Do you think your dog’s itching is caused by food allergies? Does your veterinarian think you have a dog with food allergies? Do you just want to try a new diet to see if it will improve your dog’s fur coat? These days many dog owners, like you, are asking themselves and their vets these same questions. They want to try a hypoallergenic diet for their dog. But how do you tell if a dog food is hypoallergenic? How do you compare different brands of hypoallergenic dog foods? There are 3 important requirements for hypoallergenic dog food.
1. Limited number of ingredients
A true hypoallergenic dog food should have only 1 type of protein, 1 type of carbohydrate. The more ingredients the dog food contains, the higher the chances that it could contain a meat or plant protein that your dog may be allergic to.
Most hypoallergenic dog foods do not have limited ingredients. They will have 5-7 main ingredients. I think that is why so many of my veterinary clients tell me “Doc, when I first changed to this diet, my dog got better, but now it doesn’t seem to work anymore.” With too many ingredients, there is always the chance that in may have one that your dog is only mildly allergic to, but reacts more violently as time goes on.
With only 2 main ingredients, it makes it much easier to identify your dog’s allergy. Say your dog does not responded to the diet as hoped. You know that his allergy is to the meat or the carbohydrate. Switch to another limited ingredient diet with a different meat or carbohydrate, but don’t change both. Your dog’s itching stops. You now know for sure one food that your dog is allergic to.
2. Novel Ingredients
Novel ingredients are meat and carbohydrate sources that are not commonly used in dog food. This is getting harder and harder to find. Bison, duck, fish, lamb and venison are great novel proteins, but as more and more food companies use them in regular diets they are less reliable. If a dog is exposed to these types of protein for a long period of time, it becomes sensitized and they are no longer unique to its immune system. Goat, ostrich, kangaroo, rabbit and, believe it or not, pork are still novel for most dogs.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, beans are often used as novel carbohydrates in hypoallergenic diets. But again, these have become very popular in grain-free diets so dogs have been exposed to them. Quinoa is still the only reliable novel carbohydrate because it is too expensive to use in dog food.
3. Essential Fats
Dogs need both omega-3 and omega-6 fats for good skin and fur quality and an effective immune system. Oils do not contain any protein so dogs cannot be allergic to them even if they are made from a grain, seed or animal they are allergic to. Dogs with fish allergies won’t itch when fish oil is added to the diet. In fact fish oil is an omega-3 fat that decreases itching and should be included in all hypoallergenic diets. A dog that is allergic to corn won’t itch when fed corn oil and it is one of the richest sources of omega-6 fat. Canola, soybean and walnut are also great oils for hypoallergenic diets. Flaxseed oil is OK, but less reliable for providing essential fatty acids. Olive, coconut, palm, peanut, safflower, sesame and sunflower oils are poor sources of essential fatty acids.
It is very hard to find commercial hypoallergenic dog foods that have these requirements. That is where homemade dog food shines. Homemade dog food recipes with one novel protein, one novel carbohydrate, essential fatty acids and fish oil can be easily prepared. Recipe guidelines and supplements from a qualified source can also be completely balanced for lifetime health.
With homemade diets, owners of allergic dogs know their dog’s food contains exactly what it is supposed to. That is not true with commercial hypoallergenic dog foods. The articles below will shock you.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN