How Is Dog Food Made?

how is dog food made
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Feeding your dog a fresh, whole food, raw diet is the best way to ensure he gets all the essential nutrients. But when feeding commercial foods, those nutrients diminish based on the type of processing used.

So, how is dog food made? Let’s take a look at various levels of processing.

How Is Dry Dog Food Made?

Extruded foods (kibble) are, by definition, ultra-processed foods. That’s because they’re heated 4 separate times during production. This causes major degradation and loss of active enzymes, vitamins, fats and proteins. 

(Note: Amino acids are heat stable; phytonutrients aren’t usually affected or are made more bioavailable due to breakdown of surrounding tissues.) 

Kibble makes up the vast majority of dog foods sold. It’s made in a machine called an extruder. Here’s how it works:

  • An electric motor spins a long screw within a barrel. 
  • As it turns it creates friction and heat.
  • Heat cooks the food as the screw pushes it through the barrel.
  • Wet food exits the extruder, and it’s dried in a type of wind tunnel. Then it’s sprayed with liquid fat that soaks into the warm dry kibble. 
  • Next, it’s dusted with different powders including flavors to enhance palatability … and nutrients. This is when antioxidants, mold inhibitors … and vitamins or trace minerals are added to replace the ones destroyed during all the heat processing.

Your dog can suffer serious health effects from a diet of ultra-processed food consumption. They include:

  • Weight gain, obesity 
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes 
  • Cardiovascular diseases 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Leaky gut 
  • Food sensitivities or allergies
  • Depression, conditions of frailty and weakness

RELATED: Here’s how to make kibble more nutritous for your dog ..

How is Canned Dog Food Made?

Canned dog foods are highly processed foods. They’re made in an industrial-size pressure cooker with temperatures as high as 275 °F. The more carbohydrate in the food, the higher the temperature. And the foods are heated twice during processing.  

Here’s what you’ll find in a pet food canning plant:

  • A mixer 
  • (Often) A steam jacketed kettle for preheating
  • A filling machine to fill and seal cans
  • The cooker or retort to sterilize cans/pouches of food
  • A labeling machine that also stacks cans into a box on a pallet for shipping

The resulting foods are sterile. That means there aren’t any bacteria, mold or viruses within the sealed cans. But here are some damaging effects of heat processing:

  • Destroys B vitamins and vitamin C. 
  • Oxidizes fragile fatty acids like EPA and DHA. 
  • Inactivates enzymes that aid in digestion
  • Denatures (distorts) proteins, that can cause allergies and sensitivities 

Canning is a process that allows dog food formulators to become creative – and economical – with the ingredients. Your dog’s beef stew or roast chicken dinner may in fact be mostly pea protein isolate and tapioca starch. 

Canned food is also a heavier product to ship. It’s not as convenient as kibble, but it’s easier to store than fresh or frozen. However, it can vary in nutrition from high to low, depending on the manufacturer. And the price varies widely as well.  

RELATED: What you need to know about canned dog food …

How Is Freeze-Dried Dog Food Made?

A machine used to freeze-dry dog food is a vacuum dryer. It allows the frozen water in dog food to effervesce. This means It goes directly from a solid to a gas, without passing through a liquid state, if the air pressure is low enough. 

Processing of freeze-dried dog food is minimal and it’s done without heat. When food is dried without heat, it avoids damaging the natural enzymes in food that aid in digestion. Heat causes denaturation which changes the molecular structure of a protein’s natural state. An example is the change in an egg white when it’s cooked. Its state is altered and isn’t reversible. The same holds true for enzymes that will no longer function as they should. 

Freeze drying also allows for better palatability, texture and taste. Freeze-dried foods are just as convenient as kibble … but much healthier. There’s a significant benefit to your dog … they’re usually very low in carbohydrates … and freeze-drying doesn’t cause loss of nutrients. The main drawback to freeze-dried foods is they can be expensive. 

RELATED: The pros and cons of freeze-dried dog food … 

Dehydrated Or Air Dried Dog Food

Dehydrated dog foods are an lower quality alternative to freeze-dried. That’s because dehydrated or air dried dog foods use heat. These foods may also be described as “gently cooked” or “lightly baked.” But they’re all exposed to heat. The food is cooked or dried at low temperatures for an extended period of time. 

Most dehydrated, baked, and cooked foods undergo temperatures between 118 and 200F. But temperatures as low as 110F are still high enough to inactivate enzymes and denature (distort) proteins. And even moderate heat can break down B vitamins and vitamin C, and may cause fragile fatty acids like EPA and DHA to oxidize. 

How Is Frozen Raw Dog Food Made?

Frozen raw dog foods need little explanation and they undergo little to no processing.

Making frozen dog food is simple. There’s a mixer, a packaging machine, and a freezer. There’s no loss of nutrients during processing so your dog will get all of the nutrition from the original food ingredients. 

But frozen dog food isn’t the most convenient choice for shipping and storing. That’s why many raw feeding dog owners have freezers dedicated to their dog’s frozen food needs. 

Some pre-made frozen raw dog foods are high pressure pasteurized to eliminate pathogenic bacteria. Laboratory analysis shows there is some, but not much, nutrient loss from the HPP process. While some raw feeders prefer to avoid these more processed foods, claiming they’re not truly raw … the process does reduce costly recalls for the manufacturers. And if your vet is anti-raw feeding, she may be more comfortable with HPP foods. 

RELATED:  The good and the bad of HPP dog food …

As you can see, when you get closer to whole, raw foods, there’s less processing. That means there are fewer opportunities to heat and destroy nutrients. So when choosing food for your dog, you should be aware that the more convenient a food is, the more processed it is. And that means less nutrition for your dog. 


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