“What is the best hypoallergenic dog food?” As you may have noticed, the articles I write are partly based on my experiences over the years in the pet shop. In that time, concerned customers have asked me a variety of questions. This questions though is one of the most frequent. Consequently it is a topic that deserves some exploration. However the answer is not as straightforward as you may think.
Hypoallergenic dog food comes in many forms. Some of the more common ones are:
- Standard extruded biscuit
- Steam cooked biscuit
- Cold Pressed biscuit
- Wet food. Tins, trays, pouches etc
This is not an exhaustive list but covers what I consider to be the 5 main types of hypoallergenic dog food. But before we examine them in more detail it is worth looking at the word hypoallergenic. What does it mean? Why is such value and emphasis placed on it by dog owners and Vets alike?
The Collins Dictionary define hypoallergenic as ‘not likely to cause an allergic reaction’*. In other words there is a low risk of allergic reaction. Hence the word Hypoallergenic. Hypo comes from the Greek word meaning ‘under’. So does that mean a hypoallergenic dog food will suit your dog? No it does not! There may be a Low Risk of allergic reaction but there is not No Risk.
The ingredients used to make the food will play a large part in determining its suitability. As will the quality of those ingredients. All other things being equal, the better the quality of the ingredients, the more digestible it is likely to be. The more digestible it is, the more hypoallergenic I would say it is. To clarify the importance of specific ingredients in relation to suitability I often use the following analogy:
It’s all about the ingredients….
You’re at a BBQ on a lovely summer’s day, cold drink in hand and the food is ready to eat. The host offers you a huge prawn on a skewer, smothered in garlic and chilli (substitute prawn for something else if prawns are not your thing!) You decline though, despite it looking and smelling so great….The host persists though: ‘Please try one, they’re the best prawns in the world! Caught from the cleanest, bluest, deepest waters and they taste amazing!’ The fact is thought that you are allergic to prawns! Despite loving the taste of them the one time you did have them! No matter how good the quality or blue the water they came from, the fundamental issue is that they do not agree with you.
Transfer this logic across to your dog’s food. Your dog may love the smell and taste of a particular hypoallergenic dog food. However it’s hypoallergenic status does not automatically make it the best food for your dog. Furthermore, this can be a key reason why my customers come into the shop asking me ‘What is the best hypoallergenic dog food?’ They have often tried a number of hypoallergenic foods with little or no success in managing their dog’s allergies. Instead of blindly going from one hypoallergenic food to another, lets look at things a bit more closely…
Hypoallergenic Standard Extruded Biscuits
This is by far the most common type of hypoallergenic dry dog food on the market. Indeed the most common type of dry dog food in general. Pretty much all super market foods, both own brand and big brand are made this way. A very simple overview of the cooking process is as follows: Firstly the raw meat protein element, generally an animal carcass, is rendered. Rendering is a high temperature cooking process. At the end of this process there is a meat meal or meat powder. The remaining ingredients are then added to this meat meal and cooked a second time.
As you can see there are 2 distinct cooking stages. Dry dog food was generally made this way up until the mid 2000s. With such high production volumes and widespread use, economies of scale kicked in. As a result this a cost effective way to make both dry dog food and hypoallergenic dry dog food. As a result of the high cooking temperatures used in the rendering process, there is not a lot of point using really good quality meat. The high cooking temperatures and 2 stage cooking process destroy a lot of the nutrition in the protein. That said, there are many variations of this process, some better than others. There are many good quality, hypoallergenic dog foods on the market made this way. I have many customers with very fit and healthy dogs fed on hypoallergenic foods made like this.
Hypoallergenic Steam Cooked Dog Food Biscuits
Steam cooking hypoallergenic dog food is an evolution of the method above. The similarity between the two methods is that you start with raw ingredients at one end and finish with a cooked biscuit at the other. Indeed, hold a standard extruded biscuit in one hand and a steam cooked biscuit in the other, you’ll see they are very similar in appearance. Both hard, both crunchy. However steaming is a much more gentle cooking process using lower cooking temperatures (82c). Better quality meat can be used as a result of this lower cooking temperature. Often actual muscle meat. Thighs, breast, fillets etc. Less processing and interference also results in a more nutritious biscuit.
