What is Hypoallergenic Dog Food?
Hypoallergenic dog food is designed for dogs that suffer from dietary allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances. Just as a human who has the celiac disease will eat a gluten-free diet, a dog that suffers from an allergy must also remove that allergen from its diet to avoid suffering painful or harmful symptoms.
The majority of dogs do not need hypoallergenic dog food and do not suffer from a dietary sensitivity or allergy that justifies switching to hypoallergenic dog food. However, those dogs that do have a severe allergy or sensitivity will need a diet that is compatible with that allergy or sensitivity that they experience. If ignored, an allergy or sensitivity can cause your dog serious harm, distress, or even death.
Many dog owners would be surprised to know that there isn’t a strict definition of what constitutes a hypoallergenic dog food, and there is a wide range of varieties available to trial and experiment with. Each of the below varieties of hypoallergenic food has its advantages, and you should carefully consider which option best suits your dog before implementing it into a dog’s diet.
Limited Ingredient Dog Food
By far, the most common form of hypoallergenic dog food, Limited Ingredient formulas focus on containing a concise and limited ingredient list. Their ingredient lists usually only comprise of a single or two sources of meat or fish and a small range of fruit and vegetable ingredients.
Below is an example of the ingredient list of a Limited Ingredient dog food formula from Zignature. As you can see, the formula below only contains a small number of Pork and Legume ingredients which alines with what a Limited Ingredient formula should contain.
This methodology can allow the process of identifying an allergy to be sped up as the vast majority of ingredients are eliminated from the dog’s diet.
Dog owners should be able to quickly become aware of the adverse reactions that their dogs were experiencing have stopped, and then they can assume that those reactions were caused by an ingredient that was present in the existing formula but is no longer present in this new limited ingredient formula.
However, in some cases, adverse reactions may continue. If this is the case, it would be wise to trial an alternative Limited Ingredient formula that does not contain a similar ingredient list to the previously trialed formula. If the symptoms then subsided after trialing this second formula, one could assume that one of the ingredients in the first trialed Limited Ingredient formula was the culprit.
An essential stage in this process that is often skipped or overlooked is the reintroduction of ingredients to narrow down the exact allergen. If this stage is not complete, then you will only know that it is an unknown ingredient in the previous formula causing the allergy rather than the specific ingredient.
Also, once any allergens have been identified, suitable food that does not contain them can be more easily found and selected. In recent years, many of the most popular dog food brands have started to produce limited ingredient formulas. Some of these brands include Taste of the Wild, Acana, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Canidae.
However, while there is a general consensus on what Limited Ingredient dog food is, as the pet food institute points out, there is no regulatory definition, and its application can vary.
Prescription or Veterinary Dog Food
Prescription or Veterinary dog food formulas are recipes that have been specially formulated and designed to contain hypoallergenic ingredients and, in some cases, medication. While many Prescription or Veterinary formulas have similarities to Limited Ingredient formulas, they are often only prescribed or sold directly by vets and veterinary practices.
The sale of these formulas directly is to avoid them being wrongly prescribed to dogs who the formulas are not appropriate for. Depending on the type of medication present within the formula, the food could actually have a net adverse effect, which is why it is vitally important that it is prescribed by a professional.
Understandably some consumers prefer this more direct and hands-on approach by their veterinary professional as there is a significant quantity of marketing and misleading information pushed on consumers concerning dog food.
One would hope that the vast majority of vets prescribe the most suitable food for the dog in question and not what formula will make them the most significant profit. As you can imagine, many prescription dog food recipes, especially those that contain medication, are quite costly, and the veterinary practices get a cut of the profits.
There are prescription formulas available that aim to counter other common health issues that aren’t related to allergies or intolerances. This includes arthritis, weight gain, and skin and coat issues.
