necks, turkey gizzardsChicken with ground bone, chicken livers, chicken necks, chicken heartsHumanely raised lamb, lamb heart, lamb liver, ground lamb boneHumanely raised pork, pork heart, pork liver, ground pork bone
Protein Analysis41% min41% min37% min41% min38% min38% min
Calories233 kcal me/cup226 kcal me/cup208 kcal me/cup208 kcal me/cup226 kcal me/cup226 kcal/cup
Meets AAFCO Standards?YesYesYesYesYesYes

Whether you feed it as a meal or a mixer, Open Farm’s freeze-dried dog food is sure to please you and your pup. Pet parents love the ease of serving these scoopable morsels and have peace of mind knowing the ingredients are 100 percent traceable. Available in six flavors, these hearty recipes get 85 percent of their protein from raw animal ingredients, mixed with organic fruits and veggies. 

Highlights

  • Available in Surf & Turf, Grass-Fed Beef, Homestead Turkey, Harvest Chicken, Pasture-Raised Lamb, and Farmer’s Table Pork recipes
  • Meats come from audited higher welfare farms
  • No rendered poultry or meat meals
  • 100 percent traceable ingredients
  • Available in 3.5-, 13.5- or 22-oz bags

Things to Consider

  • Review the feeding guideline to find the appropriate feeding amount based on your dog’s weight and activity level
  • Store product in a sealed bag in a cool, dry place. 
  • Wash your hands, bowls, and serving utensils with soap and hot water after serving. 
  • If you have added water to the food, discard it after two hours.

Sample buyer review: “Open Farms Freeze Dried Raw Dog food is our new food. I did research on raw diet and was so happy to find this company. After talking with my vet, I made the switch. All 4 of my dogs love the food. They are all doing great on it and digesting it well with perfect poops. Even my most picky eater is loving this food. I love this company for being sustainable, humane and ethical. I also appreciate that the ingredients are pure and healthy with no added fillers. It is well balanced and my dogs are really enjoying all the different varieties and options. Highly recommend this company and food.”

Stella & Chewy’s Freeze Dried Raw Meal Mixers

Stella & Chewy's Meal Mixers
FlavorBeefChickenDuck and GooseLambPorkSalmon and CodTurkey
Life StageAll All All All All All All 
FormFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze dried
Protein (Ingredients)Beef, beef liver, beef kidney, beef heart, beef tripe, beef boneChicken with ground bone, chicken liver, chicken gizzardDuck with ground bone, turkey, turkey liver, goose, turkey gizzard Lamb, lamb spleen, lamb liver, lamb heart, lamb kidney, lamb bonePork, pork liver, pork bone, pork kidneyGround salmon with bones, ground cod with bonesTurkey with ground bone, turkey liver, turkey gizzard
Protein Analysis44% min48% min38% min38% min40% min50% min40% min
Calories56 kcal/1/4 cup50 kcal/1/4 cup60 kcal/1/4 cup59 kcal/1/4 cup58 kcal/1/4 cup45 kcal/1/4 cup58 kcal/1/4 cup
Meets AAFCO Standards?YesYesYesYesYesYesYes

If you’re looking for a way to kickstart your dog’s kibble, Stella & Chewy’s freeze-dried raw mixers are a tasty option to consider. Made with 95 percent meat, organ, and bones, plus organic fruits and veggies, these mixers are grain free and do not contain any added hormones or antibiotics. They are fortified with vitamins and minerals and enhanced with added probiotics and antioxidants. 

