What’s The Purpose Of Limited Ingredient Dog Food?

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Limited Ingredient Dog Food

While perusing the pet food aisle of your local pet supply store, you might have run across dog food labeled “limited ingredient”. Or you have talked to your veterinarian about your concerns about a food allergy, and your vet has recommended a food trial, and you are wondering if you can choose a good limited ingredient dog food from over the counter instead of the expensive prescription dog food.

What exactly does “limited ingredient” mean, and would a limited ingredient diet be good for your dog?

Limited ingredient pet food has been popping up in the pet food industry in response to concerns consumers (that is you!) have about ingredient sensitivities and food allergies in dogs. In dogs, a food allergy is defined as having a hypersensitive response to a food allergen such as chicken, beef, pork, or soy, that otherwise doesn’t cause problems in normal dogs.

Food allergies can cause itchy skin, skin infections, hair loss, and gastrointestinal disturbances ranging from excessive gas to vomiting and diarrhea. Ingredient sensitivities, on the other hand, have to do with adverse reactions to food that has been spoiled, certain additives or preservatives, or aflatoxins from mold on food.

Use In Diagnosing Food Allergies

In order to diagnose a food allergy in a dog, a veterinarian will recommend a 8-10 week diet trial. During this time, the dog is not allowed to eat anything other than a prescribed diet – no treats, no chews, no flavored pills, no people, NADA. If the symptoms go away on the diet, then a food allergy is likely.

For a diet trial, the dog has to eat something it has never been exposed to before. Veterinarians will either prescribe a hydrolyzed diet or a novel protein diet. In a hydrolyzed diet, high pressure water is used to break proteins down into such small pieces that the immune system will no longer react to them.

A novel protein diet, on the other hand, is simply that – a food that consists of a novel protein and carbohydrate that the dog has never been exposed to before.

There are all sorts of creative combinations out there these days, ranging from venison or rabbit and barley to alligator and rice. Both hydrolyzed diets and novel protein diets are made on dedicated rollers that are specifically cleaned to remove any potential allergens that may cause an allergic reaction in the dog that eats it.


Consumers are often hesitant to purchase these diets because let’s face it: they are pricey. You could also say they are an investment in your dog’s health, but either way, pet guardians often balk at the price tag on novel protein and hydrolyzed protein diets. These diets are more expensive because they are more expensive to produce than standard over the counter dog foods where it doesn’t matter if a particle of chicken or beef get into the food.

Hello, Limited Ingredient Dog Foods!

Introducing Limited Ingredient Foods

Enter limited ingredient diets. Limited ingredient does not have any official definition according to AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials. The meaning of the term limited ingredient varies with the individual companies that use it to market their food.

Generally speaking, limited ingredient means that the food is manufactured with only one protein, carbohydrate, and/or fat. It can also mean that the food has less ingredients than the standard kibble.

The main thing that consumers notice is these foods cost less than the veterinarian recommended hydrolyzed and novel protein diets.

You get what you pay for, however – it is extremely difficult to get a limited allergen diet at a pet store because commercial pet foods actually contain more than the ingredients that are listed, and the rollers are not cleaned or dedicated the way prescription diets that are clinically indicated for diet trials are.

If you choose to use an over the counter dog food for a food elimination diet, you could be wasting your time and money and worse, prolonging suffering for your dog.

So is there a purpose for limited ingredient diets?

Limited ingredient diets, as long as they have the words “certified by AAFCO to be complete and balanced” can be fed to almost any dog. That certification means that food has the right mix of protein, carbs, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals to support your dog’s health.

If your dog loves the taste, it is AAFCO certified to be complete and balanced, and it is from a brand you trust, then go for it!

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