Which Diet is Best for Your Dog?

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Dog food has changed a lot since Mr. Spratt created his meat fibrine biscuit for dogs or even since your only choice was kibble or canned food. Today you can not only choose different flavors, recipes, and meat proteins for your dog, but there is a multitude of special diets. There are so many companies, brands, and diets today that trying to decide what to feed your dog can feel like a research project.

Here’s a look at some dog food trends and diets that are currently popular. Maybe this overview will help you make some decisions.

The “grain-inclusive” diet

This used to be traditional dog food but today grain free foods have become so popular that we needed a way to distinguish “regular” dog food from the grain free foods. “Grain inclusive” seems to be the most popular term for these foods. They don’t usually contain corn, wheat, or soy – at least in some of the top quality foods – but they can contain other grains and cereals such as rice, barley, oatmeal, and “ancestral” grains (another popular new term in the pet food world) such as quinoa. Some of these “grains” are actually cereals, grasses, or seeds, but it usually takes too long to go into such explanations so they are just considered grains. Many dogs can eat foods containing these alternative grains without any difficulty, even if corn or wheat have been a problem.

As with all dog foods, you should run the numbers and figure the dry matter basis for grain-inclusive foods. They range from foods that are relatively low in carbs to some that are high in carbohydrates. And, of course, check the ingredients. Many good brands today make grain-inclusive foods but it’s always important to make sure the ingredients used are of good quality.

Grain free

Grain free foods are very popular at the moment and most dog food companies offer grain free lines of food. However, not every dog needs a grain free food and your dog may not do best on one, depending on the ingredients and dry matter basis of the food.

Grain free foods originated because veterinarians were recommending owners provide food for their dogs that did not contain certain grains – dogs that seemed to have food allergies to some of the common grains in dog foods such as corn and wheat. People feeding their dogs a raw diet using meat and few carbs were also claiming success with their dogs’ health. (A company in Canada actually claims to have created the first grain free food in the mid-1990s.) By the late 1990s grain free dog foods began to be seen more frequently. After the pet food recalls in 2007, when glutens were implicated in the adulteration of dog food, sales of grain free food started booming. Anything with glutens or grains seemed to be off-limits to many dog owners.

Here is our obligatory information about glutens and grains: glutens are the proteins from grains but, as used by the pet food industry, the term is jargon. Some cereals and other “grains” don’t really have any gluten. For example, rice doesn’t have gluten, but the pet food industry uses the term “rice gluten.” Corn has protein but, again, it doesn’t really have any gluten. Yet the term “corn gluten meal” is quite common. The only grains which really have gluten are wheat (including wheat varieties like spelt, kamut, farro and durum, plus products like bulgar and semolina), barley, rye, triticale and oats.

Is gluten harmful to dogs? That depends on the dog and who you ask. If your dog has food allergies or food sensitivities, or any kind of digestive disorder, then it’s possible that glutens might make things worse. However, the vast majority of dogs in the world can eat foods that contain grains with glutens without any problem.

Some dogs are allergic to the protein in some grains. However, grains are by no means the most common food allergen for dogs. The most common food allergens for dog are, in order: beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. So, your dog is more likely to be allergic to beef or chicken than to grains like corn or wheat. None of these ingredients are “harmful” but if your particular dog has trouble with them, you should clearly avoid feeding them.

Corn and wheat are not even particularly bad for dogs. The problem with them from our perspective is that they have been widely overused in the pet food industry as filler ingredients in place of actual meat. There are certainly worse ingredients for dogs than corn or wheat (think oat hulls, peanut hulls, rice hulls, soybean mill run, wheat middlings), though we do recommend you look for better ingredients in the dog food you choose.

Grain free diets can be a good choice for some dogs, especially if your dog has food allergies, food sensitivities, or other health issues. These foods are often higher in protein and they can be lower in carbs (but not always). They are often good quality dog foods but it’s important to read the ingredients carefully and check dry matter basis for the food.

In some cases grain free dog foods are higher in protein because they replace grains in the food with copious amounts of peas and lentils. Peas and lentils are much higher in protein than grains such as corn. While corn has bout 6-7 percent protein, peas (field peas, split peas, chickpeas) have about 22-24 percent protein. So a dog food that uses peas as a source of protein (especially in the first several ingredients) will often look like it’s very high in protein. It is high in protein but it has additional plant-based protein instead of additional meat-based protein, so the food is somewhat misleading to the customer. As mentioned elsewhere, your dog can digest meat-based protein much more easily than plant-based protein.

Carbohydrates can also be high in these foods because they use ingredients such as potatoes, tapioca, sweet potatoes, and other starches. These foods sound healthier to consumers than corn and wheat but they are still carbohydrates.

There are lots of good grain free dog foods right now. Acana, Farmina, Fromm, Addiction, Orijen, Nulo, Victor, Canidae Grain Free Pure, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Merrick, Kirkland Signature Nature’s Domain, Taste of the Wild and other companies all make good grain free foods.

High protein diets

Several trends have combined in recent years to make high protein diets for dogs popular. Since the 1970s there has been a move toward feeding dogs a healthier, more natural diet – and away from commercial dog food. There has also been increasing interest in the idea of dogs as carnivores – the descendants of wolves – and how that should influence their diet. Raw feeding has had a definite influence on the kind of food that people want to feed their dogs, too.

Many people like the idea of feeding their dog like a carnivore, with more natural ingredients, more meat in the diet, and higher protein/fewer carbohydrates, but they aren’t able to take the plunge into feeding a raw diet. As always, the pet food industry has been happy to fill the void. Lots of companies have today market foods that are supposedly based on a raw diet for dogs, or a carnivore diet. Orijen and ZiwiPeak, for example, follow this format. Blue Wilderness, Acana, EVO, and Nulo are other foods that are high in protein with lower carbohydrates.

The thought behind many of these foods is that many health problems in modern dogs, such as diabetes  and obesity, can be traced directly to the high carbohydrates in so many dog foods. With foods that take this biologically appropriate approach, the idea is that dogs were not intended to eat the kind of modern diet we normally feed them. If they eat a diet that is high in protein with few or no carbohydrates, they should live healthier lives.

Many of these foods are very high quality. They are high in meat protein with good quality ingredients. As with all foods, you should read the ingredients and figure the dry matter basis for the food to make sure the percentages are what they claim.

It’s important to know that the National Research Councils Nutrient Requirements for Dogs and Cats lists very modest protein requirements for dogs. Their recommendations are based on many years of research and are updated as new research is completed. (You can see some of the AAFCO and NRC recommendations here.  According to AAFCO, the minimum protein requirements for dogs are 22 percent for growth and reproduction; and 18 percent for adult maintenance. However, protein requirements do vary, depending on a dog’s activity level and stage of life.

Species and Growth StageRecommended Protein %Recommended Fat %
Puppy28%17%
Adult dog18%9-15%
Performance dog25%20%
Racing sled dog35%50%
Lactating dog28%17%

Nearly all premium dog foods today have much more protein than the minimal AAFCO requirements. Do keep in mind that protein from good quality meat sources is great but some dog foods – even from well-known companies – boost their protein percentages by using large amounts of peas, pea protein, and soy products. Dogs can utilize these plant sources of protein but not as easily or as thoroughly as meat sources of protein. It’s not uncommon to see a premium dog food change their formulation, remove a meat source of protein from the food, and replace it with peas. The protein percentage on the label may stay the same, but it’s possible that your dog will not be able to digest the food as well or get as many nutrients from the food so you may see a change in his coat, condition, or weight. He may experience some digestive upset or diarrhea. It’s also not unusual to see the addition of probiotics to dog foods that suddenly add peas and lentils to their formula since the probiotics may help dogs digest the plant-based protein better.