Novel Ingredient Dog Food
Novel Ingredient Dog Foods are far less common than the other hypoallergenic varieties, but they can be just as effective for some sensitive dogs. Novel formulas contain ingredients that a dog may not have been previously exposed to and are therefore less likely to be allergic or sensitive to. While the source of allergies in both dogs and humans is a controversial and often misunderstood subject, there is some basis to the previously described logic.
Some typical examples of Novel Meats include Kangaroo, Buffalo, Rabbit, and Pheasant. In addition to these, there are some even more uncommon ingredients such as Aligator, which most humans are unlikely to have encountered.
Unfortunately, ingredients such as these are often expensive or difficult to source, which can make the formulas that utilize them more costly and scarce than formulas that make use of more traditional ingredients.
However, in recent years, as many of these meat ingredients have become more popular for both human and dog consumption, their prices have begun to become more reasonable, and you would be surprised in both the number of formulas available but also at their cost.
We have two articles that go into detail about a novel ingredient and showcase the best formulas available that contain that specific ingredient. Be sure to check them out if they are of interest to you or your canine friend.
All three of the above subcategories of hypoallergenic dog food have significant differences, but many hypoallergenic dog food recipes could come under more than one of these categories. For example, there are Limited Ingredient dog foods that contain novel ingredients and Prescription foods that also appear to be Limited Ingredient foods. This is precisely why it’s hard for ourselves or anyone else to define what hypoallergenic dog food is and why it is open to interpretation.
Below is an example of a formula from Earthborn Holistic that could be interpreted as both a Novel Meat formula and a Limited Ingredient Formula. As you can see, the formula makes use of an uncommon meat ingredient in Rabbit, but it also has a very limited number of additional ingredients, including Peas and Pumpkin.
Causes and Symptoms of Food Allergies for Dogs
While there is a range of potential causes for dietary allergies, genetic factors play the most prominent role. The fine details relating to how or why these genetic traits arise are not precisely understood.
However, there are significant studies and research underway to dig deeper into this subject, and there is hope that more information will be discovered in the near future. Perhaps one-day allergies can be prevented from developing or cured.
All we can say for now is that if a dog’s parents suffered from dietary allergies, then the dog is also likely to suffer from similar allergies. This is an important reason to try and get a record of any issues your dog’s parents encountered when you adopt them, if possible. Sadly, for dogs adopted from shelters, this task could be almost impossible.
Unsurprisingly, no definitive symptom or behavior will diagnose a dog with a food allergy with certainly. However, there are some common symptoms of food allergies that the majority of dogs with dietary allergies encounter. Some of the most common of these symptoms are as follows.
- Skin Rash
- Ear Infections
We highly recommend you visit a veterinary professional if your dog suffers from these symptoms repeatedly as there this could suggest both a severe allergy or other serious health-related issue that could need immediate medical attention. You and your vet should work together to narrow down the cause and provide a solution for your dog to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.
As we mentioned earlier, if you choose to change to a limited ingredient dog food formula and you notice that any of the above symptoms dissipate or are reduced, then there is a reasonable chance that an ingredient your dog was previously consuming was the cause of such symptoms.
An interesting point of note is that some studies suggest that only 10% of allergies that dogs suffer from are dietary allergies. An important consideration of such studies is that just because your dog is suffering from any of the above-mentioned symptoms such as itchy skin, does not mean that they are suffering from a food or dietary allergy.
Other allergens such as fleas or environmental factors can cause similar symptoms and should be thoroughly investigated and considered. If these steps are not taken, the dog in question could suffer for longer as a change in diet will have no effect.
We also recommend you read the American College of Veterinary Nutrition’s response to their FAQ question “does my pet have a good allergy?” if you would like more information on diagnosing food allergies.
Dog Food Allergy or Dog Food Intolerance?
The difference between a dog food allergy and a dog food intolerance is often misunderstood and confused. However, the difference between the two is surprisingly simple.
An allergy is when the immune system reacts negatively to something. This adverse reaction can have severe consequences and can, in extreme cases, be fatal or life-changing. As a consequence, it is vitally important to avoid these allergens to eliminate these acute effects.