First hand experience
I have had the privilege of seeing one of the largest pet food manufacturing operations in the world. A variety of pet foods are made there. This includes steam cooked and standard extruded biscuits. Seeing the fresh, raw ingredients being delivered at one end of the building and following the steam production process through to the finished product was very interesting (for me anyway!) The raw meat is gently cooked at 82c to begin with and then mixed with the other ingredients. It is then portioned into the individual biscuit shapes and steam cooked. Next, it is moved by conveyor belt to pressurised container to have additional oils applied. The pressure in the container forces these oils to run through the whole biscuit. This further improves smell and taste.
Steam cooked hypoallergenic dog foods usually have a higher meat content when compared to standard extruded biscuits. This higher meat content, combined with the better quality raw ingredients and more gentle cooking process usually results in smaller feeding portions. As a result, steam cooked hypoallergenic dog foods tend to suit dogs with a sensitive digestion. Smaller portions mean less to digest.
Hypoallergenic Cold Pressed Dog Food
Cold pressed dog food is generally made using ingredients that are firstly dried and then ground. The ground mix is then pressed under very high pressure. The result of this pressing is the dog biscuit. The pressure of the pressing creates an amount of heat. Normally in the region of 45c-80c. This low heat gently cooks the food.
As a result of the production process, the digestive properties of the finished biscuit are slightly different to the two methods above. Cold Pressed dog food, when immersed in water for example do not absorb in the same way as standard extruded foods. And to a lesser extent steam cooked foods. As a result, cold pressed biscuits tend to disintegrate into a mushy powder when mixed with water. Dogs prone to GDV or bloat can benefit from this. Food swelling in the stomach can exacerbate bloat. Therefore Cold Pressed hypoallergenic dog foods are of particular relevance to owners of dog breeds prone to the condition.
Hypoallergenic Raw Feeding
As the name suggest, raw feeding is the feeding of raw, uncooked food to your dog. Complete and Home Prepared are two distinct categories of raw feeding. Complete feeding is where the manufacturer has developed a nutritionally balanced food for your dog. All you have to do is feed the appropriate amount for their age and weight. Home Prepared is where the dog owner combines all of the ingredients required to produce a nutritionally balanced feed. Home preparing can be a more cost effective method of raw feeing. However, take great care to ensure ingredients are added in the right ratios. Particularly when it comes to additives such as calcium for growing puppies.
Under the heading of raw feeding it is also worth mentioning Freeze Dried dog foods. Freeze dried food has all the moisture extracted from it. As a result it is a way of feeding a raw diet and avoiding some of the difficulties of raw feeding like freezer storage space and bacterial contamination.
Hypoallergenic Wet Food
Hypoallergenic wet dog food comes in many forms. Tins, trays, pouches etc. These are usually steam cooked in their containers. This retains the most amount of juices and nutrition. One important point to note about wet food is that the majority of wet dog food is actually naturally occurring moisture. So when you read the label on a wet food and look at percentages of protein etc, remember to allow for this. Most wet foods have around 75% moisture. In other words once this moisture is accounted for, a listed protein level of 5% is actually about 20%.
As you have reads, there are many forms of hypoallergenic dog food, the above is a brief synopsis. There are also many types of dogs with their own unique digestive requirements. This means that different dogs will suit different diets. There is no one best hypoallergenic dog food. You have to find out which type of food is best for your dog. This can be done by gradually introducing a new hypoallergenic food and looking out for any possible adverse reactions. At the same time it is important to exclude any other food sources or treats that may cause upset.
Should a negative reaction occur, it is likely that the food is not the right food for your dog. Select a different food and try again. Remember, a good hypoallergenic dog food, fed in the right amount will result in a firm and solid stool. The right feeding amount varies from dog to dog and food to food. In a nutshell though, you are looking for a portion size that the dog eats immediately, results in a firm poo and healthy bodyweight.
To see our selection of hypoallergenic standard extruded and steam cooked foods click here: