There was a recent surge in pet owners considering raw human-grade, limited ingredient, food that is freeze-dried for dogs and cats. Cat food that is freeze-dried accounts for much less of the total cat food sold when compared to canned or kibble food, but it is a category that is growing.
Choosing Your Cat’s Diet
There are a lot of health risks associated with nutritional deficiencies in the diets of cats, many are untreatable and irreversible. It’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian or board-certified veterinary nutritionist when you choose a diet that is appropriate for your cat. Factors at play include medical concerns, age, or any medications your cat may take.
What is Freeze-Drying?
Freeze-drying is a technique where food is frozen and put in a vacuum so the water will go from ice to vapor. The food is then put in airtight packaging and sealed. It removes all moisture from the food, and this makes it more shelf-stable at room temperature for longer periods of time than food that is not freeze-dried.
Cat food that is freeze-dried is a raw food product. This means it has not been pasteurized or cooked with heat. It may be sold by itself as a treat or meal, or maybe used to coat kibble or mix with it.
Differences Between Freeze-Dried and Raw Food
There are several differences between unprocessed raw food and freeze-dried cat food. Raw foods have their moisture removed during the freeze-drying process. This drying process is done in order to create freeze-dried food that is shelf-stable. Food that is freeze-dried is sold commercially.
Unprocessed raw foods are made in the homes of pet owners or sold by butcher shops or local shops. This means the raw food has no alterations to attempt the decrease in bacteria or parasites, and this can be a problem when dealing with raw food. Foods that are raw and unprocessed may also not be nutritionally balanced or regulated, unless someone is specifically working with a board certified nutritionist and veterinarian to make sure their companion’s diet is nutritionally complete.
Dehydrating vs. Freeze-Drying Cat Food
Dehydrating foods and freeze-drying foods are two different techniques used to achieve a goal of removing moisture to enable a stable-shelf life. Freeze drying uses the cold to achieve this process, while dehydration uses low heat. The amount of heat is not enough for the food to be considered cooked.
Risks of Feeding a Raw Diet
There are risks to feeding cats any sort of raw diet. People and cats with immunodeficiencies or other medical conditions, as well as the old and the young, are susceptible to the risks of having raw pet food in the house.
A big concern with raw cat food is the contamination of bacteria, with E coli, salmonella, and listeria as the most common ones. There are certain meats that can also contain parasites and clostridium.
The number of pathogens in food is decreased through freeze-drying, but many of these pathogens do survive, so no diet that is raw is truly safe. Commercial diets that are freeze-dried have a lower contamination rate than raw foods that are non-processed.
Even if the producers of food are frequently testing ingredients for contamination, the foods can still easily be contaminated after the process of testing.
While cats may get sick from eating a raw diet, the bigger risk is to family members in the household. Normal cat activities such as playing, grooming, and cheek rubbing can cause humans to be in contact with contaminated saliva, not to mention handling the food bowls, food, and feces, which are all likely to be contaminated.
Not only is there a risk for pathogens, there is a big risk that both commercial raw diet and homemade are nutritionally imbalanced. Unless someone works directly with a board certified nutritionist or veterinarian to make the food for your cat at home, there is a high risk of illness because of imbalances or nutritional deficiencies.
If you choose to feed your cat food that is raw, check the labels for a complete and balanced diet, as many freeze-dried products are sold to be food toppers or treats, or fed along with other foods, and are not meant to be the only source of nutrition.
Is Freeze-Dried Cat Food Better?
There is currently no published scientific evidence that raw food is healthier for cats than cooked dry commercial or wet cat foods, although many people claim raw food is healthier. There is evidence that raw meat is more digestible than cooked meat, but it has not been determined if this one thing is worth the risk associated with feeding cats raw food.