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What Is Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food? Information and Product Picks

Dog eating hydrolyzed protein food
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Veterinary prescription diets help pet parents manage a variety of conditions in their canine companions. Hydrolyzed protein dog food is one type of prescription diet that veterinarians may suggest for dogs suffering from food allergies or dietary sensitivities. 

Whether your veterinarian has recommended that your dog eat hydrolyzed food or if you’re researching dietary options to help manage your dog’s medical condition, this article covers everything you need to know about this type of prescription diet for dogs.  

What is Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food?

Hydrolyzed protein dog food is a specialized form of pet nutrition designed for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies. 

Certain proteins found in dog food – including beef, dairy, and chicken – can trigger food allergies in dogs when their immune system mistakenly identifies certain protein molecules as harmful. This leads to an immune response that manifests as allergic reactions such as skin irritation or digestive issues.

Unlike traditional kibble or wet food options, hydrolyzed protein dog food undergoes a process called hydrolysis, which breaks down proteins into smaller components called amino acids. By breaking up the proteins into smaller, harder-to-detect pieces, which minimizes the risk of allergic reactions but allows dogs to take in important nutrients. 

Why Vets Recommend Dog Food With Hydrolyzed Protein

Hydrolyzed protein dog food provides easily digestible proteins that are less likely to cause adverse reactions. Therefore, veterinarians usually recommend hydrolyzed protein diets for dogs who suffer with food allergies, sensitivities, or gastrointestinal issues. 

In dogs, food allergies commonly present as red, itchy, irritated skin, particularly on the paws and ears. Other dogs with food allergies have digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. Hydrolyzed protein diets can help manage both of these manifestations of food allergies in dogs.

Another reason for feeding a hydrolyzed diet to a dog is to perform a diet trial. When a veterinarian and pet owner are suspicious of an allergy, performing a diet trial is the best way to test the theory. During a diet trial, your pet will eat strictly a hydrolyzed protein dog food for 8-12 weeks and then will be assessed for an improvement in symptoms. 

Pros and Cons of Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

As with any dog food, there are always pros and cons. 

Management of Allergies: Hydrolyzed protein dog food is a crucial tool in managing allergies and sensitivities.

Nutritional Balance: These diets are complete and balanced and can be fed as maintenance diets, meaning they provide everything a dog needs to thrive.

Trusted Brands: Many reputable brands offer hydrolyzed protein diets, ensuring quality and reliability.
Cost: Hydrolyzed protein dog food is generally more expensive than traditional options due to the more meticulous manufacturing processes needed.

Prescription Only: Hydrolyzed protein diets are only available with a veterinary prescription.

Limited Flavor and Texture Choices: Pet parents may find a limited variety in flavors and textures compared to conventional dog food.

Palatability: Some dogs may take time to adapt to the taste.

Switching to a Hydrolyzed Dog Food

When considering a switch to this type of diet, pet parents should begin by consulting their veterinarian. The consultation should include the specific health issues they hope to address with the new diet, the need for a prescription, how to properly feed the new diet, and the gradual transition process. 

A gradual transition from a dog’s current diet to a hydrolyzed protein diet is recommended to minimize digestive upset and allow the dog to adjust to a new diet more comfortably. To do this, pet parents will gradually introduce the new food alongside the dog’s existing diet over a 7 to 10-day period. To start, they will mix a small proportion of the new food in with the old food and gradually increase the amount of new food while decreasing the old food. 

While some dogs may need this specialized diet for life, others may be able transition back to a regular diet under veterinary guidance. 

Are There Side Effects?

Fortunately, there is very little risk of feeding a hydrolyzed protein dog food. Side effects are incredibly rare and are usually limited to digestive upset secondary to transitioning to the new diet too quickly. 

Brands to Consider

Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

Royal Canin PS Hydrolyzed Protein
Royal Canin Ultamino hydrolyzed protein dog food

Royal Canin has several formulations available. Their two more popular hydrolyzed protein diets are Royal Canin HP and Royal Canin PS, both of which come in canned and kibble varieties. Royal Canin also has hydrolyzed protein diets that are moderate calorie for dogs predisposed to weight gain, and another formulation for dogs who also suffer from urinary issues. Additionally, Royal Canin is the only manufacturer to create a hydrolyzed protein diet for puppies. 

For dogs with severe food allergies, Royal Canin’s Ultamino hydrolyzed protein diet is perhaps the best choice. This innovative formula minimizes the risk of reaction using proteins broken down to a size that’s virtually unrecognizable by the dog’s immune system while still providing high quality nutrition. 

Purina Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

Purina HA dog food
Purina ProPlan HA hydrolyzed protein wet dog food
Purina ProPlan Gentle Snackers

Purina was the first pet food manufacturer to produce hydrolyzed protein diets for dogs, which they call Purina HA. It comes in canned and kibble form, and is available in chicken flavor or vegetarian for dogs who are extra sensitive to animal proteins in their diet. 

Gentle Snackers from Purina are low-fat treats made with hydrolyzed protein, so pet parents can still treat their canine companion while undergoing a diet trial or dealing with food sensitivities. Purina’s offering is one of the more affordable options which is a major factor for pet parent’s on a budget. 

Hills Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

Hills Z/D dry dog food
Hills Z/D wet dog food
Hills hypo dog treats

Hills markets this type of diet as Hill’s Z/D. It also comes in a can or kibble, and the kibble is available in small bites for little dogs. 

Hill’s also sells their Hypo Dog Treats which are made with hydrolyzed protein, ensuring that dogs who are on a hydrolyzed protein diet can still have the occasional treat. 

Blue Natural Veterinary Diets Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

Blue Natural Veterinary Diets HF Dry
Blue Natural Veterinary Diets HF Wet

Blue Natural Veterinary Diets line is known as HF. This diet is available in both canned and kibble forms, and uses hydrolyzed salmon as the main source of protein. The ingredient list in Blue Natural’s HF is more simplified than some of the other hydrolyzed protein diets available, which some pet parents may prefer.