What’s the Difference Between Kibble, Raw & Freeze Dried Pet Food?

What’s the Difference Between Kibble, Raw & Freeze Dried Pet Food?

The pet food industry is immense! At times, it can be very overwhelming for pet parents. From raw dog food suppliers to the best freeze dried food or kibble, the choices seem to be endless these days.

The abundance of options on the market, constant advertisements and advice, and an overwhelming amount of information (often inaccurate or unvalidated) can make it extremely challenging and daunting to choose the best pet food. As a small animal veterinarian, I know the challenges my clients have when choosing the best diet for their beloved furbabies.

My Journey

As a small animal veterinarian, I have always been interested in the importance of a healthy diet for pets and advising my clients on how to choose the best food. But recently, I was motivated to jump into completing my certification in Eastern Food Therapy (EFT). EFT uses diet to treat and prevent imbalances within the body. EFT utilizes knowledge of the energetics of food ingredients to tailor diets for individual animals.

Throughout my EFT journey, I have been able to compare raw pet food diets, freeze-dried pet food diets, and kibble-based pet food diets. I studied the health benefits of each kind of diet, as well as the unhealthy attributes.

So today, I am breaking down the basics on different pet food diet options for you. I also want to recommend the best food for your pet. So let’s get started!

What is a raw pet food diet?

Raw feeding means just that – feeding domestic dogs and cats a diet consisting primarily of uncooked meat, edible bones, and organs. The ingredients in raw diets can vary. Some pet owners make homemade raw diets, but commercial raw food diets are also available. However, it is important to note that it is often challenging to meet the AAFCO requirements of Complete & Balanced when feeding a raw diet.

What is a freeze-dried pet food diet?

Freeze drying is a low temperature dehydration process. You freeze the food, lowering pressure, then remove the ice before it solidifies. This process contrasts dehydration by most conventional methods evaporating water from the food using heat.

Because of the low temperatures, the quality of the rehydrated food is excellent! The food even maintains its original shape.

Freeze-dried foods are shelf stable, easy to store, and easy to take on the go. They can also easily be crafted to meet AAFCO Complete & Balanced requirements.

What is kibble for pets?

Kibble for dogs and cats is not a whole food product but rather coarsely ground meal or grain.

Kibble-based diets go through a 4-hour extrusion process at very high temperatures in order to create a shelf-stable food product. The 4-step process removes any nutrients from the by-products, fillers, and synthetic or artificial ingredients generally used. These ingredients are typically labeled as “unfit for human consumption” to begin with. The food company then sprays the kibble with synthetic nutrients to replace nutrients lost in the cooking process.

How do the options compare in cost, ingredients, and health benefits?

I did a comparison between freeze-dried diets, raw diets, and kibble-based diets from three well known pet food companies. I compared the ingredient labels, the likelihood of being balanced and complete, the possibility of bacterial contamination, as well as cost differences.

 How do the options compare in cost, ingredients, and health benefits?

Cost Comparison

  1. Kibble-based pet food diets tend to be the least costly; however, cost depends on the brand of kibble. There are many kibble pet food companies charging the same amount of money as freeze-dried or raw diets.
  2. Raw diet price varies based on whether you purchase a pet food brand or provide the ingredients yourself. ($39.99 per bag of food on average)
  3. The Side by Side Pet Food freeze-dried cost was average between the highest pricing and the lowest. ($35.99 per bag of food)

Ingredient Label Comparison

  1. The kibble-based pet food diets have artificial additives, preservatives, and chemicals.
  2. Both the freeze-dried and raw diets contain whole food nutrition ingredients.
  3. However, the raw diet contained artificial vitamins added to provide a complete and balanced diet.
  4. Freeze-dried pet food uses the natural whole ingredients to derive the vitamins and minerals needed to create a whole and balanced diet.

Potential for Bacterial Contamination

  1. A freeze-dried diet has an extremely small-to-no likelihood of bacterial contamination due to the cooking process. The process of freezing then removing moisture from the food with heat reduces the initial number of bacteria present. Additionally, Side by Side’s unique 2-step process for freeze drying is verified safe and effective by an independent third party.
  2. Kibble has a small possibility of bacterial contamination due to the fat layer sprayed on the kibble to add flavor after the extrusion cooking process.
  3. A raw diet has the most likelihood for bacterial contamination due to the meat not being cooked. Also, since it’s raw, it does not undergo any processing, including the kill step protocol Side by Side uses in their freeze dried dog food.

As a veterinarian, here’s what I recommend for my patients:

Personally, I recommend a high quality freeze-dried pet food. I feed my own dog Side by Side freeze dried pet food. I also recommend and carry the full line of Side by Side Pet Food, treats, and supplements in my veterinary hospital. After completing my training in EFT and learning more extensively about the health benefits of whole food nutrition, I became an even bigger proponent of whole food, complete and balanced nutrition for pets.

Not only does Side by Side gently freeze dry their foods, but they start with the highest quality, whole food ingredients, like whole vegetables, not powders. They use real ingredients you can see. They follow all AAFCO guidelines to ensure their diets are complete and balanced. And they follow all protocols to ensure no bacterial contamination.

I do not recommend raw food diets for pets, especially for older pets or immunocompromised pets. Due to increased possibility of bacterial contamination, it is possible for pets to transmit infection, specifically salmonella. In addition, I see slab fractures on teeth, esophageal foreign bodies from bones, and it is difficult to assess whether the diet is complete and balanced. In fact, the AVMA discourages feeding raw diets to pets because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.

Kibble-based pet food diets have been around forever. It is the primary way people learn to feed their pets. While I am passionate about higher quality, whole food nutrition, I completely understand the choice to feed pets a kibble-based diet. I believe in educated decisions based on knowledge of kibble production and what is in it.

As a veterinarian trained in Eastern Food Therapy, I will always recommend a complete and balanced whole food nutrition diet with no artificial additives, preservatives, or chemicals.  

Final Thoughts on Raw vs. Kibble vs. Freeze Dried Foods

I hope I have helped simplify and clarify the different pet food diet options available for your pets. My goal is to always educate pet parents. I want everyone to feel empowered and sure they are making the best decisions for their pet.

Dr. Alison Birken

Dr. Alison Birken is a small animal veterinarian in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. She owns Victoria Animal Hospital, is the co-founder of Forever Freckled, wife to her amazing husband Rob, mom to her 3 greatest accomplishments Luke, Leah & Hayden and dog mom to her Saint Bernard Dory

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