We're often asked if our recipes are hypoallergenic. It's a term that's quickly become used (or at least recognised) by most pet parents, but properly understood by very few. So if you're thinking "yep, that's me" or 'WTF is hypoallergenic" you're in the right place. Today we're giving you the low down on hypoallergenic dog food. We'll explore what hypoallergenic actually means in regards to dog food, if food allergies are common and how to make the right food choices for your dog.
Intolerance vs Allergy: what's the difference?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty we want to clear two things up. Firstly the difference between an intolerance and an allergy, as the two are very much separate terms but often (and wrongly) used interchangeably.
An allergy is normally in response to a protein, where the protein triggers an immune system reaction. The reaction can vary in severity from minor itching to more severe, and even life-threatening reactions. Thankfully these are very rare and dogs are much more likely to suffer from intolerances. An intolerance is where something doesn't quite agree with their digestive systems, but there isn't an immune system response e.g. lactose. For dogs with allergies or intolerances, feeding a hypoallergenic diet can be helpful BUT only if that diet avoids your dogs' specific allergen, as hypoallergenic recipes differ. For example, if your dog is sensitive to beef, choosing a "hypoallergenic recipe" with beef as the main protein source is probably not a good idea.
Environmental Allergies Are Much More Common
The second point we want to clear up is that environmental allergies are much more common than food intolerances. Food intolerances are actually quite rare and allergies even more so. When doggies start itching, it's common that pet parents put food to blame, but the stats show that just 1% of skin itching is down to food intolerances. Your dog is much more likely to be itching due to an environmental sensitivity including dust, mould, fleas, ticks, or pollen, which can cause hay fever in pets. Our Smudge is one of the pups that suffers from hay fever, especially in early summer when the grass is tall.
Even though food intolerances are less common than environmental, some dogs do have them. Hypoallergenic recipes are sought by pet parents looking to avoid certain allergens, however are increasingly being seen as a signpost for high-quality pet food. This is similar to what happened with grain free dog food, so it's important not to get fooled by what are, in reality, marketing terms. Instead, we always recommend thoroughly reviewing the ingredients list on the back of the bag to understand whether a recipe is appropriate for your dog.
Symptoms of dog food intolerance
If your dog is displaying any of the below symptoms and you've already eliminated seasonal or environmental factors as the culprit, we recommend visiting your vet to discuss further. They'll likely advise you to start an elimination diet, which is the only way to identify which ingredient is at fault. This process can take a number up to 3 months to work through as you slowly re-add ingredient by ingredient back to their diet. Saliva, skin or blood tests are not reliable due to the level of cross-contamination. Alternatively, you might be asked to feed a recipe with hydrolysed proteins. This means the protein has been broken up so that it's unrecognisable by your pets' immune or digestive system to prevent a reaction. The symptoms for dog food intolerances to watch out for include:
- Itchy skin
- Red skin or a rash
- Pink or brown saliva staining
- Chronic ear problems
- Sore tummy when touched
- Excessive farting (note some breeds do just fart a lot e.g Bulldogs)
What does hypoallergenic mean?
Hypoallergenic simply means less likely to provoke an allergic reaction. This means that hypoallergenic dog food has a decreased tendency to provoke an allergic reaction. But as anything can be an allergen, just because a food says it's hypoallergenic doesn't mean that it is suitable for your dog.
In pet food, hypoallergenic can be used to describe any recipe that avoids some or many common food allergens. In theory, as so many things can be allergens, this means a pet food can be labelled as hypoallergenic despite containing some allergens, as long as some other common allergens are avoided. Common allergens include dairy, wheat, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, soy, gluten, corn, and wheat. All ingredients that you'll find in the majority of pet foods.
As a dog can be intolerant to practically any ingredient, this is why it's important to ignore the word 'hypoallergenic' on the packaging and review the ingredients to check it's suitable for your dog.
Is there a certification for hypoallergenic dog food?
There is no certifying body or certification required to use the term. Equally, there are no regulations or set of tests that pet food brands are obliged to undertake to use the term. Seeing as anything can be an allergen, it makes it impossible to regulate. Therefore technically any pet food could label itself as hypoallergenic, whether it has actually designed its recipes to avoid common allergens or not.
So, is hypoallergenic dog food just a trend?
In short, yes!
If the word has no real grounding, why do pet food brands and dog owners use it? The term hypoallergenic was allegedly first coined by another pet food brand's marketing team. We don't like naming names, so you can find out which one here. They did rather a good job, and the phrase is now thoroughly embedded into the world of pet food. This has led dog owners to look out for it, believing that's what their pets need to live healthy lives, even if they don't have any allergies or intolerances. This reinforces the issue as new (and old) pet food brands are forced to also use the term to cater to how customers shop, ourselves included!
It's our pet peeve (one of...) and we wish we didn't need to. However, when customers enquire whether we offer 'hypoallergenic dog food' our answer remains the same; "Why are you asking and what ingredients are your fur babies intolerant to?". This allows us to clarify what hypoallergenic means, and better understand which of our products are suitable for their furbaby.
We design all our recipes to be free from the majority of the common allergens, so never include; dairy, soy, beef, lamb, gluten, soy, or corn. We also offer single-source protein recipes like our Turkey Wet Dog Food and Salmon Dry Dog Food, plant-based recipes like our Plant-Powered Softies Training Treats, as well as having limited ingredient recipes like our full Grain Free Wet Dog Food range. So if you're looking for a particular recipe, or need to avoid a certain ingredient, we're always one click away to help. We'd love to hear from you, so please pop us an email email@example.com
Are certain breeds more susceptible to have food allergies?
Yes. Although any breed can develop a food allergy, there are certain breeds that are more susceptible to develop food allergies. Check out a couple of them below:
West highland White Terriers
We know we've covered a fair amount in his blog, so we just want to do a quick recap to finish off.
- Hypoallergenic dog food simply means that it's less likely to provoke an allergic reaction
- Food intolerances are not the same as food allergies, and both are actually very rare (food allergies even more so)
- Your pup is much more likely to be suffering from environmental or seasonal allergy than a food allergy
- As almost any ingredient can be an allergen, you should always read the ingredients list to make sure it's suitable for your pup, rather than looking out for the term hypoallergenic