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Nutrition Nuggets
 
 
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.

Defining Hypoallergenic Dog Foods

January 04, 2013 / (2) comments

Merriam-Webster defines "hypoallergenic" as "having little likelihood of causing an allergic response." Easy enough? Unfortunately, no.

When it comes to dogs, there is great variation between what ingredients are likely to cause an allergic reaction in one individual versus another. For example, lamb has often been thought of as a "hypoallergenic" protein source for dogs, but in a review of 278 cases of canine food allergies, 13 dogs were determined to be allergic to lamb. Thirteen out of 278 (5%) may not sound like a big problem, but to put it in context, fewer dogs were allergic to corn (7), pork (7), fish (6), and rice (5). So, for dogs that are not allergic to lamb, a lamb-based diet is indeed "hypoallergenic," but if yours happens to be a member of the 5%, it is anything but.

Let’s look at the study in another way. The most allergenic ingredient was beef (95 cases), meaning that about one-third of dogs with food allergies are allergic to beef. So, beef can’t be hypoallergenic, can it? Well, for the two-thirds of dogs who are not allergic to beef, that’s exactly what it is.

Most veterinarians now do not recommend feeding potentially food-allergic dogs diets containing such commonly used ingredients as either lamb or beef. Instead, we often rely on limited ingredient diets made from weird protein and carbohydrate sources like duck, venison and sweet potato. I haven’t had the greatest of luck in managing food allergic dogs with these types of diets, however. Most of the time, I suspect treatment failures occur because the dogs are sneaking (or being snuck) small amounts of food that contain ingredients to which they are allergic. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to find out that some dogs are developing allergies to “novel” ingredients that used to be out of the ordinary but are now becoming an increasingly common component of pet foods.

If any individual dog can, hypothetically speaking, be allergic to any protein source, novel-ingredient foods can’t really be considered nonallergenic, and even those thought to be hypoallergenic may incite an allergic reaction in a particular patient. For these reasons, I don’t refer to novel or limited ingredient foods as hypoallergenic.

I consider other products that take a different approach to be truly hypoallergenic. Several pet food manufacturers produce "hydrolyzed" diets made from proteins that have been split into such tiny pieces that the immune system does not mount an allergic reaction against them. The carbohydrate source and other ingredients that are included are also very unlikely to stimulate the immune system. While nothing in veterinary medicine ever works in all patients, I’ve had much better luck diagnosing and managing food allergies in dogs since I’ve started relying more on hydrolyzed foods and using novel/limited ingredient foods in a backup role.

If you’ve had trouble managing a food-allergic dog, ask your veterinarian if a hydrolyzed diet could be an appropriate option or you.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: chaoss / via Shutterstock

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Comments  2

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  • Allergies
    01/04/2013 05:37pm

    "I’ve had much better luck diagnosing and managing food allergies in dogs since I’ve started relying more on hydrolyzed foods and using novel/limited ingredient foods in a backup role."

    Have you ever dealt with a cat with food allergies? Do you think this protocol would be advantageous for felines?

  • Hypoallergenic Dog Food
    09/04/2013 02:29pm

    It is tough to find good limited ingredient, grain-free, and hypoallergenic dog foods! [url=http://hypoallergenicdogfoods.net]This site[/url] helped a lot!!!!

    I would also be ready to test different foods and be patient!!!! It can be a tough road! But seeking out this information in beneficial!

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

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.

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