Does your dog really need to eat a dog food that has 40 percent protein? Probably not, unless he’s a racing sled dog. Dogs have been living with us for thousands of years and they have certainly adapted to eating a diet similar to ours – which does contain carbs. They do not eat the same diet as wolves today and dogs are not obligate carnivores like cats. They have developed enzymes so they can digest carbs, which wolves don’t have.  Your dog doesn’t really need to eat a prey model or carnivore diet. However, many dogs do thrive on a meat-based diet so if you prefer to feed a high protein diet and your dog does well on this kind of food, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feed it – as long as your bank account can afford it. These are some of the most expensive foods in the dog food world. Not only are the overall ingredients usually of very good quality, but meat is the single most expensive ingredient in dog food and these foods usually have lots of meat.

Can you give your dog too much protein? Maybe yes – or no. Theoretically, if a healthy dog eats too much protein, he will simply pass the unused portion in his urine. The rest is converted to fat or used as calories. However, meat does contain other nutrients besides protein. Too much meat protein can make it difficult to maintain a good calcium-phosphorus ratio, which affects bone growth. For this reason, foods that are very high in protein are sometimes not recommended for growing puppies, especially large breed puppies. These puppies have to be careful about the calcium-phosphorus ratio in their food because of their bone growth.

High protein should not cause kidney problems for healthy dogs but if your dog has existing kidney problems then a diet they is very high in protein can worsen those problems. It can also make liver problems worse.

Healthy dogs should not have a problem eating high protein diets, especially if they are active and use lots of energy. Some older dogs can also benefit from more protein as they age since it can be harder for them to metabolize nutrients like protein as they get older. However, it’s important that the meat protein comes from quality sources if older dogs are to use it. They won’t be able to benefit from the protein if it comes from poor quality sources. If your dog has any health issues, especially any kidney problems, talk to your veterinarian before deciding to feed a high protein dog food.

Low protein

You may wonder why someone would want to feed a low protein dog food. Dogs with renal disease or who are in kidney failure can benefit from these diets. While most research today suggests that dogs can eat average or higher amounts of protein safely, even if they have minor kidney issues, if a dog has a more serious kidney problem, it’s advisable to seek a dog food with lower phosphorus. The low phosphorus in the diet is just as important – or more important – than lowering the protein percentage. These two elements – lower phosphorus and lower protein – are often found together in a dog food.

Several companies make low protein prescription dog food. They include Hills Prescription Diet and their k/d Canine Renal Health Dog Food for kidney care. If you need this kind of food for your dog you will need a prescription from your veterinarian. If your dog has kidney disease or renal failure, it’s important that he sees a veterinarian. You should discuss his diet and other care. This condition is life-threatening and your dog’s diet is important for his health.

If your dog has kidney disease or renal failure, we recommend that you read this page on the Dogaware.com site http://dogaware.com/health/kidneyprotein.html#letter. It discusses a disagreement about low protein dog food. The information on this page goes into more detail than we can provide about food for this condition.

Most healthy dogs will not require a low protein dog food so you won’t need to worry about this subject or about phosphorus levels.

Weight Management

“Weight management” or weight control dog food is usually a euphemism for low calorie or low fat dog food. It’s usually intended for dogs that are overweight or obese. Considering the fact that about half the dogs in the United States are estimated to be overweight or obese, it’s not surprising that dog food companies have seen an opportunity with this food niche. 

Obesity in dogs is mostly preventable. It’s usually due to overfeeding and too little exercise, unless your dog has a health issue that leads to weight gain. However, it’s not always easy for dogs to lose weight once they put on the extra pounds. Owners often don’t know how many calories their dog needs to maintain a healthy weight, how many calories are in the food they feed, or even what their dog should look like at a healthy weight. Many owners think that dogs are supposed to be a little pudgy. In fact, healthy dogs should have a slight tuck-up behind the ribs (this is a dog’s waistline). You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but not see them. Healthy, fit dogs should be slim. If you have questions about whether your dog is overweight, you should talk to your vet or look at a body chart for comparison.

