Spaniel about to eat food.

What Is Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food? Fact Checked By Our Vet

Written By Vedrana Nikolic | Canine Coach, B.A Ethnology & Anthropology, M.A Semiotics.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 18th January 2024

Many health issues dogs experience can be managed, at least to a certain degree, with the proper diet.

Hydrolyzed protein dog food has been around for some time, but in most cases, the first time many pet parents hear about it is from their vets recommendation.

Here’s everything you need to know about hydrolyzed protein diets.

Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food?
Related: How Is Australia’s Dog Food Industry Regulated?
Related: What is AAFCO? The Association of American Feed Control Officials
Related: What Is the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA)?
Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA: Dog Food Standards Comparison Australia

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What Exactly Is Hydrolyzed Protein Diet?

Proteins are an essential component of a dog’s diet. From muscles and connective tissue to hair and skin, proteins help a dog’s body to function properly.

Related: The Best Dog Food Australia.

Protein in dog food can come from animals, plants or both. Protein from animal sources is considered to be “complete,” meaning it contains essential amino acids in the amount your pooch needs for maintaining good health (1). Plant sourced proteins, on the other hand, are “incomplete,” which means their levels of essential amino acids are under the minimum requirement. So while dogs are omnivores, meat based protein still should be the basis of their every meal.

Related: Real Meat vs Meat Meal in Dog Food.

However, dogs with specific medical conditions can’t eat just any meat protein. This is especially the case with food allergies, since meat protein is the most common allergen among food ingredients. In some cases, protein can also lead to dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract and cause inflammatory bowel disease (2).

But there’s an alternative option for dogs with such medical conditions. Hydrolyzed protein diet is a special formula in which the protein molecules are broken down into smaller particles. Proteins are blocks of amino acids connected together into a chain with peptides. Hydrolysis destroys the peptide bond and breaks down proteins into amino acids.

Related: The Best Meat Proteins for Dogs.

When dissected into smaller compounds, meat protein essentially becomes invisible to a dog’s immune system, regardless of the meat source it comes from. In other words, no matter if the hydrolyzed protein is made of chicken, beef, lamb or crocodile, the dog’s body treats it as an uncategorised, generic protein.

Related: How Much Protein Is In Dog Food?


Who Is The Hydrolyzed Protein Diet For?

Hydrolyzed protein dog food is a prescription diet aimed at managing a variety of health conditions.

Food Allergies

First, we have food allergies. They’re not extremely common, as only 10% of dogs with any type of allergy will be allergic to food. The catch with food allergies is that dogs aren’t born with them, but can develop them later in life. They tend to develop after a dog’s been eating the same formula for a very long time.

Related: The Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food.

Figuring out what ingredient your pooch is allergic to is tricky. No skin or blood test is 100% reliable in this case, so the only way of getting a diagnosis is by putting your dog on an elimination diet. During a course of up to 12 weeks, your canine companion may eat one thing only, a balanced formula with a very limited ingredient list and a single protein source. The idea is to introduce a protein your dog was never exposed to before. But given that nowadays a large number of pet food brands offer “novel” protein formulas such as kangaroo, rabbit or venison, finding protein your dog has never tried can be pretty difficult.

Related: The Best Single Protein Dog Food.

Hydrolyzed protein dog food is great in this case, as it doesn’t matter which animal the protein is sourced from. By being broken into smaller particles, it doesn’t trigger the immune system reaction in dogs with food allergies.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

The most common symptoms of allergies are skin itchiness, hair loss and lesions. But sometimes, they’re accompanied by digestive problems like diarrhoea, vomiting and gas. But these are also the symptoms of a different, but somewhat similar illness, called inflammatory bowel disease (3). Just like allergies, IBD can be caused by an abnormal immune system response and can develop at any point in life. What’s more, food allergies can also contribute to the development of this disease.

IBD causes a dog’s digestive system to be constantly inflamed, which makes it difficult to properly digest food. If the problem lies in the stomach, then it’s typically accompanied by chronic vomiting. On the other hand, inflammation situated in the intestines causes chronic diarrhoea.

Since hydrolyzed protein is already broken down into smaller particles, it has basically gone through the first step of the digestion process. In other words, there’s less work for a dog’s digestive system to do.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

In short, this health condition occurs when the pancreas isn’t producing enough enzymes to properly break down food. Dogs dealing with this disease require a highly digestible diet, along with supplements and medication. In this case, hydrolyzed protein dog food is often used for the same reason it’s used for IBD.


The Disadvantages Of Hydrolyzed Protein Diet

In theory, this diet seems ideal. It’s rich in essential amino acids, but also very easy to digest and essentially hypoallergenic. But while it has many benefits, there are reasons why it might not be the best option for every dog out there.

Taste & Texture

Hydrolysis doesn’t really do protein much good in terms of taste or texture. Be it kibble or canned food, hydrolyzed protein is typically rather bland and odourless, with a slightly bitter note caused by the chemical process. This can make picky dogs reluctant about the new diet.

Requires Prescription

Hydrolyzed protein diet is a veterinary diet aimed to treat certain medical conditions, which means it’s not intended to be a long term solution. This diet doesn’t actually treat the cause of the health issue, be it allergy, IBD or EPI. Instead, it just provides relief from symptoms so that the cause can be determined.

Now, there are certain hydrolyzed protein formulas available over the counter. However, they might not be manufactured under the same strict regulations prescription diet formulas are made.

Price

Finally, a hydrolyzed protein diet is more expensive than regular dog food. It makes sense, given that protein undergoes an additional process before being turned into dog food. Still, expect to pay more for this type of diet.

Related: The Best Affordable Dog Food Australia.


My Final Thoughts

Hydrolyzed protein dog food is an amazing choice for dogs dealing with certain medical conditions. It’s easier to digest and doesn’t trigger an immune response, so it can help with relieving the symptoms and discomfort your dog is experiencing.

However, this diet is not a treatment for your dog’s health problems.

References

  1. Halward, J. August 21, 2020. “Do Dogs Need Meat In Their Diet?”. Breeding Business. Retrieved June 17, 2023. https://breedingbusiness.com/do-dogs-need-meat-in-their-diet/
  2. Llera, R; Williams, K, Ward, E. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs”. VCA Animal Hospitals. Retrieved June 17, 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/inflammatory-bowel-disease-in-dogs
  3. Coates, J. January 6, 2023. “What to Know About Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food”. PetMD. Retrieved June 17, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/hydrolyzed-protein-dog-food

Vedrana Nikolic


Vedrana Nikolić is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer, Anthropologist & dog lover.

With a Masters Degree in Semiotics & Bachelors Degree in Anthropology, studying the communication between animals and humans, Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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