Dogs can be extremely sensitive and they need nourishing nutrients each day, so they have proper health and energy to go about their day. Due to the sensitivity, some dogs need certain diets just as humans do.
As owners, we can help our dogs through observing reaction to certain foods and modifying their nutrition accordingly. Giving your dog a diet that is limited in certain areas can assist with any accompanying health concerns, allergies, and energy levels.
What does “hypoallergenic” mean?
The word “hypoallergenic” has become a popular term in the canine world, with a growth in prospective dog owners requesting hypoallergic breeds (1).
But, what does this term even mean?
The word “hypoallergenic” in terms of dog food, means that the food won’t cause an allergic reaction in you furry friend. The term “hypoallergenic” when used to describe a dog breed, means ones that do not shed a lot and are unlikely to cause an allergic reaction in humans who are prone to allergies.
The ingredients in the hypoallergenic dog food products are limited and they do not contain the typical allergens. Below you’ll find some common food allergens for dogs so you may better limit their availability in your canine’s meal plan.
It is also important to know that the United States Government has not crafted standards for products to be labelled as “hypoallergenic” for dogs or for humans.
What are the most common food allergens for dogs?
Depending on your dog, there may be a specific ingredient that reacts poorly with their body (2). They may break out in an allergic reaction if they’re experiencing the following symptoms:
- ear infection
- skin inflammation
- throwing up
- and even diarrhea.
The tough part is that you may not know this until your dog actually tries the food! If you feel like your dog is the sensitive type, you may want to keep him or her away from the most common food allergens:
- and fish.
Note: Rabbit and fish are listed here as common allergens, but are not as extreme or harmful like the others ingredients are.
Gluten Free Dog Diet
The gluten free dog diet has become pretty popular over the years, especially with humans. As time has progressed, dogs are now being put on this diet as well. Depending on your dog’s health and their dietary needs, a gluten free diet may be the way to go. Gluten are said to be capable of causing significant issues within your dog’s digestive tract.
Now: What is the whole gluten hype all about anyways?
What are glutens?
Gluten is a protein. It is the protein you find in wheat, rye, barley, and triticale. Gluten helps food hold and maintain it’s shape. You can think of gluten as a glue for wheat. It makes sure everything stays in place. You may have noticed that gluten-free foods are not as fluffy or appealing. Bread may look smaller and cakes will not rise as well.
The big three foods that have gluten are:
- but you can also find it in other food items such as oats (3).
Due to this, gluten is probably in your dog’s commercial food and it may just be the thing your dog’s body is having a reaction to.
What is gluten intolerance in dogs?
Usually, dogs can digest plant and animal products just fine, which means that gluten should not be a problem for your dog. Gluten is digested by pancreatic enzymes in the small intestines. If your dog is sensitive to gluten, it is because for whatever reason their body cannot digest it properly. They may subsequently develop a, chronic, small intestinal inflammatory disease.
Your dog’s immune system may also attack their gastrointestinal tract, which can damage the “vili” in your dog’s small intestines. “Vili” is the tiny hair-like projections in their intestines and if they become damaged, your dog may not be able to process food properly altogether. This can lead to overeating, weight gain, and possibly chronic diarrhea.
Warning Signs of a Gluten Intolerance
If your dog cannot handle gluten, you may notice that your dog’s body has changed in the following ways:
- weight loss
- consistent diarrhea
- poor energy levels
- poor hair coat
- inflammation of the intestines
- red inflamed paw pads
- skin conditions
- ear infections.
You will want to take your dog to the veterinarian to get tested or checked out for issues with gluten after which you may need to change your dog’s meal plan and adjust for the reactions.
Tests for a gluten sensitivity
When you take your dog into the vets office to get tested for gluten sensitivity, there can be a wide range of tests that your dog must go through. First off, your veterinarian is going to run a typical routine check-up with your dog. This includes blood work and urine tests. They will also give your dog a fecal exam for parasites, take abdominal x-rays, and test your dog for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
From here, your veterinarian will get a better idea of your dog’s overall health and can decipher if gluten may be a possible issue for your dog. Keep in mind however, these tests may not be able to determine the exact cause of your dog’s symptoms (4).
More often than not, your veterinarian will put your dog on a gluten-free diet for two to four weeks. From here, you will be able to see if symptoms improve or stay the same in your dog. If your dog does improve, you will then gradually put gluten back into your dog’s diet. If the symptoms return, you will know that gluten is, in fact, the enemy at hand.
Should I Feed My Dog Gluten-Free Dog Food?
Most dogs tend not have a gluten intolerance because it is just not that common in dogs. If your dog has issues with gluten, however, then a gluten-free dog food is just what the doctor ordered. Make sure to not confuse gluten-free with grain-free either. Those are two different types of diets.