Weight management dog foods typically have more carbohydrates or fillers than other dog foods, but fewer calories. They aim to make dogs feel full so they won’t be hungry between meals. They also have less fat than other foods since fat normally contains a lot of the calories found in dog foods. Some of these food are also lower in protein. They often add the amino acid L-carnitine that helps the body convert fat to energy and muscle. The idea is to encourage the dog’s body to use up some of its fat reserves and lose weight.

Most well-known pet food manufacturers make weight management foods as one of their offerings since these foods are in demand. Do check out the labels and guaranteed analyses since they often have very high carb percentages and low protein. You will usually need to figure the dry matter basis for the food in order to arrive at the percentage of carbohydrates since most companies don’t provide this information.

Also pay attention to the fat percentages in these foods. One of the problems you may encounter is very low fat percentages. Yes, this is a way to lower the calories in the food, but if there is an extremely low fat percentage, your dog will probably still be hungry between meals. They food may also not taste very good to him so he may not want to eat it. You may want to avoid foods that are extremely low in fat. Most experts suggest choosing a weight management dog food with a fat percentage between 12 and 16 percent. Look for a protein percentage no lower than 25 percent.

If you don’t like the idea of feeding a weight management dog food, you can try cutting back on your dog’s regular food and feeding smaller portions. If your dog insists he’s starving, try adding (low sodium) green beans to his food. This is an old trick that helps dogs feel full when they eat without adding many calories.

If you are free feeding your dog (leaving food out all the time), your dog will probably lose some weight if you switch to feeding his meals on a regular schedule and measuring his portions. Leaving food down encourages snacking all day, which leads to added weight. Increasing your dog’s daily exercise is another good way to help him lose weight, even if it’s just adding a daily walk.

Watch the treats you give your dog, too. Treats are often high in calories and they can add up.

Beight overweight or obese can lead to serious health problems for your dog such as diabetes, respiratory problems, cardiac problems, joint problems and arthritis, problems during surgery, and other dangers. Weight issues can shorten your dog’s life so try to watch how much you are feeding your dog.

If you have a puppy or elderly dog, we don’t recommend a weight management dog food. We don’t recommend them for pregnant or nursing female dogs either. These foods may not have the nutrients that these dogs need.

If your dog does need to lose weight, take things slowly. Dogs don’t become overweight all at once and they can’t lose weight quickly. Don’t expect your dog to lose more than about 1 percent of his body weight per week.

Senior

It’s not always easy to find a good senior dog food. Many dog food companies combine their “senior” dog food with their weight control dog food in the apparent belief that all older dogs are overweight and need to lose pounds. Since most weight control dog foods are high in carbs and low in protein and fat, these foods are often not the best choice for older dogs, especially if you have an older dog that is not overweight. Many elderly dogs have trouble metabolizing nutrients as they get older so they can need more – not less – protein as they age, meaning that these combination senior dog foods/weight control foods are a terrible choice. Some senior dogs may need as much as 50 percent more protein as they age than adult dogs. Elderly dogs that don’t get enough protein can start using the protein from their own muscles which leads to physcial deterioration – and that’s the last thing you want to see in an older dog.

Fortunately, things are improving with senior dog foods. Today there are more choices than there were a few years ago. You can now find foods made for “mature” senior dogs. These foods seem to be made for dogs that are just past the prime of life – from about 7 to 11 years old for most dogs. These dogs are slowing down but still active. They may have gained some extra weight, so these foods may have a slightly lower fat content than regular dog food. As long as the food still has a good protein percentage, these foods seem like a good step.

However, past this age, when dogs become elderly, they can require a higher fat content in their food since they can have problems metabolizing the fat. These aging dogs may have some health problems or arthritis. This age can vary, depending on the breed or mix. Smaller dogs typically have a longer lifespan – often well into their teen years; while giant breeds are often elderly by the time they are 9-10 years old. It’s important for you to watch your dog’s condition and observe whether he’s gaining or losing weight; whether he’s still active; and how much he’s eating.

Senior dogs often start to lose interest in food as they get older. Their senses can begin to fail. Food may no longer have much taste or odor for them. You can do some things to make food more appealing to them such as adding canned food to kibble; warming their food or adding water to kibble to make a gravy. Add some stew or yogurt to your dog’s food as a topping. Add some chicken or steak to your dog’s food from your own meal.