Highlights

  • Comes in a variety of flavors, including beef, chicken, lamb, and duck and goose
  • Can be served as a complete and balanced meal or a mixer/topper
  • Fortified with vitamins and minerals
  • Enhanced with added probiotics and antioxidants
  • All products tested before packaging with outside lab results posted on their website
  • Easy open, resealable bag
  • Available in 3.5 oz, 8 oz, 1.12 pound or 2.18 pound bags

Things to Consider

  • Can be fed dry or rehydrated with some cool or warm water
  • If served as a mixer, you will need to reduce other food portions accordingly
  • Store in a cool, dry place
  • Wash your hands and bowls with soap and hot water
  • If you add water to the product, throw away any leftovers after two hours

Sample buyer review: “This is our fav brand of freeze dried raw. It also rehydrates nicely. I can add some warm water to it and it absorbs it quickly. I prefer giving it to her rehydrated so I don’t like some of the freeze dried raw meals out there that are hard little rocks that won’t absorb water. This one is great.”

Instinct Raw Boost Mixers

Instinct Raw Boost Mixers
FlavorGut HealthMobility SupportSkin & CoatChickenBeef
Life StageAdultAdultAdultAdultAdult
FormFreeze dried topperFreeze dried topperFreeze dried topperFreeze dried topperFreeze dried topper
Protein (Ingredients)Chicken with ground bone, chicken liver, chicken heartChicken with ground bone, chicken liver, chicken heartChicken with ground bone, chicken liver, chicken heart, codChicken with ground bone, chicken liver, chicken heart, turkey liver, turkey heartBeef, beef liver, beef kidney, beef spleen
Protein Analysis36% min36%36%36%38%
Calories291 kcal/cup310 kcal/cup312 kcal/cup244 kcal/cup247 kcal/cup
Meets AAFCO Standards?Intermittent or supplemental feeding onlyIntermittent or supplemental feeding onlyIntermittent or supplemental feeding onlyIntermittent or supplemental feeding onlyIntermittent or supplemental feeding only

These grain-free Raw Boost Mixers from Instinct pull double-duty as a tasty freeze-dried meal topper and a functional food. They have a Gut Health recipe that is rich in fiber and live natural probiotics to help support a dog’s digestion, a Skin & Coat Health recipe packed with omega fatty acids to promote healthy skin and a shiny coat, and a Mobility Support recipe with natural glucosamine and chondroitin to help support healthy joints. These meal enhancements can help entice picky dogs to eat and can also be used as a yummy treat.

Highlights

  • Soft and easy to chew 
  • Real meat is the first ingredient
  • Made without grain, corn, wheat, soy, by-product meal, potato, artificial flavors or preservatives
  • Available in 0.75-, 5.5- and 12.5-oz bags

Things to Consider

  • Made in the USA but ingredients are globally sourced
  • This topper is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only
  • Reduce the calorie amount of your dog’s current food to avoid overfeeding
  • Serving size will depend on your dog’s weight and may range from 1/4 to ¾ cups or more per day

Sample buyer review: “My dog won’t eat plain kibble, doesn’t matter which kind. If I mix some of this in with it, and some of the other flavors, he devours it. He also has a sensitive stomach and this mixer has helped a lot with his tummy issues. He seems happier too.”

Wellness Core Bowl Boosters

Wellness Core Bowl Boosters
FlavorBeefTurkeyTurkey & ChickenWhitefish & Salmon
Life StageAdultAdultAdultAdult
FormFreeze dried topperFreeze dried topperFreeze dried meal or topperFreeze dried meal or topper
Protein (Ingredients)BeefTurkeyTurkey, chickenWhitefish, salmon
Protein Analysis60% min70% min31% min30% min
Calories219 kcal/cup ME170 kcal/cup ME411 kcal/cup ME360 kcal/cup ME 
Meets AAFCO Standards?Intermittent or supplemental feeding onlyIntermittent or supplemental feeding onlyYesYes

Wellness Core Bowl Boosters are either freeze-dried bites or air-dried nuggets (depending on the flavor) that pack a whole lot of protein. The Beef and Turkey recipes are designed as single-protein mixers or toppers that are ideal for pups with sensitive stomachs. They are made with 100 percent freeze-dried raw pieces of meat. The Turkey & Chicken and Whitefish & Salmon recipes feature 70 percent air-dried meat or fish pieces and can be served as a complete meal or a topper. They are packed with omega fatty acids to support healthy skin and coat.