Note: Most dogs do fine with having gluten in a balanced diet. The only times gluten needs to be restricted is when it gets out of hand, causing symptoms that are not so fun.
Our top gluten-free dog food pick: PRO PAC Ultimates
Notable Ingredients: Lamb, peas, chickpeas, apples, carrots, blueberries, spinach, cranberries.
Flavors: Lamb and potato.
Packaging: 5 lb, 28 lb
Calorie content (ME): 3,390 kcal/kg : 345 kcal/cup
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 23%, crude fat (max) 12%, crude fiber (max) 5%, moisture (max) 10%, vitamin E (min) 100 IU/kg, vitamin C (min) 35 mg/kg, carnitine (min) 15 mg/kg, omega-6 fatty acids (min) .90%, omega-3 fatty acids (min) .90
Why we like it: When you decide to put your dog on a gluten-free diet, it can be a bit scary. This is a great dog food option that you can rely on easing the process. It provides all the right ingredients that support a dog that is gluten-free while still maintaining the proper nutrients for a balanced diet. In fact, your dog may not even appear to notice that gluten is missing from their meals and that is exactly why we like it. Aside from being great on the digestive system.
Grain Free Dog Diet
Not all grains have gluten in them. Although dogs are not required to cut out grains or gluten, it can be beneficial in certain cases. Many switch to a grain-free diet because they say it gives their dog a meal that resembles food they would have eaten in the wild. The claim is that grains were not beneficial necessities for your dog’s ancestors and thus grains are not a natural source of food for canines in today’s world.
Yet, dogs have adapted to digesting grains and gluten, regardless of what happened with their wild ancestors. That being said, depending on your dog and your dog’s needs, a grain-free diet could potentially help your dog’s health and well being.
What is grain free dog food?
No grains in the meal. This means that your dog is going to get carbohydrates and even protein from other sources. A grain-free diet closely resembles an ancestral diet by eliminating grains. Although it is not raw or a direct copy of an ancestral diet, it is a diet that closely resembles the wild.
Grains were welcomed into the canine diet during World War II, when corn, wheat, and other grain-like substances were added to dog food to keep costs down. Canines have adjusted to this diet fabulously, but their bodies do need to work to digest grains, especially when they come in large amounts.
What’s the difference between grain-free and gluten-free?
As mentioned earlier, gluten is a protein. Gluten is the protein that holds together the structure of a substance. It is why gluten is present in rye, wheat, and even barley. Gluten is just a protein, however, which in turn means that it does not need to be in all grains or in all foods.
When you feed your dog a gluten-free diet, there may, very well, be grains in their meal. Those grains will not have gluten in them. An example could be rice. Rice does not contain gluten, but it is a grain that your dog will eat. In fact, it is probably one of the most popular grains that dogs will eat in today’s world.
A grain-free diet, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. First off, a grain-free diet will always be a gluten-free diet. If you do not serve any sort of grain to your dog, then they are not going to have oats, wheat, barley, or rye in their meal. A gluten-free diet is free of only gluten while a grain-free diet is free of gluten and ALL grains.
Is it true that dogs can’t digest grains?
Canines have adjusted to a man’s world. Through the evolution of canines, there have been several genes that have adjusted and modified to a grain-like diet (6). But just because dogs are able to digest grains and handle gluten, it doesn’t mean that grains, as well as gluten, have not caused allergies and issues in dogs who are sensitive. For those dogs, grains are not easily digestible.
Remember: Although the canine digestive system has adjusted, it still is the fundamental canine digestive system. There are certain complex carbohydrates and grains that dogs will not digest as easily as they would with a natural diet.
Sometimes, you may come to find that your dog just cannot digest certain grains easily and their body may use fermentation to break down the nutrients in their body. Eventually, this can cause damage on the lining of your dog’s intestines which can lead to bigger issues such as allergies and food sensitivities. You may even notice that your dog will gain extra weight or have issues internally such as leaky-gut syndrome.
Is grain-free dog food better for my pet?
There are many benefits to serving your dog a grain-free diet (7). At the same time it is recommended by most veterinarians that your dog has a small portion of carbohydrates and grains in their diet, whether they go grain-free or not.
If your dog is grain-free, they should receive carbohydrates and nutrients another way. If you do have grains in their diet, you will not want to give them more than 10%. Grain-free dog food should make it easier for your dog to digest their food, and they will benefit from a grain-free diet in the following ways:
- reduce allergies
- higher energy levels
- shinier coats with less shedding
- healthy skin
- reduction or removal of inflammation
- fewer and smaller stools
- better breath
- full longer (less food needed)
- less gas.
Are grain-free dog foods lower in carbs?
