Raw Food that Isn’t Raw

As dog and cat owners become more aware of the ingredients that are actually in their pet’s food and how the food is made, they are often searching for healthier options.  People are realizing that there is a connection between processed pet food and many of the diseases that dogs and cats experience.  Food that is less processed will keep the nutritional value intact and can make a huge difference in the health of your pet

The most popular types of pet food are dry kibble and canned. These can both be good choices if they are made from quality ingredients, but they are subjected to a fairly high level of processing, which causes some nutritional drawbacks.  Fresh frozen raw food is the fastest growing segment of the pet food market. It is the least processed and therefore retains all of the essential nutrients.  However, some pet owners, for various reasons, simply don’t like the idea of feeding raw food.

Fortunately, there are many other options for healthier food that provides the benefits of raw, but isn’t raw.   These include: freeze-dried, dehydrated, air-dried, gently cooked, and fresh food delivery services. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Dehydrated and freeze-dried are often considered the same, but there are some key differences.  Both start with raw food ingredients, but dehydrated raw goes through a heated drying process.  This process creates a hard cooked texture, similar to oatmeal, that requires rehydration before serving.  Once rehydrated, it resembles a meaty porridge.  There are also dehydrated “base mixes” that can be used as the starting point to add the protein of your choice and other fresh ingredients. This is a terrific option for pet owners that like the idea of home-cooking their pet’s meals, but want to be certain that the meals are complete and balanced with the right mix of nutrients. 

Freeze-dried pet food is frozen raw food with the moisture removed by applying vacuum pressure. This retains the vitamins and minerals found in the fresh, raw food. Freeze-dried food is easier than raw for pets to chew and digest. It is very convenient, shelf stable and great for traveling. Freeze-dried dog food can also be rehydrated before serving.  Freeze-dried brands include Smallbatch, Steve's Real Food, and Vital Essentials.  

Air-dried food produces a nutrient-dense food that is ready to feed right from the bag – just like you would with dry kibble.  Air-drying slowly and gently evaporates moisture from the raw ingredients, while preserving the natural enzymes, nutrients, and vitamins.  This offers nutrition very similar to a raw diet.  Air-dried food requires no refrigeration and there is no need to add water. 

Lightly cooked food is made of the same fresh, wholesome ingredients as a raw food diet – no added fillers or carbohydrates - but is cooked just enough to destroy bacteria. This gentle cooking process retains most of the natural vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants so there is no need to add in synthetic vitamins and minerals. Think of it as home-style cooking for your pet – without the hassle.  Because lightly cooked foods contain minimally processed ingredients and no preservatives, the finished products are stored frozen.  

Refrigerated fresh pet food (Freshpet) found in grocery stores and big box stores are also considered lightly cooked. However, these foods do include some added carbohydrates like rice bran and soy flour along with some controversial additives like carrageenan and cassia gum. 

Fresh food delivery services send pre-packaged food directly to you on a regular basis, according to the subscription that you sign up for. The cooking and storage methods, as well as the ingredients vary, and some will customize recipes specifically for your dog’s needs. These online companies generally deliver extremely high-quality food.  But as you might expect, they are also one of the most expensive options.  One drawback of ordering pet food online is that it doesn’t support your local community.  Some also do not like the environmental aspect of using so much packaging.  

Every pet owner’s situation is different and every dog is different.  You have to work within your budget, your family situation, and your lifestyle to determine what type of food is best for your pet.  But everyone should try to minimize the amount of processed food, and increase the amount of fresh food. It’s one of the best things you can do for your pet’s overall health.