As a pet owner, you must have seen or heard about hypoallergenic pet food. You will always find it as the more expensive category under the brand of dog food you buy. So chances are that you veer away from it when shopping. When your dog suddenly shows signs of dog food allergies, however, you can’t help but be curious about this type of dog food.
What exactly is hypoallergenic pet food?
As the name suggests, hypoallergenic dog food is a special category of dog food that has the least chance of causing allergies.
So what’s in this type of food that makes it so special?
There are three types of food under this category. These are:
|Types Of Dog Food||Ingredients|
|Novel or Exotic Protein Dog Food||Made of uncommon meats or protein sources. Examples of these are kangaroo, buffalo, rabbit, and lamb meats.|
|Limited- or Single- Ingredient Diet||Made from only one or two ingredients. This type of food usually has one protein source and one carbohydrate source.|
|Prescription Diet||Made from hydrolyzed protein.|
How do these special types of food work?
As described above, these three options differ from each other in composition. Understandably, they work differently, too.
Novel dog food
It is made from ingredients not commonly used in the commercial production of dog food.
It works based on the principle that allergy is an immune reaction to ingredients that a dog has been exposed to over a long period of time.
Since the ingredients in novel foods are rare, there’s less chance that dogs have been exposed to them. In other words, dogs have not developed allergies on them yet.
Limited-ingredient diet (LID) dog food
It has fewer ingredients for a dog to react to. With usually only one protein and one carb source, this has a low chance of triggering an allergy. Oftentimes, the proteins used are novel meats.
Prescription diet for dog food allergies
It is made from hydrolyzed protein ingredients. This means that protein components had already been broken down too much smaller components. This way they’re so tiny for the immune system to detect.
Hydrolyzed food is also very easy to digest which is why it also works for dogs with food intolerance.
When you inspect labels, you may notice that prescription diets sometimes contain typical allergy triggers, like chicken and beef. This is based on the principle that proteins that had been broken down into forms that are acceptable to the immune system cease to be allergens. In other words, they escape detection because they had been chemically modified.
Does a hypoallergenic diet cure dog food allergies?
No. Hypoallergenic diets don’t cure or get rid of food allergies in dogs.
What they do is stop the symptoms.
They provide your dog with nourishment without causing further allergies. While you and the vet are busy finding the allergy trigger, your dog has to eat something. It’s like this. If you feed your dog with a hypoallergenic diet, it will help your dog recover. The symptoms will stop. But when you start feeding it with its old food again, the symptoms will recur. So the allergy is not cured.
At that point, you still have no idea what it was in the previous food that caused the allergies. So if your dog happens to eat another dog food that may contain the unidentified allergen, the symptoms will flare up again. You will continue to be uncertain about which types of food are safe or unsafe for your dog.
The point here is that if you stop at this point, the hypoallergenic diet will not be worth all the effort and time you spent on it.
Its true worth is not in curing allergy but in empowering you to handle your dog’s allergy better.
If you know what the real cause of your dog’s allergy is, you will know what to feed it. You will not be constantly uncertain and afraid.
So what is the proper way to use hypoallergenic food?
Hypoallergenic diets are used as base diets while diagnostic procedures are underway. This is how it’s done:
- After other possible causes had been ruled out, the vet’s job will be to confirm a food allergy. You will have to stop feeding your dog with its regular food. Meantime, your dog will be placed on a hypoallergenic diet.
- Observe your dog closely during this time. Symptoms should calm down. It will take from 3-4 weeks for the allergy symptoms to fully disappear. When this happens, it confirms two things. First, your dog suffers from a food allergy. Second, your dog’s previous dog food contains the allergen.
- Identifying the allergen becomes the next task. Since the allergen is still at large, the base diet must be continued. The main suspects are the proteins although other ingredients are not totally innocent at this point.
- When all symptoms have cleared up, introduce one ingredient from the previous dog food at a time. For example, if the previous dog food contained chicken as the main protein source, add chicken bits to the base diet. Observe closely, and take note of your observations. If symptoms recur, it suggests that chicken (in the example) is an allergen. Stop adding chicken to the base diet. If symptoms disappear once again after removing the suspected allergen, it confirms that your dog is allergic to chicken.
- Do the same with the other ingredients from your dog’s previous food. Why? The reason: the chances are high that your dog is allergic to more than one ingredient. Do the same procedure again until you have done it for all ingredients in the previous food.
- With your vet, you may then plan out your dog’s diet based on the results of this elimination diet. The new diet plan may or may not include the hypoallergenic food you used in pinning down the allergens. The process is long, but this is the gold standard for treating dog food allergies.
The long and short of hypoallergenic pet food
Does your dog really need it?
If your dog suffers from dog food allergies, then yes!
But there’s more to it than that. You need to use this as a base diet for your dog because it will help you, too. Done correctly it will help you become a better decision-maker and pet parent to your dog when treating your dog with allergies.