Older dogs can stop eating for other reasons, too. For example, many older dogs can have problems with their teeth. If your dog seems hungry but he’s not eating, check his teeth and gums. He could have a bad tooth. Terrible breath is often a sign that your dog has some dental decay and needs a trip to the vet. If your older dog doesn’t come when you call him for dinner, he could be losing his hearing. Go find him when it’s dinner time so he knows it’s time to eat. Older dogs can have cataracts, too, that could keep them from seeing their food clearly.

Older dogs can safely eat foods with higher protein percentages as long as they do not have any kidney or liver problems.

Some foods for senior dogs add glucosamine and chondroitin. This isn’t a bad idea but if you really want your older dog to benefit from these supplements you will likely need to add them separately to his diet. They are easy to find at drugstores, big box stores, or online. These supplements are used to help with arthritis and other joint and mobility problems. Many dog owners firmly believe in their effectiveness though the science is somewhat inconclusive.

Some older dogs can also begin to experience problems with canine cognitive dysfunction (similar to Alzheimer’s in humans). This syndrome is not reversible in dogs but you can talk to your vet about medication that will slow it down. There are also a couple of dog foods available for older dogs that use medium chain triglycerides (palm and coconut oil) that seem to help dogs that are starting to withdraw and show signs of this problem.

Sensitive Skin

Many dogs today seem to have skin problems. These problems are not always due to a food allergy or food sensitivity. Sometimes they are caused by fleas or internal pests such as worms. A poor immune system can also lead to other health problems that have bad skin and coat as a symptom. A poor diet or feeding a dog food that is deficient in some important nutrients can also lead to skin and coat problems.

If your dog does have problems with allergies, they he could be allergic to something other than ingredients in his food. For example, dogs can be allergic to things they touch or inhale, just like people. They can have seasonal allergies to pollen and grass; allergies to dust mites; and, of course, they can have flea allergies. In fact, flea allergies are the most common allergies for dogs. Itching and scratching from fleas can drive a dog crazy and cause a dog to chew his skin trying to find relief. If the problem is bad enough, the dog’s skin can become infected and lead to loss of hair and sores. Most parts of the U.S. do have fleas at least part of the year so it’s important to make sure your dog is protected from fleas (and ticks). There are lots of good flea preventives available today. Talk to your veterinarian about the best choices for your dog. Don’t forget to banish any fleas from your home and yard as well so they won’t return after a couple of weeks.

Inhalant or atopic allergies are the second most common kind of allergies for dogs. These allergies include things like grass and pollen that your dog breathes in. They are often seasonal so they come and go. When they are present, they can be just as bad as any other kind of allergy and cause your dog to itch and scratch and have skin problems.

Food allergies are only the third most common allergies for dogs. They are estimated to make up about 10 percent of the allergies found in dogs. Dogs can be allergic to any kind of food but they have to encounter it more than once before they can develop an allergy to it. The most common food allergens for dogs are (in order): beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. You will notice that these are also some of the most common ingredients found in dog foods. The more exposure dogs have to ingredients, the more they (as a population) are likely to develop allergies to them. These are not inherently “bad” ingredients. They just happen to be very common. At one time lamb was recommended as a novel protein but it’s become such a common ingredient in dog foods that some dogs have developed allergies to it. Today peas are found in so many dog foods that some dogs are being diagnosed with allergies to them.

If your dog has a food allergy, you may be able to simply avoid the ingredient that triggers your dog’s allergy. However, in some cases a dog that has one food allergy often develops more triggers so you need to be watchful to see if your dog has more problems with other foods. If you are unsure about which ingredient is causing a problem for your dog, you should talk to your veterinarian about setting up an elimination diet and food trials so you can isolate which ingredient(s) are causing problems for your dog. Once identified, you should be able to find some foods that are suitable for your dog to eat.

