What is Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food? Types, Pros, and Cons


 

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore, MRCVS (Vet) Photo

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore, MRCVS (Vet)

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Sifting through the jungle of diet options available for dogs in this day and age can be as equally confusing as it is overwhelming. While you sort through the diverse foods on the market and try and understand the differences, you will likely come across hydrolyzed protein dog foods. While some of the others are a bit easy to understand, you may be left wondering what hydrolyzed protein is, exactly.

In some special dog foods, usually prescription diets available from veterinary surgeons, hydrolyzed protein is used. The protein goes through a process called hydrolysis, which breaks down the proteins into smaller building blocks. Keep reading to find out more about hydrolyzed protein.

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How Does It Work?

Hydrolyzed protein dog foods are formulated using hydrolyzed protein rather than regular protein. They are used for dogs that suffer from ailments such as severe food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, sensitive stomach, and even pancreatic insufficiency.

Hydrolyzed proteins are created through the process of hydrolysis, which is a chemical process where enzymes are used to break down the protein molecules into smaller peptide chains.

Once the protein has been broken down into amino acids and peptides, they become more easily absorbed in the digestive tract and reduce the risk of an immune reaction. Allergic reactions to food develop when the immune system misidentifies a certain food protein as a potential threat, resulting in a variety of allergy symptoms. Since these foods are made to contain protein chains too small to trigger the immune system, they are commonly prescribed to dogs that suffer from severe food allergies.

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What Are the Different Types of Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food?

Several different brands produce hydrolyzed protein dog food. There are both dry kibble and canned food varieties. We have listed the different brands and formulas below and included their main ingredients, caloric content, and the protein and fat content in each recipe.

Hydrolyzed Protein Dry Dog Food

1. Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Chicken Flavor Dry Dog Food

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Chicken Flavor Dry Dog Food
Main ingredients: Corn Starch, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein Isolate, Partially Hydrogenated Canola Oil Preserved with Tbhq, Coconut Oil, Powdered Cellulose
Protein content: 18% min
Fat content: 8% min
Calories: 3,695 kcal/kg, 314 kcal/cup

2. Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Vegetarian Dry Dog Food

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Vegetarian Dry Dog Food
Main ingredients: Corn Starch, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein Isolate, Coconut Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Canola Oil Preserved With TBHQ, Powdered Cellulose
Protein content: 18% min
Fat content: 9.5% min
Calories: 3,695 kcal/kg, 314 kcal/cup

Hydrolyzed Protein Canned Dog Food

1. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Hydrolyzed Protein Loaf Canned Dog Food

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Hydrolyzed Protein Loaf Canned Dog Food
Main ingredients: Water Sufficient for Processing, Pea Starch, Hydrolyzed Chicken Liver, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Vegetable Oil
Protein content: 5% min
Fat content: 2.5% min
Calories: 1,016 kcal/kg, 396 kcal/can

2. Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d Skin/Food Sensitivities Original Flavor Wet Dog Food

Hill's Prescription Diet z d Skin Food Sensitivities Original Flavor Wet Dog Food
Main ingredients: Water, Hydrolyzed Chicken Liver, Corn Starch, Powdered Cellulose, Soybean Oil
Protein content: 3.0% min
Fat content: 2.3% min
Calories: 352 kcal / 13 oz (370 g) can

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When Is Hydrolyzed Protein Used?

Hydrolyzed protein is prescribed when a veterinarian feels it is necessary for a dog’s health to make the switch to this type of protein. It is used for a variety of different health conditions:

Food Allergies

Most often, hydrolyzed protein diets are utilized in the elimination phase of food trials when a veterinarian is trying to determine the root cause of an allergy. These foods are used to remove potential food allergens from the diet and return the immune system to its normal state.

The brand of food in the elimination diet will be dependent on the patient’s preference and veterinarian’s professional opinion. The elimination trials typically last 8 to 12 weeks before foods with potential allergens are introduced back in. This is a strict process but the most effective way to diagnose a food allergy. No alternative foods or treats are allowed during the elimination trial.

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Hydrolyzed dog foods have proven effective in managing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs, Studies show that feeding hydrolyzed proteins reduces the severity of the chronic symptoms associated with the condition such as vomiting and diarrhea. Studies also suggest that the long-term use of hydrolyzed protein improves the overall health of the intestinal membrane.

Sensitive Stomach

The sensitive stomach can be more of a blanket term to cover any digestive issues including conditions like food allergies and inflammatory bowel disease listed above. Some dogs have trouble digesting food and when trouble with digestion is persistent, hydrolyzed proteins can be very beneficial. Since the proteins are already broken down into smaller components, meaning it is in a pre-digested form, it becomes much more easily digestible and even has higher nutrient profiles due to the hydrolysis process.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Another health condition that can benefit from a hydrolyzed protein diet is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or EPI. With this condition, a dog does not produce adequate amounts of pancreatic enzymes that are needed to properly break down food during digestion. As mentioned above for dogs with other issues digesting, the hydrolysis process the food goes through improves the digestibility of the protein and helps manage the symptoms of this condition.

