What Are Hypoallergenic Dog Foods? What to Feed Your Dog with Food Allergies

What Are Hypoallergenic Dog Foods?
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Dogs that are diagnosed with a food allergy will need dietary changes to track down the cause of the allergy, and determine new options. The main options your vet will recommend are a novel protein diet or an hypoallergenic diet. So what are these?

If your dog is licking and chewing at its paws excessively or scratching its face so vigorously that it leads to sores, there’s a good chance your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction, and it could be due to food. Dogs that are diagnosed with a food allergy require dietary changes to track down the cause of the allergy and determine new dietary options. The main options your vet will recommend are a novel protein diet or a hypoallergenic diet.

How Do Novel Protein Diets Work?

A novel diet, which replaces your dog’s current food that may have had a variety of different protein sources with a single protein and a single carbohydrate source, is a helpful way to track down the cause of the food allergy. It’s very important that this new diet includes two ingredients that your dog hasn’t previously tried. In addition to a thorough history of your dog's diet over the past three to six months, this novel diet can help your vet to determine which ingredients cause your dog to experience an allergy.

Picking Out a Novel Protein Food

When you’re picking out a new food for your dog, make sure there aren't additional ingredients in the food. For instance, it's possible that you might purchase a lamb and potato food for your pet, but that it will actually contain lamb, potato, corn, and chicken. Since those other carbohydrates and proteins can be the cause of your dog's food allergy, having them included in the food defeats the purpose! Your dog’s symptoms will likely stick around, and you won’t get any further in determining which food causes your dog’s allergic reaction.

Some over-the-counter foods may be made on the same machinery used to package multiple variants of food, which could mean that your lamb and potato food will be cross-contaminated and contain trace amounts of other proteins and carbohydrates.

For a sensitive dog, what's recommended is a food trial with a veterinary therapeutic novel protein diet. This will eliminate the possibility of the food containing trace amounts of other ingredients. It’s also a good idea to consult with your vet before trying a novel protein diet. You’ll want your dog to have options of new foods to try, and experimenting on your own could result in your dog developing more allergies and eliminating the main forms of proteins and carbohydrates.

What Is a Hypoallergenic Diet?

Two things happen to dog food to make it hypoallergenic: the first is that the protein is hydrolyzed, or chopped into small pieces that are difficult for the immune system to recognize, which prevents an allergic reaction from occurring. The second thing that makes food hypoallergenic is that the proteins are stripped away from the carbohydrates, making them a pure source of starch.

There are only a few of these diets on the market now -- such as Purina HA, Hill’s z/d Diet, Royal Canin Hypoallergenic HP, and Royal Canin Anallergen Diet. These diets are made from protein sources like soy, chicken, or even feathers. But don’t be put off, these proteins in the food are actually no longer soy or feathers, but actually small protein chains. As long as the dog’s protein requirement is being met then the source, in this case, doesn’t really matter. While this type of diet generally isn’t inexpensive, if these foods can curb your dog’s scratching, open sores, or persistent diarrhea, they may well be worth the cost.

The Best Food Options For Your Dog With Allergies

There are very few types of hypoallergenic dog foods available in the market. If your dog has allergies, then it is important that you find these very rare types of dog food for your dog. In order to understand what a dog with food allergies requires, you need to learn more about what they are and how they are caused. The allergic reactions that dogs experience from food can be described as many things ranging from simple ‘allergies’ to ‘hypersensitivity’. An allergy or hypersensitivity to food occurs when the pet has already been exposed to that food. However, the ‘intolerance’ of food can occur even when your dog is having that specific food for the first time. Allergies, hypersensitivity, and intolerance all display the same symptoms and can be difficult to tell about without professional help. While humans experience allergic reactions like vomiting or shortness of breath, the allergic reactions experienced by our canine friends are often rashes and growths on the surface of their skin. These rashes and growths can be both irritating and painful.

Common Signs Of Food Allergies:

The most common sign that your dog might be allergic to something is if they’re constantly itching. It can be isolated to just one part (like the ears and feet), or it can also be spread through their whole body. Some dogs also experience gassiness, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Causes Of Food Allergies:

Allergies in dogs are usually from proteins commonly found in the plant-based or animal ingredients in their diet. The broken-down molecules in the protein can be misidentified by the body as potential threats. The most common food allergens are dairy, beef, chicken, and wheat. The symptoms of food allergies can develop from a young age itself and develop over time if left unnoticed.

What Foods Can A Dog With Allergies Eat?

After your veterinarian properly diagnoses your dog’s allergy, he will work with you to come up with a diet plan that consists of hypoallergenic foods for your dog. Prescription hypoallergenic dog food is more effective and of higher quality than food that can be bought over the counter. Dog food that’s bought over the counter may contain additional allergens that can make your dog sicker than he already is. Eliminating valuable sources of protein and dairy from your dog’s diet without consulting a veterinarian first is a really bad idea. The blind elimination of essential nutrients can result in an imbalance in your dog’s body that can cause adverse effects on his health. By doing this, you are just putting a damper on the problem and not actually identifying the cause. Consult your veterinarian at the first sign that your dog may be suffering from an allergy.

Back to Your Dog Food Questions Answered
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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