Lots of dog food companies today make limited ingredient diets. Limited ingredient foods were originally intended for dogs with food allergies or food intolerances. In the strictest sense, a limited ingredient dog food would have one protein and one carbohydrate. The owner would feed this food for a few weeks, without feeding any other foods or treats, to see how the dog reacted to it. This kind of strict limited ingredient diet is often fed on the advice of a veterinarian and as part of an elimination diet. If the dog can eat one protein and one carbohydrate successfully, the owner could add another ingredient to see how the dog reacted. Food trials, working with your vet, can help reveal the triggers for your dog’s food allergies or food intolerances.
At one time if your dog had a suspected food allergy, your vet would likely tell you to buy some lamb and rice at the store (or from your butcher if you had them in your city) and cook it for him. There was no lamb and rice dog food – hard to believe. Lamb was considered to be a novel protein. Lamb and rice was one of the original limited ingredient diets. Of course, now lamb and rice dog food is so popular that some dogs are allergic to lamb.
Many of the limited ingredient diets that are commercially available today have more than one protein and one carbohydrate as ingredients. In fact, some of these limited ingredient diets are not much different from other dog foods. They may contain several kinds of protein – both meat and plant-based. Some of them contain several different carbs. In some cases they even contain fermentation products and botanicals. While companies may advertise that these foods are easy to digest or that the ingredients are healthy, that’s not the point. A limited ingredient diet should have a limited number of ingredients. We have seen some so-called “limited ingredient” diets with 25-30 ingredients.
If you are looking for a limited ingredient diet because your dog has food allergies or intolerances, be sure to look at the list of ingredients in the food, especially if you are not quite sure about your dog’s food triggers. A food that contains a couple of dozen ingredients is more likely to contain something that could trigger a reaction in your dog if he has food sensitivities. Even an ingredient such as “natural flavoring,” depending on how it was made and what it contains, could be an allergy trigger. Fewer ingredients, especially if they are good quality, are usually better for these dogs.
If you really need a limited ingredient diet, Royal Canin and Hill’s make prescription diets, though they are expensive. Otherwise, Natural Balance has some limited ingredient diets but you will need to read the ingredients carefully. Some of them contain a lot of ingredients and some are better than others. Wellness Simple also makes a limited ingredient diet though it does contain fermentation products and some other things that might be problematic for a dog with food sensitivities. You can also check out some of the dog foods with novel proteins, though they aren’t necessarily limited ingredient diets. These foods are often very expensive depending on the protein and where it’s from.
If your dog really has allergy problems you might have to consider some kind of plant-protein or dog food that uses hydrolyzed protein. Hydrolyzed protein has particles that are so small that your dog’s system can’t identify the source, so can’t have an allergic reaction to them. Purina, Hill’s, and Royal Canin make prescription diets using hydrolyzed protein.
Dogs are more likely to be allergic to meat proteins than anything else in their diet, so if your dog does have food allergies, that’s usually the first place to look. Changing the meat protein you feed can often help.
Not everyone buys limited ingredient diets because their dog has food allergies or intolerances. Some people like these foods for other reasons. In some cases the foods do have fewer ingredients than other dog foods (aside from all the vitamins and minerals) and that appeals to some owners. If your dog isn’t likely to be sensitive to fermentation products or other things we have mentioned as objections, many of these limited ingredient dog foods should be very good diets for most dogs.
As with any food, if you decide to feed a limited ingredient dog food, make the change slowly. If you are feeding the food because your dog has been having food issues, once he is only eating the new food you can start watching him to see how he is handling the new diet. Are his symptoms improving? Is he showing any reaction to the food (though this might start showing up as soon as you begin introducing the food)? If he is going to improve from eating the food you should begin to see some positive signs soon. Observe your dog’s coat, his skin, his weight, his energy levels. Are his eyes clear? Does he have any discharge from his eyes or nose? Is he itching or scratching? If he has food intolerances, is he able to eat the new food without any gastrointestinal upset?
Hopefully the new food will work for your dog. If it doesn’t, or if the food seems to be making your dog worse, go back to feeding his previous food – assuming it was working for your dog at least tolerably well. You’ll have to start over to find a food that helps his condition.
We always recommend working with your vet to try to identify food allergies and intolerances. Speaking from experience with a dog’s allergies, it can take a very long time to figure out the problem if you don’t work with a good vet and it will end up costing you a lot of money while you try things that don’t work. Not only that, but your dog will go on suffering in the meantime. Don’t just guess at what your dog’s problem might be. Talk to a good vet.