Thursday, April 11, 2013

Introduction to Raw Diets Part III

Freeze Dried Raw Diets

This is part III in our seven part series on everything Raw Diets. In Part I we addressed many of the frequently asked questions associated with feeding a raw diet. In Part II we answered more questions and discussed the pro's and con's of HPP processing. In Part III we will address the benefits and issues for those feeding or wanting to feed freeze dried raw as an alternative or as a compliment to raw frozen diets.

Typical freeze dried raw patties before adding water.
 “What does freeze dried mean?”

Commercial freeze drying has existed for many years and it is no wonder that raw dog food manufacturers have adopted the practice. These companies produce a highly volatile product that spoils easily. The freeze drying process allows manufacturers to take their established raw frozen diets and extend the shelf life dramatically without causing major nutrient damage. The process of freeze drying eliminates between 97% and 99% of the moisture content after the product if frozen and the surrounding pressure is reduced. This allows the moisture to be eliminated as a gas, rather than turning back to a liquid. What is important to note is that the product is still a raw diet. They do not apply any excessive heat to the product so no cooking takes place.

“Why should I feed a freeze dried raw diet to my pet?”

If you had to choose between a raw frozen diet or a freeze dried raw diet, you should choose both! Freeze dried raw diets are much more versatile than raw frozen diets. From a beginner’s perspective, freeze dried raw is a near perfect first step into feeding a raw diet. The simplest method of incorporating raw into your pet’s current diet is to use the food as a topper. To do so, either grate the patties or crumble them with your hands and place over top of the current food. It is a low cost, low stress way to introduce a raw diet to your pet. It is also a fair palate test as well, although some pets prefer freeze dried raw diets in a reconstituted form. To feed the food in a reconstituted form, soak the food with the manufacturer’s recommended amount of water. You can also add more water if you want it to be a looser mixture with liquid gravy. This method is also good for those pets that are particularly finicky.

The major advantage to freeze dried raw is how shelf stable it is. For example, look at Hurricane Sandy. This particular storm was devastating for many people including those who feed their pets a raw diet. In such a hectic situation a person already accustomed to feeding a freeze dried raw diet wouldn’t have to worry about how to transition their pet from a raw frozen diet over to a kibble or canned based diet in an emergency. If a person feeding raw frozen didn’t have freeze dried on hand as a back up they would be forced to go out in a very dangerous situation to get food for their pet, and even if they managed to get kibble or some cans it is very possible the dog would experience gastrointestinal problems after being on a raw diet for some time.

Financially speaking, we know people that lost hundreds of dollars in raw diets and raw bones as a result of that storm and the extended power outages that followed. While you couldn’t prevent all of that loss, we do know a select few that purchased freeze dried raw instead of raw frozen the week before the storm in preparation of what could, and eventually did happen. This saved them both the headache of changing foods and money lost in spoilage.   

Another big advantage to freeze dried raw diets is that it travels very well. It is easy to pack; and it is convenient for those people that need to feed their pet raw while on a vacation, while traveling to and from a dog show, or while staying with a friend or family member. It also eliminates the need to find a local raw retailer or a constant supply of ice or access to a freezer.

For smaller dogs, niblets are a great choice!

There are several different convenient forms of freeze dried raw diets. It is available in the typical patties, in smaller niblets, and even in powder form.  As far as preparing a freeze dried raw meal, it is a much bigger convenience than raw frozen diets. It is pre-portioned for you (and not frozen together) and you only have to break it up into a crumble or reconstitute it. It is far cleaner then raw frozen diets which can definitely be messy at times. You do not need a dedicated cutting board or space in your freezer. If your pet does not eat all of the meal, you can refrigerate the reconstituted portion for up to a few days, although I wouldn’t recommend going beyond three days. The longer you refrigerate the portion, the more you can expect air to damage the nutrient content and you run the risk of spoilage. For those accustomed to feeding raw frozen diets, the biggest convenience comes from not having to plan your day around pre-portioning and defrosting your pet’s food.