Highlights

  • Four recipes to choose from
  • No wheat gluten, corn, soy, meat by-products, or artificial flavors, color, or preservatives
  • Made in the USA
  • Available in 4- or 8-oz or 2-lb bag

Things to Consider

  • Serving size depends on your dog’s weight and whether you are serving as a complete meal or a topper
  • If using as a mixer/topper, remember to reduce the serving size of your dog’s current food to avoid overfeeding
  • Wash your hands after touching the food

Sample buyer review: “My dogs love this. Even the pickiest dog I have ever had loves this. It’s easy to break up so I break soft nuggets up & sprinkle over their food.”

Primal Freeze Dried Nuggets

Primal Freeze Dried Nuggets
FlavorChickenBeef Turkey & SardineLambPorkDuckRabbitVenison
Life StageAllAllAllAllAllAllAllAll
FormFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze driedFreeze dried
Protein (Ingredients)Chicken with ground bone, chicken liversBeef hearts, beef livers,  ground beef bonesTurkey with ground bone, turkey livers, whole sardinesLamb hearts, ground lamb Bones, lamb liverPork hearts, ground pork bones, pork liversDuck with ground bone, duck liversRabbit with ground bone, rabbit liversVenison, venison hearts, ground venison bones, venison livers
Protein Analysis47% min34% min51% min34% min52% min33% min57% min54% min
Calories127 kcal/oz144 kcal/oz120 kcal/oz148 kcal/oz123 kcal/oz130 kcal/oz115 kcal/oz113 kcal/oz
Meets AAFCO Standards?YesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes

These tasty freeze-dried nuggets from Primal are shelf-stable and fairly simple to prepare: just portion, shred and rehydrate with warm water, bone broth, or goat’s milk. Choose from an array of enticing flavors, such as beef, chicken, duck, or lamb, and serve as a complete and balanced meal or a high-value treat or snack.

Highlights

  • Choose from 8 ethically sourced proteins, raised without antibiotics, steroids, or added hormones 
  • Made with up to 90% meat, organs and bone, depending on the recipe, plus certified organic produce
  • Whole food nutrition with no synthetic supplements
  • No corn, wheat, soy, lentils or legumes
  • Made in the USA
  • Available in 5.5- and 14-oz bags

Things to Consider

  • Shelf-stable and should be stored in a cool, dry place
  • Can be served dry but Primal recommends crumbling the nuggets and adding some warm water, broth or goat’s milk to hydrate before mixing and serving
  • Once rehydrated, keep refrigerated and feed within 5 days
  • Serving size will depend on your dog’s weight and can range anywhere from 5 to 40 nuggets for adult dogs. Puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs may need up to 1.5 times the amount of food recommended for adults
  • Wash your hands, working surfaces, utensils and any other items that touch or come in contact with the food with hot, soapy water
  • Refrigerate uneaten portions immediately or discard

Sample buyer review: “My seven month old Yorkie puppy loves when I add this to his food. He’s so little and I want to help him gain weight. Since he doesn’t always want to eat, this keeps his food interesting. I know some people complained about it being powder in the bag, but I haven’t had that problem. It wouldn’t matter to me because I crumble the blocks for my puppy anyway.”

How to Feed Your Dog Freeze-Dried Dog Food

Beagle eating out of his dog bowl

You’ll find freeze-dried dog food in any number of forms, from dinner patties to food toppers to bite-sized nibbles. It can become your dog’s sole diet, be mixed in or sprinkled on top of her regular food, or even be doled out as quick treats.  

Always be sure to check the specific instructions listed on the food you choose. Many formulas are intended to be served as-is—which is especially convenient if you’re using them for treats—but some must be rehydrated by crumbling into warm water. Adding water makes freeze-dried food bulkier and more filling, and is especially important for dogs who don’t drink much water on their own.

Where to Buy Freeze-Dried Dog Food

Freeze-dried dog food is widely available. You can find it everywhere from big-box pet retailers to small independent pet health food stores.  

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