To better understand this, it could be compared to a human with a severe peanut allergy. The individual in question must avoid peanuts constantly else suffer a violent reaction. This can lead to schools or office environments that have to be entirely nut or peanut-free to reduce or eliminate risk.
Food intolerance, on the other hand, is where a dog has trouble digesting a specific ingredient. An intolerance can cause a variety of symptoms, including discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea. While not as life-threatening as an allergy, these ingredients should still be avoided to minimize any adverse symptoms.
Similar to the above analogy, an example of a dietary intolerance in humans could be dairy products or alcohol. Many humans are mildly intolerant to dairy products or alcohol and may suffer from discomfort, bloat, or diarrhea as a consequence. Such individuals are likely to make an active choice to avoid or minimize the consumption of such products as the symptoms are unpleasant.
The Most Common Dog Food Allergies
Just as humans have allergies that are common and widespread, so do dogs. Below is a list of some of the most common dog allergies in no particular order.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association suggests that 93% of canine allergies come from just six of these ingredients. Despite the huge proportion of allergies coming from those six ingredients, it is still not understood what makes them so prominent.
We have unique articles for three of these ingredients. These articles are expansive and detailed will run you through the alternatives to each ingredient and suggest some high-quality and nutritious formulas that make use of these alternatives. Be sure to check them out if your dog is allergic to one of those ingredients.
However, before we continue, there are two important notes to follow up on after reading the above list of common allergens.
Firstly, just because an ingredient is present in the above list does not mean that your dog is naturally allergic to it. The vast majority of dogs will be fine, eating all the above ingredients. While we may not recommend that dogs consume some of these ingredients such as Corn or Soy, others such as Beef and Chicken are fantastic ingredients for dogs who do not suffer from associated allergies and if anything should be more prevalent in dog food.
As a follow up to this, if your dog is allergic to a particular brand or formula of dog food does not mean that the brand is low-quality or dangerous. You must understand that your dog is allergic to an ingredient regardless of its quality. For example, if your dog suffers from a chicken allergy, they will have an adverse reaction whether you feed them ChickenChicken from an ultra-premium brand like Orijen or if you feed them Chicken from a low-cost grocery store brand like Crave.
Secondly, ingredients that are not contained in the above list can also be allergens. This list only includes some of the most common allergens, and all ingredients should be treated with the same level of caution when attempting to pinpoint an allergy.
The fact that almost any ingredient can cause an allergy is exactly why Limited Ingredient formulas can be so advantageous to hypoallergenic dogs, as they can enable you, the dog owner, to narrow down the potential causes very quickly.
Dog Food Allergy Testing
Many vets offer skin and blood allergy testing. This testing may give some insight into potential allergies or sensitivities and often tests for other allergies such as inhalants (pollen, grasses, and fungi) and mites. Unfortunately, the allergy testing process does not always narrow down whether a dog is hypoallergenic and what particular allergen is causing any negative reactions.
As we have mentioned multiple times in this article, the most common approach to identifying a dietary allergy if medical allergy testing isn’t viable or effective is transitioning a dog to a Limited Ingredient dog food formula. If the dog’s symptoms improve, ingredients that the dog previously ate are reintroduced one at a time. This process continues until the symptoms return, and the exact ingredient or ingredients causing the allergy can be identified.
Best Hypoallergenic Dog Foods – Limited Ingredient Formulas
We’ve reviewed a vast range of Limited Ingredient and Hypoallergenic dog foods on PetFoodReviewer, and we’ve been kind enough to compile a list of our favorites. We have tried to include a variety of formulas that contain different meat, fish, and vegetable ingredients to ensure that there will be at least one recipe that will suit your dog despite their allergies.
All of the formulas combine this limited ingredient or novel meat approach with top-notch nutrition to keep your dog healthy, happy, and energetic. If you want more information or want to see our detailed reviews of all these products, be sure to visit their specific review pages where we break down the exact nutritional profile, the quality of all their major ingredients, and other relevant factors.