Dogs can have sensitive skin for other reasons that don’t include allergies or pests. For example, if you have a white dog, he may have pink skin. These dogs often have thin coats and sensitive skin. Hairless dogs can have skin that is more sensitive than other dogs.

Whatever the case, if your dog has sensitive skin, it’s important to learn why your dog is having problems with his skin. It doesn’t help to give your dog a food made for sensitive skin if he has a flea allergy. And if your dog needs to avoid certain ingredients, you need to know which ones.

Dog food made for sensitive skin problems usually avoids some of the most common food allergens but this can vary according to brand. They often contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and linoleic acid since these fats are considered to be beneficial for the skin. They may also contain Vitamin E.

Some brands will combine sensitive skin and sensitive stomach formulas so these foods may contain more fiber to be gentle for a dog’s stomach. They recipes often feature fish, such as salmon, since it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acid, or venison since it’s considered a novel protein.

Foods for dogs with sensitive skin are often slightly more expensive than regular dog foods but they tend to have good quality ingredients. You will particularly want to avoid foods with any artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, or other potential triggers if your dog has sensitive skin. Many dog food companies make good versions of these foods so you should be able to find a food that your dog can eat as long as his issues aren’t too extreme. If he has serious allergies you will probably need to consider hypoallergenic dog food or a prescription diet.

Hypoallergenic

Some dogs with food allergies can get by with eating regular dog food that doesn’t contain certain ingredients. They can eat food for dogs with sensitive skin or a limited ingredient dog food, for example. However, if your dog has a serious food allergy, you may need to feed a hypoallergenic dog food. These foods usually have exotic or novel proteins. These are proteins that are uncommon in the United States and Canada such as kangaroo, rabbit, quail, duck, and other proteins. They typically avoid using ingredients that are common triggers for dog food allergies such as corn, wheat, and soy.

As already mentioned, food allergies are not the most common kind of allergy among dogs, making up only about 10 percent of the allergies found in dogs. However, dogs can also have food intolerances. If you’re wondering about the difference, a food allergy has typical allergy symptoms such as itching and scratching which affect the dog’s face, ears, paws, legs, stomach, and the croup of the tail. The itching can be so intense that it causes your dog to bite and chew at his skin. He can actually make himself bald from all of the itching and chewing. This can cause ear and skin infections to develop. These allergies can even cause dogs to have more frequent bowel movements and affect the dog’s immune system. Secondary bacterial infections and yeast infections can become involved, making it even harder to treat the skin problems.

On the other hand, a food intolerance is more of a gastrointestinal problem. If you’ve ever eaten a fried or spicy meal that doesn’t agree with you – and then spent the next couple of hours in the bathroom – that’s a food intolerance. Your dog can experience an upset stomach and diarrhea. In these cases, even if you feed your dog a limited ingredient diet, if it happens to contain one of the ingredients that disagrees with him, he will still have a problem.

If you have a dog with multiple food allergies or food intolerances it can sometimes be very difficult to find a food that your dog can eat. In these cases we strongly recommend that you work with your veterinarian to identify the specific ingredients that cause problems for your dog. Otherwise you may be constantly buying different expensive limited ingredient/sensitive skin foods that don’t help your dog’s problem. All this will do is keep your dog’s stomach and intestinal tract inflamed which will make his problems worse. This is true even if you are buying the most expensive dog food available. If it contains some of the ingredients that are triggers for your dog, the food is no good.

