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Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Dog Foods Aren’t Equal – Even Though They Appear to Be

November 06, 2015 / (2) comments

Regular readers of this blog know that my dog Apollo has severe inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As is suggested by its name, the condition is associated with abnormal inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract.


In health, the gut is protected from all that passes through by multiple defense mechanisms (mucus barriers, channels that selectively admit only certain substances, etc.). When these defenses malfunction, antigens (things that stimulate the immune system) are absorbed by the lining of the intestines. The body responds with inflammation, which increases the “leakiness” of the intestinal wall, resulting in more inflammation.


Some combination of immune dysfunction, stress, genetics, and antigenic stimulation (e.g., food allergies, bacterial overgrowth, metabolic disease, food intolerance, parasites, etc.) is involved in IBD. Often a pet’s symptoms are mild and/or intermittent to begin with but progress with time.


The first step in treating IBD is to find a diet that does not contain the antigens (or contains as few as possible) that trigger gut inflammation in that individual. If dietary modifications do not adequately control a pet’s symptoms, medications that suppress the immune system will be necessary.


Which brings me back to Apollo. For years, his IBD has been well controlled as long as he only eats a commercially prepared, hydrolyzed diet. Through hydrolyzation, proteins are broken down into such tiny fragments that they evade detection by the immune system. This particular food contains hydrolyzed soy, a simple carbohydrate source, some vegetable oils for fat, and a long list of vitamins and minerals.


The problem is, Apollo really doesn’t like it, and I find the ingredient list a little scary (it reads more like a high school chemistry experiment than a recipe).


But hydrolyzed diets are becoming increasingly popular because they have proven to be effective in managing a variety of diet-responsive diseases. As a result, the number of formulations owners and veterinarians can pick from is increasing.


A few months ago, I switched Apollo to a new hydrolyzed diet made by the same company as the one he’s always eaten, but this food also contains hydrolyzed chicken and hydrolyzed chicken liver. In theory, Apollo shouldn’t react to these new protein sources since they are hydrolyzed, but boy did he ever! Within just a week or so, he was vomiting, had diarrhea, and wasn’t eating. I switched him back to his old food and he quickly returned to normal.


Not to be discouraged, last week I tried Apollo on yet another hydrolyzed food. This one scared me a bit too, but not for the same reasons that made me wary of his original diet. This ingredient list looked too “normal” to be truly hypoallergenic. Hydrolyzed salmon is the first ingredient, and further down the list you’ll find things like potatoes, peas, pumpkin, fish oil, blueberries, and cranberries. This diet couldn’t possibly work, could it?


So far so good.


At first, the food gave Apollo WICKED gas. We’re talking “call the fire department the house is about to explode”-type gas, but that is fading (thankfully). His stools are formed, we’ve seen no vomiting, and Apollo absolutely loves the food’s taste – so much so that he’s starting to annoy us with his requests for extra meals throughout the day.


I can’t yet say that this diet will work for Apollo in the long run, but if nothing else, this experience has reminded me that reading labels only gets you so far. What’s most important is how an individual pet responds to a particular food.



Dr. Jennifer Coates


Comments  2

Leave Comment
  • Quality of Life
    11/06/2015 05:53pm

    Sounds like it might be a Quality of Life issue for your Apollo. If he's happy, eating well and healthy, it must be OK - even if the ingredient list is scary.

  • Hydrolyzed and produce
    11/28/2015 11:18am

    My dog seems to have issues similar to Apollo's and has been eating a scary ingredient list hydrolyzed protein kibble and canned food for years. I supplement his diet with SP enteric support, and fresh fruit and vegetables. This combo works will, with few flare ups. Here in drought stricken CA, we try hard to not waste any water. One night when I was too lazy to pour the water from steamed vegetables on outside plants, I poured the water in my dog's empty food bowl. What a treat! Now he begs for "vegetable water" .




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.