If you are looking to lower your dog’s carb intake, generally speaking a grain-free diet may not necessarily be the right answer. Just because your dog’s meal will be absent of grains does not mean that other foods will not substitute in their place.
Potatoes, legumes, and even sweet potatoes will be in your dog’s diet, most likely, and if this is the case, carbohydrates will not necessarily be lowered. But, the carbohydrate types will be different; you will not be feeding your dog complex carbohydrates that are difficult to digest.
If you feed your dog wet food that is grain-free or gluten-free, you may be in luck. This dog food option tends to be lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein, but this is definitely a more expensive option as well. When you are making switches, you always want to consult with your veterinarian before committing to a certain meal plan for your dog.
Does grain-free dog food have more meat and protein?
Grain-free dog foods are supposed to be closer to the ancestral and natural meal plan that canines were raised on in the wild. This means that your dog is going to probably be fed a diet that has more protein and meat in it, even if you are feeding your dog with carbohydrates that are from other sources.
Most grain-free dog foods try to stay in the balanced range of protein for different dog sizes (small breeds, medium breeds, large breeds, and/or giant breeds) and puppies, but most brands of grain-free dog food tend to contain more protein and meat than the typical commercial diet that has grains and gluten.
Should I feed my dog grain-free food?
When you are choosing your dog’s meal plan, first and foremost, you want to make sure that it is nutritionally balanced. Just because a meal is grain-free does not mean it will necessarily be a healthy choice for your dog. Your dog’s food should have protein as the main ingredient and should not have a ton of extra fillers that are not beneficial for your dog. You want a healthy balance of all nutrients in your dog’s diet. If they need to be grain free due to vet confirmed allergies, then it is recommended that you make the switch.
If you feed your dog a grain-free diet, they will receive the necessary carbohydrates through other sources, such as potatoes and legumes. These sources will more than likely be better for your dog’s diet and digestive system. They will not struggle as much to digest their food.
Now: Your reasoning for switching your dog’s diet will depend on your dog’s need from allergy, sensitivity, or perhaps wanting an ancestral-based diet as some owners advocate for.
Our top grain-free dog food pick: Taste of the Wild – High Prairie
Notable Ingredients: Cooked meat (depending on flavor you choose), sweet potatoes, peas, blue berries, raspberries, legumes, garbanzo beans, other fruits and vegetables (depending on flavor) for essential nutrients
Flavors: High Prairie (roasted bison and venison), Pacific Stream (fresh and smoked salmon), Pine Forest (wild game flavor), Sierra Mountain (roasted lamb), Southwest Canyon (beef, lamb, and wild boar), Wetlands (roasted quail, roasted duck, and smoked turkey)
Packaging: 5 lb, 15 lb, 30 lb (5 lb, 14 lb, 18 lb for Southwest Canyon)
Calorie content (ME): 3,719 kcal/kg (370 kcal/cup)
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude Protein (min) 32.0%, Crude Fat (min) 18.0%, Crude Fiber (max) 3.0%, Moisture (max) 10.0%, Zinc (min) 150 mg/kg, Selenium (min) 0.4 mg/kg, Vitamin E (min) 150 IU/kg, Omega-6 Fatty Acids (min) 2.8%, Omega-3 Fatty Acids (min) 0.3%
Why we like it: This impressive, user approved, grain-free food blend has great nutrients for your dog. This brand focuses on easy digestion and makes sweet potatoes and peas a highly regarded ingredient in their product. It is an ideal choice for a diet that is balanced and natural for your dog and that is exactly why we like it.
Limited Ingredient Dog Diet
Finding the right type of dog food can be difficult. Every dog is different from their personality type to their body type. With the many different types of diets that are out there (some owners even have their pets on a vegetarian diet for dogs), it can be confusing and overwhelming when you are trying to find the proper diet for your dog.
Gluten-free and grain-free meal plans are beneficial for dogs with sensitivities and for dog owners who are attempting to mimic the basics of the ancestral wild dog diet. Yet, sometimes neither of those diets does the trick in ridding your dog of their ailments.
Now: If that is the case, you are going to want to check out this next one: the limited ingredients dog diet.
What does “limited ingredient” mean?
Limited Ingredient simply means that your dog’s diet will be excluding certain ingredients (9). Your dog’s food may only have one protein over two or three; and maybe only one type of fruit or vegetable over many. The same may apply with their fat source and their carbohydrate source.
Most dog foods include a diverse range of ingredients as well as additives that may not only not be necessary, but may be the cause of your dogs tummy troubles. Having a dog meal that is “limited” will give your dog a simplistic diet that still remains nutritionally balanced, but does not have a ton of diverse, undesired ingredients within.
How does a limited ingredient diet work?