Acana recipes are renowned for their quality and nutrition and share many of the merits of their ultra-premium sister brand Orijen. Their single range, which is where their limited ingredient is located, is no different. There are four formulas currently available within the range, Wild Mackerel, Lamb and Apple, Duck and Pear, and Pork and Squash.
Acana’s Limited Ingredient formulas go beyond just providing a single source of meat or fish; they also include less commonly used sources of carbohydrate, providing ingredients with the hope that dogs will be less likely to be allergic to these than traditional carbohydrate sources.
Examples include Apples, Pears, Squash, and Spinach. However, these formulas also tend to contain some of the more common vegetable ingredients, such as Beans, Peas, and Chickpeas. This could cancel out the benefit of containing less common fruit and vegetable ingredients, which could mean that these formulas may not be suitable for those dogs who suffer from vegetable-based intolerances or allergies.
However, this formula is very suitable for dogs who do not suffer an adverse reaction to fish ingredients and can provide them with excellent nutrition from whole ingredients.
Nature’s Variety Instinct is another very popular and famous premium dog food brand which is probably best known for their range of raw and semi-raw formulas. We regularly feature their formulas, such as the Original and Ultimate Protein range, in our articles as we believe many of them provide excellent nutrition from great ingredients.
Nature’s Variety Instinct’s limited ingredient range continues this image and provides solid nutrition and a very limited number of high-quality ingredients. The Limited Ingredient range utilizes a single source of meat or fish with Peas and Canola Oil.
The recipes also utilize Tapioca, a relatively unknown ingredient to many dog owners. Tapioca is obtained from the Cassava root and is a staple of the diets of many people from tropical Africa and Asia. Except for the inclusion of Tapioca, these recipes bear a strong resemblance to other similar Limited Ingredient ranges. However, the quality of Nature’s Variety Instinct’s ingredients could undoubtedly give them an edge over their competitors.
This formula is ideal for a dog who can digest poultry, legumes, and starches without an adverse reaction but struggles with other red meat or fish ingredients.
Zignature believes that all dog food should be based on a limited ingredient diet. As a consequence of this belief, all of their dry dog food recipes could be classified as Limited Ingredient formulas. The most significant advantage of this approach is it gives them a vast range of limited ingredient formulas, far more than any other brand.
There are thirteen formulas in total, and we consider all but one of them to be a limited ingredient formula. A number of these could be regarded as Novel Meat formulas, and these will be discussed later on in this article.
While most of these formulas have very similar nutritional values, one of our favorites is the Pork Formula. It maintains a high proportion of protein and fat, while many of its competitors can only ensure a high ratio of just one of these vital nutrients. It also contains Peas and Chickpeas, which are utilized as a high-quality source of carbohydrates and fiber.
This formula would be suitable for those dogs who can consume red meat, such as Pork, without suffering an allergic reaction. In particular, dogs who may react poorly to other meat and fish ingredients but are comfortable with legumes may benefit from this formula.
Venture by Earthborn Holistic is a high-quality Limited Ingredient range. No two formulas within this range are the same, and they utilize a variety of vegetables, meat, and fish ingredients. This is a notable trait as there is bound to be a formula that suits your dog’s needs and desires.
We have featured formulas from this range before in our other guides, such as the Best Dog Food Without Peas guide. This is due to Earthborn Holistic’s use of alternative vegetable ingredients such as Squash, Pumpkin, and as well as traditional legumes like Chickpeas. The formula mentioned above contains Squash and Chickpeas alongside a healthy portion of Turkey Meal, which provides the bulk of the formulas protein and fat content.
Venture formulas also include a significant portion of Flaxseed, which can provide a healthy portion of the Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are well known to offer a range of health benefits such as preventing heart disease and helping to maintain healthy skin and coat.
Due to its lack of Peas, this formula could be suitable for those dogs who suffer from Pea allergies but are able to eat Chickpeas as well as dogs that are comfortable with poultry meat but not red meat or fish.
