The Truth About Hypoallergenic Diets

by | Food & Feeding | 4 comments

We’ve all heard of hypoallergenic diets today. You know the story. You take your dog to the vet because it has a skin rash or a tummy upset. Your vet mistakenly diagnoses as an allergy. Knowing nothing of the digestive system and even less about nutrition, he or she tells you your pup needs a hypoallergenic diet. A diet composed of foods low in allergenicity. Your vet then hands you a bag of dried dog food as if that is really the answer to your pet’s problem, when actually, that’s when its problems really begin. So what are hypoallergenic diets for dogs? What’s in them, why do vets sell them, and why are they the very last thing you best friend needs if your vet tells you it’s suffering from ‘allergies’?

What is an allergy?

An allergy results from your dog’s body negatively reacting to a food or substance. When your dog’s immune system takes offence at something that to any other dog would seem perfectly normal. Pollen for example.

The thing is though, dogs rarely suffer from allergies. What they do suffer a lot from are intolerances, particularly to the proteins in food. And that’s where things start to go wrong for your pup if you take it to the vet. Vets are not trained in nutrition. They are trained to sell commercial dog food, but that’s not proper dog nutrition, and it’s certainly not the answer whatever your dog’s health problem.

But if a food intolerance is different from an allergy, just what is a food intolerance?

What is an intolerance

A food intolerance, the problem that vets so often misdiagnose as being an allergy, is an inability to digest certain foods. And if your dog cannot properly digest something in its food, not only does it make it feel unwell, it doesn’t get the nutritional benefit of it either.

If it can’t properly process a particular protein for example, not only does that protein cause a negative reaction in terms of itchiness or diarrhoea, your dog doesn’t benefit from the nutrients in that protein either. So it passes through your dog’s digestive system unprocessed and unloved. And because your dog’s digestive system is unable to process that protein and is unable to make use of the nutrients it contains, it doesn’t matter how much of it your dog eats. It won’t gain or even maintain weight, and that results in malabsorption and ultimately malnutrition.

What is hypoallergenic dog food?

Hypoallergenic dog food is highly processed, high-priced dog food supposedly designed to eliminate allergies and food intolerances. It’s your vet’s quick-fix solution to your dog’s food intolerances.

Rather than investigate the cause of your dog’s intolerance because they don’t know how, they sell you something instead. Sell you something so highly processed that your dog’s body won’t recognise it and so won’t react negatively to it. And it won’t react negatively to it because it’s not proper food, but that doesn’t matter to your vet, because if it appears to work, you’ll keep coming back to buy more. And if it doesn’t work, they’ll write you a prescription for horrible medication that will simply sweep the problem under the carpet. For the time being anyway!

So what is in hypoallergenic diets for dogs if it’s not real food? Well, a hypoallergenic diet is dog food that is less likely to cause an allergic reaction. It contains ingredients less likely to provoke skin or digestive problems. Since the most common allergens in dogs include dairy, wheat, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, soy, gluten, corn and wheat, hypoallergenic food is likely to exclude these.

But there are a number of problems with this approach.

To begin with, studies have shown that up to 60% of commercial dog food contains ingredients not displayed on the packaging. So how can you possibly know what’s actually in your eye-wateringly expensive hypoallergenic dog food?

The other problem is that your dog may not be intolerant of those particular proteins. It may be intolerant of something completely different.

Hydrolysed proteins

Pet food manufacturers get round this problem by using what they call hydrolysed proteins. Proteins so highly processed your dog’s immune system won’t recognise them. And it won’t recognise them because, strictly speaking, they’re no longer food.

But that creates yet another problem for your constant canine companion. If your dog’s hypoallergenic, hydrolysed food is no longer food, how can it possibly benefit from it?

And quite aside from anything else, there are no rules here. There are few enough rules governing the efficacy and labelling of commercial dog food, but there’s even fewer requirements when it comes to hypoallergenic diets for dogs.

No evidence they work, no statutory regulations, no studies required. Talk about the inmates running the asylum!

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So what’s in hypoallergenic dog food?

If you’re seriously thinking of giving your dog hypoallergenic dog food, take a look at some of the ingredients typically used. Then ask yourself if that’s the best you can do for your dog. If that’s the best your dog deserves.

Hydrolysed soya protein concentrate (structurally altered soy protein)
Hydrolysed poultry by-products (structurally modified chicken) (what if your dog is intolerant of chicken?)
Oils and fats (waste oils and fats from other industries)
Powdered cellulose (sawdust, wood pulp)
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (an antioxidant derived from butane gas) (studies in laboratory animals have shown a tendency towards DNA damage and the development of cancer)

Is that really the best your dog deserves? No meat, no fruit and vegetables, nothing you or I – or your dog – would recognise as food.

Does that even resemble a list of real ingredients? Is it any wonder so many dogs not only fail to get better eating hypoallergenic diets for dogs, they actually get worse?

And ask yourself another question. When that list closely resembles the ingredients in the vast majority of standard highly processed kibble, why does hypoallergenic dog food cost so much? Especially when it’s no better and maybe worse than normal, over-the-counter dog food?

The elimination diet

If your dog suffers from allergies or food intolerances, hydrolysed food, food that is no longer food, is not the answer. Hypoallergenic dog diets are a waste of money and could potentially even cause your dog harm.

If you really want to make your dog better, feed proper food in the form of an elimation diet formulated by a dog nutritionist.

Running a fresh food elimination diet is the gold standard in determining what foodstuffs might be allergenic to your dog. It’s the only way to establish for sure what proteins might be problematic to your dog. And it has the advantage of not only identifying them, but fixing the problem so that they go away. So that your best friend can actually enjoy and benefit from a full and varied diet once again.

If your dog is suffering from digestive problems or skin issues and you think they’re related to allergies or intolerances, speak to a dog nutritionist. Speak to someone who understands the power of food.

Don’t rush to the vet for medication or hydrolysed dog food. Neither option is going to provide a long-term solution to your dog’s problems, and both could result in them becoming considerably worse.

Speak to a canine nutritionist. Feed your best friend a proper fresh food diet and see the difference real food can make!

Gerald Pepin

Gerald Pepin

Canine Nutritionist

Gerald Pepin is a qualified canine nutritionist, writer, speaker and homemade dog food advocate. Gerald believes that good nutrition can improve or cure most canine health problems and that the natural way is always the best way when it comes to healing man's best friend. A life-long lover of German Shepherds, Gerald and his wife The Dog Chef have two GSDs and live in rural Somerset.


  1. Neelam

    Hi my dog has a mast cell tumour in her mouth. She is on palladia and needs some recipes that could help her more. Thank you so much.
    Neelam and cleo, indie street dog living her best life in Spain xxx


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