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Nutrition That Soothes

Hypoallergenic foods can help dog owners’ itchy or otherwise uncomfortable pets get back to looking and feeling their best.


Just like humans, dogs can develop food sensitivities or allergies. While these issues might be present in puppyhood, they also can develop over time and manifest in adult dogs.

Some pet owners might be generalizing symptoms as “allergies” and are sometimes confused by the differences between allergies—which can be caused by contact or food, inhaled or environmental—or sensitivities and triggers, said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif. 

“Dogs are itchy and are presenting with a number of issues including yeast, hot spots, hair loss, etc.,” Grow said. “Since food is the one thing within the pet parent’s direct control, many are looking to diet in the hope of alleviating symptoms.”

Allergy or Intolerance?
Because allergies might be mistaken for food intolerances, which are caused when a dog is unable to digest a specific ingredient, formulas with limited and simple ingredients are helpful in pinpointing the cause of a problem, said Jay P. Margedant, president of Flint River Ranch in Roswell, Ga.

Stocking hypoallergenic foods provides a starting point for consumers and allows retailers the opportunity to engage in a dialogue, explaining the differences between allergies, triggers and sensitivities, Grow said.

“This allows us a multilayered approach to better the animal’s situation internally, topically and transdermally through food, a holistic approach and education,” she said.

With the rise of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in pet food, it has become even more critical to look carefully at ingredient specification sheets during the verification process, said Jeffrey Allen Manley, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which has stores in the Savannah, Ga., area.

“GMOs are evident in pet foods that contain corn, wheat and soy,” he said.

Studies have found that pigs ingesting GMO corn suffered massive amounts of intestinal inflammation compared to those fed non-GMO corn, he added.

“The intestinal problems were passed on very quickly to the offspring,” Manley said.

Quality and Sourcing 
An important aspect of hypoallergenic pet foods is the quality and sourcing of proteins. Proteins graded for animal consumption only, as opposed to food-grade or human-grade proteins, tend to be of lower-grade quality and therefore contain more toxins, said Matt Koss, founder of Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco. These toxins ultimately can cause stress to an animal’s immune system, resulting in allergic symptoms such as yeast, hot spots and dry or oily skin, as well as excessive chewing of the paws, he said.

“Pet parents should be looking to source, feeding products that incorporate only food-grade or human-grade meats, poultry, game and fish protein products,” he said.

The benefits of feeding hypoallergenic formulas are apparent after a short time, said Flint River Ranch’s Margedant, with many pet owners noticing reduced or eliminated itching, licking and scratching in their pets, along with a healthier, shinier coat. As an added benefit, a healthier skin and coat serve to reduce the presence of pet dander, a major cause of certain allergies in the home, he said.

“We have elected to keep our Flint River Ranch formulas simple and not to include certain herbs and other ingredients that can also contribute to pet dander,” he said. 

Customers now do more painstaking research on the origins of the ingredients in their pets’ food, said Anita Nair, sales and operations manager at Addiction Foods in Kent, Wash. Retailers and consumers alike tend to be very upfront about contacting manufacturers and asking where each ingredient is sourced, she said.

However, because allergies vary greatly from pet to pet, there is no one-size-fits-all food, Furry Face’s Grow said. 

“If customers are looking for information about allergies, we go through the limited-ingredient process first,” said Teresa Miller, co-owner of Treats Unleashed, which has several stores in the St. Louis area.

Limited Ingredients 
Because limited-ingredient foods contain fewer components, it is easier to pin down the suspected allergen or intolerance.

“We focus on limited ingredients for a hypoallergenic pet food diet; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean grain free,” Miller said. “Not all dogs are allergic to grains.”

When discussing limited-ingredient diets, it’s important to consider the budget of the individual consumer, she said. For this reason, Treats Unleashed offers choices that are less expensive but still fit the hypoallergenic concept.

“An expensive, grain-free, limited-ingredient diet may be out of reach to a lot of people who are trying to take care of their pet,” she said. 

Novel Ingredients
Novel-ingredient dog foods contain ingredients a pet might not previously have been exposed to, making sensitivity less likely.

Foods with exotic or novel proteins often are recommended as hypoallergenic, as the overfeeding of certain proteins, such as chicken and beef, have resulted in many companion animals suffering allergies, Primal Pet Foods’ Koss said.

“At Primal, we offer unique proteins such as venison, rabbit and pheasant as alternatives for companion animals that have food protein sensitivities,” he added.

Many consumers start feeding Addiction Foods after trying other products on the market, Nair said.

“They come to us because their pets have severe food allergies,” she said. “Alternative sources, like our newest Addiction Outback Kangaroo Feast dehydrated foods, are the only proteins that do well for them.” 

Flint River Ranch’s oven-baked Duck Meal & Oatmeal and Trout & Potato formulas contain oatmeal and millet, which are not commonly found in pet foods and also are low-glycemic products, Margedant said.

“Pet owners want their pets to feel good, look good and not suffer from allergic reactions,” Margedant said. “[With hypoallergenic foods,] many see reduced/eliminated itching, licking and scratching in their pets, and an improved and shinier coat for an overall happier, healthier pet.”

At Furry Face, canned limited-ingredient food offerings include products from Weruva and Hound & Gatos. The store’s go-to hypoallergenic kibble is Zignature, because of its lack of ingredients such as chicken, potato and canola oil, Grow said.

“In freeze dried and raw, we stock Fresh Is Best and The Real Meat Co. in air dried and Primal [Pet Foods] and SmallBatch for their limited-ingredient and varied-protein chubs,” she said.


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