What Makes Hypoallergenic Diets Special?


I have a lovely Shepherd/Retriever mix who suffered with dreadful ear infections for years until the fifth vet we saw finally sorted out it was allergies. She is now on Hill’s prescription low allergen z/d and doing very well on it.

BUT I see on this website a lot of critique of this food. Can you advise what is or is not in it that makes it tolerable to allergic dogs? More protein? Less protein? More wheat or
less? Hard to know if I should switch or what to switch to.

Christchurch, New Zealand

Two subjects tend to inspire fanaticism among people who have pets: food and vaccines. It makes sense if you think about it. Both subjects are complex enough to prevent any person from proving, definitively, that their diet or vaccine protocol is the best. I have covered both subjects several times on this blog. Click here, here, here or here to read some food-related articles. Click here, here, here, here, here, or here to read about vaccines.

No doubt about it, plenty of people believe that Hill’s z/d is manufactured by Satan himself in the bowels of Hell. But z/d isn’t even remotely unique in that regard. If you doubt that, I challenge you to pick a food, any food, and google it. I guarantee that someone, somewhere, believes the food you have picked is produced by Satan or his henchmen.

Let’s step back from satanic associations for a bit and try to suss out what’s going on with your dog. Ear infections in dogs often are related to allergies. Dogs can be allergic to many different substances. Food is one of the many substances to which dogs may be allergic. Therefore, switching your dog to a hypoallergenic diet may help his ear infections.

Dogs with food allergies react to the proteins in their diets. Wheat protein is a common cause of troubles, but it is hardly the only one.

There are two ways to make a hypoallergenic diet. A manufacturer can use “novel” protein sources such as duck, fish or rabbit combined with egg or potato. Or, a manufacturer can use chemical reactions to modify the protein in the food so allergic individuals do not react to it.

Hill’s z/d employs the second tactic. The proteins are hydrolyzed, or broken down, to a size that makes them unlikely to cause allergic reactions.

Hill’s z/d is balanced and nutritionally replete. However, it is hardly the most natural diet out there. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to eat a food in which all of the proteins had been hydrolyzed. Nonetheless, I could survive on one.

If feeding a natural diet is a priority for you, then z/d isn’t the best choice. You can talk to your vet about alternative hypoallergenic diets.

However, remember that plenty of dogs thrive on z/d. If it is the only diet that works, it’s probably better for your dog than the pain and stress of chronic ear infections.

Photo: Checkers has no known history of ear infections. But he has fantastic ears.

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