We should discusss “limited ingredient diets” for a moment. Lots of dog food companies make these foods today. The idea behind a limited ingredient diet from a veterinary perspective is that it should contain one protein and one carbohydrate that your dog hasn’t eaten before (and very little else). Once your dog can safely eat this simple diet, your vet would let you begin to add individual items to the diet so you could see if they triggered a reaction in your dog. Doing this would let you find out what your dog was allergic to in a food trial. However, commercial limited ingredient diets are a little different. These foods often contain quite a few ingredients. They may or may not contain just one protein and one carbohydrate. And they often contain lots of other ingredients besides just vitamins and minerals. Lots of these foods add all of the ingredients you see in other dog foods such as botanicals, amino acids, fermentation products/probiotics, and so on. While these may be nice ingredients in some foods, we question whether it’s really a good idea to add these ingredients to a food that is supposed to be “limited ingredient.” If your dog has food allergies or food intolerances, why would you feed him a dog food that contains all of these extra ingredients that could potentially cause problems for him? Any one of these extra ingredients could be a trigger for his condition. So, if you decide to feed your dog a commercially-made “limited ingredient diet,” we recommend you find one that is fairly simple and basic and which does not contain all of these extra ingredients. If your veterinarian advises you to put your dog on a limited ingredient diet, we suggest that you run the ingredients by your vet first to make sure they look okay.

If your dog doesn’t have a food allergy or food intolerance, then you can’t prevent him fro developing one by feeding him a novel protein or limited ingredient diet. In fact, if you feed your dog novel proteins when he doesn’t need them, you are just exposing him to foods that he might need if he ever does develop an allergy. Since he has already eaten these novel proteins, they really won’t be a good option for him if he happens to develop a food allergy later in life.

For severe allergy cases, you may need to feed your dog a prescription hypoallergenic dog food. Companies such as Hill’s, Royal Canin, and Purina are well-known for making prescription hypoallergenic foods. These foods do require a prescription from your veterinarian. They are also very expensive. However, in some cases they are foods of last resort. Some of these foods use “hydrolyzed” protein. This means that the protein in the food has been reduced to molecules that are so small that your dog’s immune system cannot recognize them – so it doesn’t produce an allergic reaction to them. These foods are for the very worst allergy cases.

Again, before doing anything or buying any limited ingredient foods or other foods for your dog, if you suspect he has a food allergy or food intolerance, we suggest talking to your veterinarian. Your dog could have some other problem that’s not food-related.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, food allergies in dogs can appear at any age: “The age of onset is variable, from 2 mo to 14 yr old. One report indicated that most food allergies begin at <12 mo of age. In adult-onset food allergy, most dogs have been fed the offending allergen for >2 yr.”  Dogs will sometimes develop new food allergies over time. Food allergies and food sensitivites can occur in any breed or mix, male or female, intact and spayed/neutered dogs.

Prescription Diet

While some dogs do need a prescription diet for food allergies, there are many other reasons why a dog might require a prescription diet. Many dogs with special health problems are prescribed prescription diet foods by their veterinarians. You can find foods for urinary tract health, aging, skin problems, weight and metabolism, renal problems, hepatic problems, cardiac issues, mobility issues, gastrointestinal issues, and more. Hill’s probably makes more prescription diets than any other company but Royal Canin and Purina also make many prescription diets. These large companies have invested a lot of money in research and development for these diets. They have special facilities to be able to make the foods under precise conditions. And some of the research that goes into their prescription diets can find its way into their commercial foods so it can benefit all dogs.

You may not like the ingredients when you read the labels on some of these foods but veterinarians and dog owners generally report that the prescription diets are effective. If you search online, you can often find research that backs up the company’s claims about these prescription diets. The foods often receive poor ratings on dog food review sites because they contain grains and they can be high in carbohydrates. However, if you check PubMed and other sites for scientific papers, you can often find information about some of the ingredients used in the diets. The companies often reference these ingredients and their research on the web sites for their prescription diets.

These foods do require a prescription from your veterinarian, as you might guess. They are typically quite expensive and they are not usually fed unless other options have failed.

You can sometimes find non-prescription commercial dog foods that claim to help certain dog health problems. You should talk to your veterinarian before feeding one of these foods. It’s possible this could be a solution for your dog’s issue in some cases.

If your dog has a health problem, we suggest that you take the advice of friends cautiously. People love to offer advice about dog food but not everyone knows what they’re talking about. You are usually better off talking to your veterinarian, a canine nutritionist, or a pet food expert. Make sure the person you’re talking to really understands pet food and your dog’s health issue. The last thing you want to do is make your dog’s health worse by feeding him the wrong food.

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