The dog food world is filled with bags, boxes, and cans featuring images of real meat, fresh produce and sometimes healthy whole grains. These images were designed to tempt owners. The latest trend? A limited ingredient diet.
It’s especially popular with pups prone to allergies. Eating less ingredients generally means less chances of food sensitivities. But is the diet necessarily better for your dog? We turned to Dr. Nancy Welborn, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Dr.Gary Weitzman of the San Diego Humane Society to answer your questions about the latest canine eating craze.
What is limited ingredient dog food?
A limited ingredient diet is a diet with fewer ingredients. It could mean that there's only one protein or grain source, Welborn says. The limited diet could also feature some exotic protein sources, like rabbit, bison, or kangaroo.
These diets might use carbohydrate sources like sweet potatoes, brown rice or oatmeal which pups might not have been exposed to previously. For example, a limited ingredient label could read: Deboned duck, peas, fish oil, pumpkin and dried chicory root.
There is currently not a set number of ingredients that defines a limited ingredient dog food. The number is very broadly defined as less than the average dog food.
What are the benefits of limited ingredient dog food?
The primary reason dog owners look for a limited ingredient dog food is that they think their dog is suffering from a food allergy. Gary Weitzman, DVM, President of the San Diego Humane Society and author of the book The Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness warns against these sort of assumptions. “A very small percentage of dogs actually have food allergies,” he says. By treating your dog with a limited diet, you run the risk of not addressing underlying issues like “horrible skin allergies or gastrointestinal issues,” says Weitzman.
For dogs who do have food allergies, a limited diet is a good idea. Weitzman says, “Limited diets can be really helpful for the small percentage of dogs who have allergies.” Diagnosing food allergies can be difficult, so it’s critical to work with a professional.
If a limited diet means one based on whole foods, almost all dogs can benefit from meals like that. A fresh, balanced diet can do wonders for your dog’s health.
Risks of limited ingredient dog food
Like any other specialty diet “If owners begin feeding these foods without veterinary recommendation, they are exposing the pets to multiple sources of proteins and/or grains which may cause problems down the road,” explains Welborn.
The best way to determine allergies is to take your dog to the vet to check them out and do an an elimination diet (eliminate foods one-at-a-time to figure out the source of the problem).
Being on a limited ingredient diet doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re feeding your dog a better diet. The key, Welborn says, is to assess the protein, vitamin and mineral levels in the foods, making sure they’re balanced, complete and high quality.
In July 2018, the FDA announced that it had begun investigating reports of canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods, many labeled as "grain-free," which contained a high proportion of peas, lentils, other legume seeds (pulses), and/or potatoes in various forms (whole, flour, protein, etc.) as main ingredients (listed within the first 10 ingredients in the ingredient list, before vitamins and minerals).
The diets that the FDA is investigating most are diets that fall under the acronym BEG. This stands for botique, exotic and grain-free. Many limited ingredient diets fall into these categories. So before you switch your pup to a limited ingredient diet it is critical that you talk about this research with your dog's vet and consider the potential risk.
How to choose a limited ingredient dog food
For some dogs, a limited ingredient diet is the solution to their problems. But a limited ingredient diet by definition doesn’t necessarily equate to a higher nutritional quality diet, Welborn says. Remember when it seemed like every human switched to a gluten-free diet to be “healthier,” even if they weren’t gluten-intolerant? Often, you can get many of the same benefits that are attributed to this diet—better digestion, less allergies, more energy—by feeding your dog unprocessed food with higher quality ingredients not necessarily ‘limited’.
At Ollie, we strive to create a diet that is both delicious and nutritious. Our veterinary nutritionists keep up with the latest research to ensure our food is safe and healthy for your dog. Our fresh and gently cooked food is not considered limited ingredient although we keep our ingredient list to just what your pup needs. We carefully select human-grade proteins including chicken, lamb, turkey and beef. These protiens are mixed with fruit, vegetables and superfoods like flax seed and cod liver oil when appropriate.
Since our Recipes are made with a single animal protein source, they can be a safe option for dogs with food allergies. If your pup is allergic to chicken (a common food allergy in dogs) they can enjoy our beef, turkey, or lamb recipe.
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.