A best-of guide would not be complete without the addition of a Merrick formula. As many of you who have read some of our other content are aware, we are big fans of many of their formulas, including their wide range of canned dog food. While their limited ingredient range isn’t quite as satisfying as some of their other ranges, the Chicken formula is by far the best.
Just like the other limited ingredient formulas mentioned, this recipe contains a very select number of ingredients that can be easily split into two categories. Firstly a number of Chicken ingredients including Chicken, Chicken Meal, and Chicken Fat. Secondly, vegetable ingredients, in particular, legumes. This includes Peas, Chickpeas, and Flaxseed.
What makes the Chicken formula stand out in comparison to the other limited ingredient formulas offered by Merrick is the much more satisfactory nutrition it provides. This nutritional profile includes a more than satisfactory portion of protein and fat without an excessive portion of carbohydrates. This balance of nutrition closely matches a dog’s ancestral diet.
Due to the fact that this formula only contains a single meat ingredient in Chicken it may be best suited to those dogs who can not eat other meat ingredients like red meat or fish.
Nature’s Logic is a lesser-known dog food brand, but that shouldn’t and doesn’t diminish the strength of its formulas. Nature’s Logic produces a wide range of formulas, including some that make use of less common meat and fish ingredients such as Sardine, Venison, Lamb, and Rabbit. Some of these ingredients could be considered Novel Meat formulas.
One of the most significant advantages of Nature’s Logic is that they very clearly display a vast range of nutritional and ingredient information on their website, which is far more information than most of their competitors are willing to make public.
This array of information includes accurate levels of a wide variety of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. They also show you exactly where their ingredients are sourced on an easy to understand visual map. This approach shows they are passionate about dog nutrition and not ashamed of the nutrition their formulas provide or the source of their ingredients.
Their Pork Formula is very high in protein, which should be at the core of every dog’s diet. The formula does not contain any other meat or fish ingredients, which is ideal for a dog who is looking to narrow its potential allergens. Unfortunately, the formula does use a single grain as its source of carbohydrates.
Millet isn’t considered a high-quality source of carbohydrates, but for those dogs who do not have difficulty digesting Millet, it may be acceptable. Also, grains can be a vital lifeline for those dogs with severe allergies of vegetable and starch ingredients like Peas and Potatoes and should therefore not be immediately dismissed.
Taste of the Wild launched its Prey range in 2017. Despite its youth, Prey is quickly establishing itself as an excellent quality Limited Ingredient dog food. Currently, there are three varieties available to dogs, Beef, Turkey, and Trout. Each of these formulas is extremely similar and contains a small and simple mix of ingredients.
Each recipe contains a single source of meat or fish, Lentils, Tomato Pomace, and Canola Oil. Although Beef is one of the most common allergens, for those dogs who do not suffer from a Beef allergy, this is a great option. The nutrition of these formulas is above average, but it is likely that a significant proportion of their protein content is derived from Lentils, which some would argue is inferior to animal protein.
Tomato Pomace is a somewhat common but often misunderstood ingredient. It can provide a valuable source of soluble fiber to aid digestion. However, there are concerns that in large quantities, it is a filler and that it can contain notable levels of pesticides.
Due to the three different recipes that Prey offers, Prey could be suitable for dogs that suffer from a range of meat and fish allergies. However, the dogs must be able to consume a large portion of lentils without suffering an intolerance.
Canidae advertises its Pure range as grain-free limited ingredient formulas. However, many of their formulas contain multiple sources of meat or fish and a variety of vegetable ingredients. For this reason, we only consider a select few of their recipes Pure recipes to be true and reliable limited ingredient formulas.
Despite this controversy, many of the recipes in the Pure range provide fantastic nutrition high in animals protein and fat. One example of this is Canidae – Grain Free Pure Ridge, which utilizes Chicken and a broad range of Legumes. Despite Chicken being a common allergen, for those dogs who aren’t allergic, this could be a great option.