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Advantages of Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

Easy to Digest

As we’ve discussed previously, the process that hydrolyzed protein dog food goes through breaks the proteins down into smaller components known as amino acids and peptides. This takes the protein to a pre-digested state and allows the gastrointestinal system to easily digest the food and absorb the nutrients. This makes the nutrient profile of these foods superior to regular proteins.

Eliminates Allergens

Hydrolyzed proteins are built to fly under the radar of the immune system, preventing them from causing the immune reaction of the specific allergen that afflicts the dog. They are too small to bind to the receptors that can trigger allergic response. When used in elimination diets, it allows the immune system to become free of the irritating allergen and resets it to its normal state. This eliminates the inflammatory response and allows the veterinarian to reintroduce different proteins and other potential allergens in the diet so that the specific issue can be identified, and the food allergy can be diagnosed.

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Can Resolve GI Issues

Dogs that struggle with digestive issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatic insufficiency, or any digestive impairment can benefit from this food. Studies have proven that hydrolyzed protein food can either improve or resolve gastrointestinal issues and eliminate troublesome symptoms.

Available in Dry Kibble and Canned Options

Thankfully, there are both dry kibble and canned varieties available. This helps for picky eaters that turn their noses up to dry kibbles, or for those that do not find the hydrolyzed kibble appetizing. Some owners prefer to offer one type of food or the other and it’s nice to have that choice with a prescription-only diet.

Can Help Heal Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis and adverse food reactions can be present in the same patient. While atopic dermatitis can range from mild to severe, it causes a great deal of itch and discomfort and can be difficult to treat. This is especially true if there is a concurrent food allergy. Swapping to a hydrolyzed diet can help relieve the dermatological problems.

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Disadvantages of Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

As many benefits as hydrolyzed protein diets can have, there are some disadvantages of this type of food that we discuss in detail below.

Expense

There’s no way around it, a hydrolyzed protein diet comes at a hefty expense. These foods can cost upwards of $5 per pound. It is costly because of the process it must go through. While this is expensive for small and medium-sized dogs, it can get very costly for owners of extra-large dogs that require more quantity per feeding.

While this can be very deterring, it is important to remember that if this food is necessary for your dog’s health, it is well worth the cost. When used in an elimination diet, it can be temporary until the allergen is identified and you can go back to a non-prescription food that works. Talk to your veterinarian if you are concerned about price so they can help you weigh the benefits versus the downfalls.

Prescription-Only

Another disadvantage of hydrolyzed protein food is the fact that it is prescription only and cannot be obtained without a veterinarian. This means that owners cannot perform their own elimination diet or decide on their own that this type of diet is necessary. While this is inconvenient that you can’t easily grab it from the store, this type of diet is set apart from traditional dog diets and it is best done under the supervision of a veterinary professional.

Palatability

A big complaint among dog owners is that dogs are not always big fans of hydrolyzed protein foods. The palatability isn’t the greatest, likely due to the absence of meat sources and other additives that are included in commercial dog foods. When you run into trouble getting your dog to eat hydrolyzed protein formulas, your veterinarian may switch to canned varieties to entice them to eat. Hesitancy to eat the prescribed food should immediately be discussed with the prescribing veterinarian.

Odor

Hydrolyzed protein has a different odor than your normal dog food, which is not unusual. This is a different type of food that goes through an entirely different process than commercial kibbles and canned foods. While the smell may not be appealing, if there was a prescription written for the food, it’s because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Dog beagle eating canned food from bowl
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

My Dog Has Allergies, Should I Have Them on a Hydrolyzed Protein Diet?

If your dog has allergies or is experiencing symptoms that could be indicative of food or environmental allergies, you should set an appointment with your veterinarian. They may have you try out other commercial food options before prescribing a hydrolyzed protein diet.

There are some limited ingredients, single protein, and other formulas on the market that are geared toward allergy sufferers. If you try these foods out under your veterinarian’s supervision and you find success, you may not need to go as far as a prescription diet. If your vet feels the hydrolyzed protein diet is the way to go, they will provide the prescription and further instructions.

Are There Side Effects to Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Foods?

There may be some side effects to hydrolyzed protein diets such as a change in stool consistency. Since this is a prescription diet, it will be fed under your veterinarian’s supervision, so you will direct these kinds of questions to them and will follow their instructions carefully while making the transition.

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Conclusion

Hydrolyzed protein dog food is a prescription-only diet that comes in both dry and canned food varieties. The protein included in these foods goes through a process called hydrolysis, where they are broken into smaller components known as amino acids and peptides. They are prescribed for dogs suffering from food allergies and other severe digestive issues because the proteins are much more easily digestible, and the immune system does not detect them as allergens.

Several brands offer the food, but you must obtain a veterinary prescription and feed under the supervision of the veterinarian. As with any food, it has its advantages and disadvantages but this diet can truly help manage or even eliminate certain health concerns and help your dog live a happy, healthy life.


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