What Is A Limited Ingredient Dog Food? Expert Guide
Finding the right food for your pooch can be tricky.
Many dogs are choosy when it comes to their food. Others may not be so picky, but their sensitive stomachs keep them from enjoying a variety of recipes.
In certain cases, a limited ingredient diet may seem like a suitable answer.
But what is limited ingredient dog food anyway? And is it good for your pooch?
Let’s find out.
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What Is A Limited Ingredient Dog Food Diet?
The answer to this question seems pretty straightforward. As the name suggests, it’s a dog food diet with fewer ingredients, right?
Well, that is correct, but it’s still a pretty vague explanation. And the reason why, is that the term limited ingredient diet (LID) is not regulated by the pet food industry (1). As a result, manufacturers don’t have strict rules to adhere to when creating LID formulas.
“‘Limited ingredient’ dog food is not a regulated term. The term ‘limited ingredient’ or ‘limited ingredient diet’ (LID) is used loosely, and although there may be fewer ingredients in the food, those ingredients may or may not be appropriate for your dog.” - Leigh Burkett, DVM for PetMD (1)
Sure, these recipes contain fewer ingredients compared to standard recipes, but there’s no limit on exactly how many ingredients should be in there. That’s why a LID formula by one brand may contain just a handful of ingredients, while another brand may simply remove two or three common allergens from their recipes and call that a limited ingredient formula. Without a precise LID definition, both of these recipes can technically be labelled the same way.
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
How Many Ingredients Should A Limited Ingredient Diet Contain?
Without proper limited ingredient diet regulation, the number of ingredients can vary from recipe to recipe. But what’s important is the quality of the ingredients, rather than the quantity within a dog food product.
Typically, a limited ingredient diet should contain a single protein and a single carbohydrate source. However, that’s not always the case, as many LID formulas will have more protein or carb sources, but will limit other ingredients and exclude common dog food fillers, like soy or wheat.
As you can see, you can’t rely on a LID label on the packaging when choosing a formula for your pooch. Instead, what you need to pay attention to is the ingredient list. A good recipe should contain a single source of protein as well as carbohydrates.
Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food.
What’s even worse, even when they contain a few ingredients, most retail LID formulas are made without extreme health and safety protocols that prevent cross-contamination. A review of different studies showed an average of 45% of tested diets contained ingredients not listed on the label (2).
What Ingredients Are Usually Included In A Limited Ingredient Dog Food?
As we established, a limited ingredient diet should include a single protein source. But not just any protein. LID typically includes a novel protein, which is a type of meat that’s not commonly used in dog food.
Related: 9 Best Meat Protein For Dogs.
But if you are looking for a LID for your pooch, keep in mind that a “novel” protein doesn’t necessarily need to be super exotic. It should simply be something your dog hasn’t had before - thus, novel to them.
Related: What Is Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food?
When it comes to carbs in LID, they should also come from a single source. Most commonly, these carbohydrates are used in such formulas:
A good limited diet formula should be free from fillers and artificial ingredients, but packed with vitamins and minerals that support the gut. Minerals like zinc and selenium, as well as vitamins A, E and C are most commonly included in limited ingredient formulas.
Should My Dog Switch To Limited Ingredient Dog Food?
If your pooch is perfectly healthy, then a limited ingredient diet isn’t necessary.
But if your canine companion is dealing with allergies or food intolerances, then switching to a limited ingredient diet can help you diagnose which ingredient/ingredients are the problem.
Most dogs aren’t born with food allergies (3). Instead, they might develop them at some point in their lives, typically as a result of consuming the same brand, type or form of food for a long period of time.
Food allergies in dogs typically manifest through skin itchiness as well as gastrointestinal issues like gas and diarrhoea. However, these symptoms can also be caused by a slightly different condition -food intolerance.
Related: The Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food.
Food intolerance is basically an inability to digest certain ingredients. Unlike an allergy, it doesn’t involve an immune system response. But what both of them do have in common is difficulty in diagnosing. Skin, saliva and blood tests aren’t very accurate in diagnosing dog food allergies and intolerances. The only way you can be sure which ingredient is troubling your pooch is manually, through an elimination diet.
This is where a limited ingredient diet comes into play. By feeding your canine companion a diet with a single novel protein and carb sources, you’ll know whether either of them is the cause of the problem. If there are no issues throughout the trial period (which lasts between 8 and 12 weeks), you can start slowly introducing other ingredients until you find the culprit.
Risks Of Feeding Your Dog Limited Ingredient Dog Food
Given that food allergies and intolerances aren’t uncommon in dogs, a limited ingredient diet sounds like a perfect recipe, right?
But that’s not always the case. You see, all dogs need a complete and balanced diet, meaning the right proportion of all the nutrients their bodies need every day. And that can be tough to achieve when using just a handful of ingredients.
In other words, those few ingredients have to be carefully chosen so that they provide your pooch with all the necessary vitamins, fatty acids and other nutrients they need in a diet.
Most limited ingredient formulas are designated for elimination diet purposes, meaning they’re not meant to permanently replace your dog’s diet. That’s why these formulas are often not 100% balanced, like an everyday diet should be.
This is not to say such recipes don’t exist. Many LID veterinary diets are designed to provide a complete meal for your pooch, and they’re prescription only.
This is why it’s best to switch your dog to a limited ingredient diet only after your vet’s recommendation, as they’ll make sure the recipe you go with is well balanced and complete.
A limited ingredient diet is the most reliable method of diagnosing a dog food allergy or intolerance. However, not every LID formula is suitable for every sensitive dog, especially given the fact that this type of dog diet isn’t strictly regulated.
If your pooch is dealing with these health issues, your vet can give you recommendations tailored to your dog’s nutritional requirements.
- Burkett, L. January 8, 2021. “What Is a Limited Ingredient Dog Food?” PetMD. Retrieved May 28, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/limited-ingredient-dog-food-it-right-your-dog
- Olivry T, Mueller RS. 2018. “Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (5): discrepancies between ingredients and labelling in commercial pet foods”. BMC Vet Res. 2018 Jan 22;14(1):24. doi: 10.1186/s12917-018-1346-y. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5778722/
- Foley, C. February 12, 2015. “Will Your Allergic Dog Benefit From a Food Elimination Diet?” Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved May 28, 2023. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/health/allergies/will-your-allergic-dog-benefit-from-a-food-elimination-diet/