What Is The Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food?

LAST UPDATED 18 February 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Teagan Lever

With an array of terms being used to describe pet food - grain free, gluten free, freeze dried, limited ingredient diets - it's worth defining the word 'hypoallergenic' and what it really means in the context of pet food.

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Put simply, a hypoallergenic diet is a diet that doesn't trigger an immunological reaction in the animal consuming the food.

Why is this important? Food allergies are one of the itchiest conditions known to dogs and cats. And while true food allergies are still quite rare in our pets, they are one of the few conditions that can be managed with diet alone. In true cases of food allergy, it's usually the meat protein source that causes the reaction. In affected animals, the protein within the food is recognised by the immune system as a foreign invader that needs attacking. This internal battle results in inflammation that can manifest itself as itchy skin, ear infections, vomiting, diarrhoea and frequent bowel movements.

The most common proteins that cause allergies in dogs are beef, chicken, dairy, wheat and egg. In general, animal proteins are a far more common cause of food allergies than grains.

So does feeding a hypoallergenic diet mean your pet won't have a reaction? Not necessarily. Unfortunately for us, there isn't one hypoallergenic diet or list of 'special' ingredients that is suitable for every animal. One animal's allergy trigger, say beef, may in fact be another animal's hypoallergenic diet.

Take people with a gluten intolerance for example. A hypoallergenic diet for these people is going to be a diet free from ingredients such as wheat, rye, barley and oats. But clearly, this diet won't be 'hypoallergenic' for all people - imagine someone who's allergic to dairy, for instance. And hey, I don't want to avoid bread if I don't have to!

So what is the best hypoallergenic diet for your pet?

1. A Prescription Diet

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The gold standard hypoallergenic diet is one that has been formulated under pharmaceutical grade conditions. This means that the manufacturer has undertaken extra processing steps to eliminate contamination with other protein sources. This is done through rigorous cleaning of all production equipment followed by testing of the equipment for traces of proteins before production begins.

These diets also typically include protein that has undergone a process called 'hydrolysation' - this is where the protein structure is broken down into its component amino acids. Hydrolysation is a process that reduces the 'allergenicity' of the protein, making it so small that it's unlikely to trigger an immune reaction. Diets that fall into this category are Prescription and Veterinary diets and can therefore only be recommended by your veterinarian.

Your Vet May Recommend:

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Anallergenic:
Protein source: A hydrolysed feather protein
Recommended for: The feather protein is the lowest molecular weight protein on the market and is therefore currently the gold standard diet for diagnosing and managing food allergies.

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hypoallergenic:
Protein source: Hydrolysed soy and poultry liver
Recommended for: The diagnosis and management of food allergies. It may be more cost-effective for large breed dogs who tolerate a soy-based diet.

Hill's Prescription Diet Z/d Skin and Food Sensitivities:
Protein source: Hydrolysed poultry liver
Recommended for: The diagnosis and management of food allergies. A single carbohydrate source, corn starch, is also included and combined with essential fatty acids and clinically proven antioxidants.

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Sensitivity Control:
Protein source: Hydrolysed poultry protein and dehydrated duck as a novel protein source
Recommended for: The diagnosis and management of food allergies. Combining a hydrolysed protein with a 'novel' protein (duck) and carbohydrate source (tapioca) to reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction.

What are the drawbacks of a hydrolysed protein diet?

    • The cost. As you can imagine, the extra processing and care taken to produce these diets isn't cheap
    • Reduced palatability
    • Lack of evidence documenting whether dogs allergic to the parent protein will actually tolerate a hydrolysed product
    • Some diets are contraindicated in puppies, pregnant and lactating dogs
    • May not be suitable for dogs with pancreatitis
    • A veterinary prescription is required before purchasing. Click here to find the diet recommended by your veterinarian

2. A Novel Protein Diet

See All Single Meat Protein Diets

Another option is to feed a novel protein diet. This means feeding a diet containing a new protein source that hasn't been fed before. Because food allergies can take years to manifest, it's important to consider all diets that have been fed since your dog was a puppy.

When selecting a novel protein diet, it's important to carefully assess the entire ingredients list to ensure only one protein source is included.

Our Top Picks:

Zignature Grain Free Duck:
Protein source: Duck
Recommended for: Dogs of all life stages and sizes not previously fed a diet containing duck. This recipe is grain-free, utilising chickpeas and peas as an alternative carbohydrate source.

Open Farm Grain Free White Fish:
Protein source: Whitefish
Recommended for: Adult dogs not previously fed fish or seafood-based diets. This recipe is also grain-free, instead utilising garbanzo beans (chickpeas) as an alternative carbohydrate source.

Ziwi Peak New Zealand Venison Recipe:
Protein source: Venison - venison meat, broth, heart, lung, liver, kidney, tripe and bone
Recommended for: Dogs of all life stages and sizes not previously fed a diet containing venison. Chickpeas are included as a source of carbohydrates and New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel is added to support the joints. Free from wheat, soy and grains.

Taste Of The Wild Sierra Mountain Roasted Lamb:
Protein source: Lamb
Recommended for: Dogs of all life stages and sizes not previously fed a diet containing lamb. A grain-free recipe containing potato and sweet potato as the carbohydrate sources.

K9 Natural Lamb Feast:
Protein source: Lamb - lamb meat, blood, tripe, liver, heart and bone
Recommended for: Dogs of all life stages and sizes not previously fed a diet containing lamb. This diet is a raw, freeze-dried diet that also contains cage-free eggs and New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel and is free from wheat, rice, soy, gluten and artificial additives.

As more and more pet foods come on the market, particularly ones with exotic and unusual protein sources, what's considered 'novel' is unfortunately becoming more commonplace.

3. A Home-Cooked Diet

What about home-cooked diets? Preparing your pet's food at home might sound like a good option and there are certainly some benefits. You know exactly what is going in to the food, and can be sure there are no hidden pet food additives or contamination with other protein sources.

What are the drawbacks of a home-cooked diet?

    • Difficult to balance without the help of a veterinary nutritionist
    • Contraindicated in growing animals and cats
    • Not recommended for long-term feeding

The bottom line is this - what works for your dog might not work for another and vice versa. In all cases, it's important to work with your veterinarian to work out which diet is truly hypoallergenic for your pet.

Further Reading

Premium pet food: Is it worth it?

Does your dog have a food allergy?

How diet can help your senior pet

What's in your pet's food?

How to read the label on a bag of pet food

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