“Is freeze dried raw healthier than kibble or canned diets?”

Freeze dried raw is healthier from a strict nutritional sense. It is healthier for the same reasons that raw frozen diets are healthier. Raw foods are more vibrant, and generally contain higher quality ingredients and fewer preservatives than either kibble or cans. When dealing with manufacturers of kibble and cans you have to really inspect their ingredient panels with care, as some ingredients listed on the label can represent many different quality levels within that same ingredient terminology. You have to ask a lot of questions to become familiar and confident in a company. Feeding freeze dried raw diets will have the same health benefits as feeding raw frozen diets. You can read the full list of benefits found here in part one of the raw blog series.

 “Is freeze dried raw safe?”

Yes, freeze dried raw diets (as well as raw frozen diets) are safe, but there are a few precautions you should take while feeding this particular type of diet though. You may want to avoid freeze dried raw if your pet is prone to bloat. Different recipes expand at different rates and to different sizes in the stomach once moisture thoroughly soaks into the food. If there is any concern with your pet experiencing bloat, I would not recommend feeding a freeze dried raw diet without consulting your veterinarian, your breeder, and the manufacturer. Some products expand to several times the original size while some remain nearly the same. With something potentially deadly such as bloat why risk the chance? For pets that are susceptible to bloat, raw frozen diets and air dried raw diets may prove to be better options. Always seek professional assistance when dealing with life threatening complications with your pets.  

Let me also remind you that while the food isn’t frozen, the food is still raw and you still need to treat it accordingly. Wash any surface where the raw food comes in contact with. You should wash your hands after handling the food as well. With that said, there is good news. Most pets do well on a freeze dried raw diet and there are more options to choose from now more than ever!

“How do I transition to a freeze dried raw diet?”

When transitioning to a 100% freeze dried raw diet, care should be taken while introducing the new food. We suggest following all of the recommendations on the label by the manufacturer. Most recommend that you mix the freeze dried raw with the food you are currently feeding your pet over a period of five to ten days.  If you did not want to feed freeze dried raw as the sole meal to your pet you would mix small portions into your current food. Freeze dried raw breaks apart very easily, and our customers have had great success using it to entice finicky eaters. When feeding freeze dried to cats we recommend thoroughly reconstituting it with water per the manufacturer’s guidelines. If you choose not to reconstitute it ensure that your cat has an abundance of clean, available water and drinks thoroughly.

If you experience problems while transitioning your pet to freeze dried raw, you may need to prolong the transition period that was recommended by the manufacturer. Every pet is different, and every pet will transition differently and at different speeds. One thing that can help during the transition is a good digestive supplement. You can read more about these and why they are beneficial in the previous blog, “Introduction to Raw DietsPart II”

                                                                “Are freeze dried diets for me?”

Look how happy raw diets make this little guy!
You have to answer that question based on your situation and your pet’s overall health.  Some pets have dietary restrictions or sensitivities that will not allow them to eat freeze dried raw diets. Some freeze dried raw diets are too high in protein or fat for some pets that are less active, overweight, prone to becoming overweight, or with more serious underlying health problems. Most freeze dried raw diets are more expensive than kibble based diets and raw frozen diets as well, and in this economy not everyone can afford to feed medium or large size pets this type of diet. The higher price point is due to the concentration of nutrition found in freeze dried. You aren’t paying for moisture content, so there is more substance in a bag of freeze dried raw. You are also paying for the conveniences that freeze dried diets afford you to take advantage of.  For smaller pets, or if you are feeding it as a topper for larger pets, freeze dried raw diets are one of the many options you have in your raw food arsenal.

 In part 4 of this Introduction to Raw Diets blog series, we will introduce another type of raw diet, the air dried raw diet. We will explain the process of creating this unique product type, and will compare it to both raw frozen diets and freeze dried diets. Ultimately, you will see how it is yet another option in the raw feeder’s repertoire.