Similar to other formulas mentioned above, the Pure Ridge formula would be well suited to dogs who can eat Chicken as well as Legumes but have difficulty with other ingredients such as starches or fish.
Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food – Novel Meat Formulas
We have already mentioned Zignature and our favorite Pork Formula in this article, however, while not as nutritious as some of the other Zignature formulas, Kangaroo Formula contains a genuinely unique meat source. It is highly unlikely that your dog would have ever consumed Kangaroo meat, and as a consequence, they are also unlikely to suffer from any related allergies to Kangaroo.
Therefore, this formula is the perfect example of a Novel Ingredient Diet. Kangaroo formula combines its unique meat source with legumes as a high-quality carbohydrate source and source of dietary fiber.
Kangaroo is often thought of as very exotic and expensive. However, the Kangaroo formula from Zignature is not particularly more expensive than any of its other formulas that they produce and could be a realistic and affordable option to many dog owners.
Due to Kangaroo being a novel ingredient, this formula may be best suited to dogs who suffer from multiple meat and fish related allergies and need a drastic approach to reduce their dog’s symptoms.
Zoic is not a brand that many of you have likely heard of and is made by its parent brand Wild Calling. They only have three formulas to date with one, in particular, containing a unique ingredient. Zoic also prides itself on containing a maximum of 12% legumes in all its formulas. This is unique as almost all premium and high-quality dog food formulas are overloaded with legumes.
The unique ingredient we mentioned above is, of course, Alligator. While there may be one or two other formulas that contain Alligator, it is an exceedingly rare and uncommon ingredient, which is what makes it perfect for a limited ingredient diet. In addition to Alligator, the formula contains Turkey and Chicken as well as a small selection of high-quality vegetables such as Sweet Potatoes.
While this formula does contain Alligator, which would make it very suitable for dogs with extreme meat and fish allergies, it also contains Turkey, which means this is only suitable for dogs who are capable of eating poultry. Nevertheless, it is worth considering.
Best Hypoallergenic Dog Foods – Non-Traditional Alternatives
If you are struggling to find a suitable Limited Ingredient or Novel Meat formula and are looking for a more drastic and urgent solution, then you might want to consider freeze or air-dried dog food. Ziwi Peak produces a fantastic quality air-dried dog food range and is one of the leaders in this niche market.
The most notable advantage of air-dried dog food is that it consists entirely of meat and has no significant vegetable, grain, or fruit ingredients. By eliminating these plant-based ingredients, your decision is reduced to selecting a meat or fish ingredient that your dog can consume without issue. If the above-mentioned Lamb formula doesn’t appeal to your dog, then alternatives such as Air Dried Beef or Air-Dried Mackerel and Lamb are also available.
The core disadvantage of Air Dried Dog Food is that it is incredibly costly and not a realistic solution to provide complete nutrition to anyone but super-affluent dog owners. However, you could consider feeding your dog a mixture of Air Dried Dog Food and fresh ingredients. This approach could be a lot more realistic in cost. Ingredients such as fresh fruit and vegetables are ideal to combine with a diet of air-dried dog food.
Homemade Dog Food
A commonly overlooked solution to severe allergies is to create and provide your dog with homemade dog food. When you are producing the dog food yourself, within the comfort of your own home, you have complete and total control over what ingredients it will contain, their quality and the nutritional value of the food.
Making Homemade Dog Food is one way you can provide a diet that is entirely free from any meat, fish, or vegetable ingredient without having to travel long distances or wait for deliveries.
However, the downside to this is that making homemade dog food can require significant planning and hard work. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association suggests that as much as 90% of homemade pet food is nutritionally incomplete. This is almost certainly a result of poor planning and understanding of dog nutrition.
Sadly, you can no longer come home after a long day at work and refill or replenish your dog’s food and water bowl. However, many of us find the time to plan, prepare, and cook food for ourselves and our families, so why can’t we put the same amount of effort into our dogs?