Most times, owners will put their dog on this diet because of allergies or other health reasons. First off, you are going to consult with your vet to decide what your dog needs for a balanced diet, whether that includes certain meats or carbohydrates. Then, you are going to apply that knowledge to day-to-day feeding. Specifically, you may start your dog’s diet by switching them to one protein, one type of vegetable or fruit, and even one fat source and one carbohydrate.
For example, you may start your dog on an extremely limited diet of only two ingredients. It may be chicken and sweet potatoes. From there, you can add to your dog’s diet and see how they react to other foods. You may add peas, berries, and even a splash of oil. If your dog reacts well to these ingredients, you can keep them in, conversely remove them if they do not mesh well.
Do dogs really need limited ingredient food?
If you are looking at a limited ingredient dog food diet out of preference and your dog is completely healthy, then you want to make sure that your dog’s diet is balanced. Whether you feed your dog a commercial dog food plan, a vegan plan, a gluten-free plan, or even an ancestral raw diet, you want to make sure that your dog is receiving every nutritional component that they need. Having protein, vegetables, carbohydrates, a little fruit, and even a fat source is important for your dog.
Limited or not, your dog needs balance in their diet. If a limited diet can provide that, then wonderful. However, if your dog is not having negative reactions to food, there should be no harm in giving your dog more ingredients than those found in a limited diet; if they can handle it and thrive from their food (10).
Is limited ingredient food right for your pet?
Every pet is unique and so is their health. One dog may be able to handle a diet of large amounts of commercial dog food while another will react horribly to it. If you are wondering about a limited ingredient diet, you may be concerned about your dog’s health in some way. It is recommended to go to your veterinarian to check your dog’s health and consult with your veterinarian on this decision to make this change.
Now: A limited diet is usually because less ingredients will help your dog’s body process their food properly. You can decipher with your vet, usually through feeding trials, which ingredients are affecting your dog poorly.
More times than not, protein is a huge cause in your dog’s allergies and the GI tract. Only through observations, working closely with you vet, and feeding trials will you be able to isolate the troublesome ingredients and decide whether a limited ingredient diet is right for your pet.
Benefits of a limited ingredient diet
There are many benefits that stem from limited ingredient diet to dogs who have trouble with most food. Starting with removing the extra additives or immense amounts of food that need processing in their body.
Here are some benefits of putting your dog on a limited ingredient diet:
- improved digestion
- smaller and firmer stools
- increased energy levels
- relief from allergic reaction symptoms
- body changes of:
- clearer skin
- weight loss
- shinier coat
- less internal issues
Note: Prescription diets and limited ingredient diets are not quite the same thing.
What to look for in limited ingredient dog foods
There are many different types of meal plans that fall under the limited ingredient diet. One brand’s idea of a limited ingredient dog food may differ from your veterinarian’s idea of it. In fact: A lot of brands that advertise a limited ingredient dog food are actually not that limiting. You will see that they stick to one protein over many, but in terms of the overall ingredient list, there’s still a lot there to sift through.
The food, according to AAFCO, needs to be complete and balanced. In other words, you want to make sure that all dog food brands that you choose have the correct amount of protein, fat, carbs, and the 23 essential minerals and vitamins that your dog needs for their well-being.
Our top L.I.D dog food pick: BLUE Basics Limited-Ingredient Formula
Notable Ingredients: Salmon, oatmeal, brown rice, peas, potato, fiber, blueberries, cranberries
Flavors: Duck & potato, lamb & potato, salmon & potato, turkey & potato
Packaging: 4 lb, 11 lb, 22 lb, and 24 lb
Calorie content (ME): 3,325 Kcals/kg, 350 Kcals/cup.
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 20%, crude fiber (max) 12%, moisture (max) 10%, calcium (min) .9%, phosphorus (min) .7%, vitamin E (min) 300 IU/kg, omega-3 fatty acids (min) 1%, omega-6 fatty acids 2.25%, vitamin C (min) 100 mg/kg, glucosamine (min) 200 mg/kg
Why we like it: This is a great formula when you are looking for a limited diet. It does not have corn, egg, dairy, wheat, or soy and provides your dog with the exact ingredients they need and nothing more. Due to this, it is exactly why we choose this dog food as a wonderful option when it comes to limited dog food.
Canines need a balanced diet filled with the proper nutrients and essential vitamins and minerals. Yet, sometimes sensitivity can cause reactions within their bodies that prevent them from receiving the proper dietary intakes. Thankfully, dog food manufacturers have taken this demographic into consideration and have produced some worthy products for our furry loved ones.
Note: If you’re an owner who makes their dogs food at home, you’re definitely going to need to check out our Dog Food Calculator application. Which helps you define your dogs daily energy requirements, as well as break down the nutritional value of basic ingredients.
Be sure to check out our dog food recalls page before making a purchase. Or just to ensure the food you’ve been feeding isn’t on the list!