Q: I am currently feeding a freeze-dried diet to my dog. This is what the breeder recommended. He likes it, but it is costing me $200 per month to feed him. What do you think of those diets, and do I really need to feed this diet or is there something better and less expensive?
A: Wow! That’s getting close to my food bill for the teenagers at our house. I applaud you for wanting to do everything that you can for your pet to take care of him and follow your breeder’s advice, but I think we can look into freeze-dried diets a little more closely and see that it actually is not the best food for your pet.
Freeze-drying is a way to dehydrate food for long term storage. Instant coffee is freeze-dried to give it a longer shelf life. Lots of other foods are freeze-dried, too. There are even freeze-dried food kits for people for emergency situations. These may become something we all want to look into in the event of a crisis or a weather event that leaves us unable to go to our favorite grocery store.
For our purposes, freeze-dried dog food is a way to offer a raw diet to our pets that we’re able to keep and store for longer periods of time. The food companies that are selling these diets call it a raw diet alternative. They say this because they don’t want to link their freeze-dried diets with raw diets.
But it is worth noting that it is not an alternative, but it actually is a raw diet. You simply have to add water to the hard flaky squares of raw diet before you can feed it to your pets, still raw.
I believe none of the major dog food manufactures — like Purina, Hills, Royal Canin and Iams — have these diets. They all have nutritionists on staff, and it is a common thought among veterinary nutritionists that raw diets pose a significant health risk to pets and people who live with them.
The health risk stems from the fact that raw meat based diets are a wonderful breeding ground for bacteria such as salmonella and listeria. Both of these bacteria have multiple strains that cause disease and even death in people and pets.
Freeze-drying does not kill salmonella or listeria. In fact, there is a veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College in Canada named Dr. Scott Weese who uses freeze-drying of bacteria — such as salmonella and listeria — in order to preserve them for study at a later date.
Weese is a specialist in public health and zoonotic diseases and talked about this in a June 2018 report. Freeze-drying does kill another type of bacteria called Campylobacter, but Campylobacter does not cause serious diseases and complications from diarrhea that salmonella causes.
Recently, there was an FDA recall (Feb. 14) of Aunt Jeni’s Home Made Frozen Raw diet due to salmonella contamination in the Washington, D.C., area. On Jan. 15, Happy Hounds in Wales had salmonella. In Nov. 14, 2019, Go Raw Quest for cats was recalled; and in September 2019, Performance Raw was taken off the shelves, too.
So you can see a raw diet, whether served as is or freeze-dried, is a dangerous diet to feed.
The danger lies in the ease of transmission of the bad bacteria in the food. When a dog eats the diet, it gets the food all over his face and in his hair and whiskers. He then wipes his face on the carpet/furniture/owner’s pants. If you touch any of these surfaces, you are exposed to salmonella.
Also, all bowls, storage areas and even your yard are possible sources of contamination. Salmonella is passed in stool onto your grass and onto the fur of pets, too. These are the same pets that sleep with you in your bed. Transmission can happen before you notice your pet is clinical, and very quickly too. Why put yourself and your pet at risk?
You are right, these foods are super expensive. Please note that more expense does not equal a better diet. In this case, I would recommend a regular diet — either canned or dry — from a major national dog food manufacturer. Above all else, it should be cooked and it should have grain and it should be completely balanced with all vitamins and minerals.
So please save yourself some money and find an alternative diet for your pet. It ultimately boils down to our pets just want to eat something that tastes good to them. They don’t care about the cost or the breeder recommendations, which are made in good faith but not based on science.
Your veterinarian and I want to keep both of you healthy for the long term and that means, based on science, there are better options. Good luck.