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  1. dogs nutrition

Hydrolyzed Dog Food: What It Is and Who It’s For

Posted by Dr. Roth on July 27, 2022

Wellness Care
Hydrolyzed Dog Food Can Help Your Pet Header Photo

Choosing the best foods for a pet isn’t always easy. From brand to brand, different products have varying ingredients and percentages.

Some dog foods have higher-quality ingredients, while others might be lower in quality. Some can even lead to allergic reactions or intolerances. Proteins are one ingredient that can cause sensitivities, which is why hydrolyzed dog food is one option pet parents should consider.

What Is Hydrolyzed Dog Food?

A pet parent is not alone if they’re wondering, “What is hydrolyzed dog food?” Hydrolyzed dog food, also known as a hydrolyzed protein diet, is like traditional dog food except for one key difference: the proteins are much, much smaller. This type of food uses a unique process called hydrolysis to break down the proteins.

Using enzymes, hydrolysis forces a protein chain to separate into smaller amino acids that are often too small for the immune system to detect. This enzymatic hydrolysis creates a food product that can benefit many dogs and improve their health, skin health, and digestion. Pet parents might see protein ingredients listed as protein hydrolysate, digest, or hydrolyzed proteins on the packaging.

Who Can Benefit From Hydrolyzed Proteins in Dog Food

Many dogs thrive on regular dog food, but some dogs react poorly to the foods pet parents provide for them. Other dogs don’t live with optimal health when eating a standard pet food diet. Here are some examples of dogs who benefit from hydrolyzed protein dog food.

Dogs With Food Sensitivities or Digestive Issues

Hydrolyzed diets are a vet-recommended option for dogs with food sensitivities or digestive issues. Even if a dog doesn’t have a food allergy, they might have a sensitivity or intolerance to a particular ingredient or the composition overall. Sometimes, dogs react to foods with too much fat or fiber — or even too little fiber — in addition to having protein intolerances.

Since the proteins are partially digested and more readily available, dogs with symptoms of gastrointestinal issues — like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colitis, pancreatic insufficiency, or idiopathic diarrhea — may benefit from switching to a dog food hydrolyzed protein diet.

Dogs With Food Allergies

If a dog has a food allergy, their immune system reacts to a particular ingredient, almost always the protein source (even if that protein is a plant-based protein). When dogs with food allergies eat traditional dog food containing a food allergen protein, their bodies see that protein as an antigen — a toxic or foreign substance.

In response, the pet’s immune system ramps up antibody production to eliminate the source. This immune response to food is a food allergy, and it can lead to the dog experiencing hives, itchy skin, facial swelling, inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting, or many other symptoms.

Hydrolyzed dog food, with its often single- or reduced-source protein hydrolysate formula, can help the dog absorb nutrients without experiencing an allergic reaction to the protein.

Dogs With Skin Sensitivity

Skin sensitivities are common in dogs, although not all are reactions to food. Sometimes, genetics are to blame. A dog may be naturally predisposed to different skin disorders. Skin sensitivities could also be environmental or seasonal, such as allergies to pollen, dust, or grass that leaves a pet scratching.

Other seasonal skin sensitivities in pets are similar to humans. For example, if a pet parent gets overly itchy, dry skin in winter or summer from relying on an HVAC for air conditioning or heating, there’s a chance their dog can experience it, too.

These skin sensitivities aren’t protein-related, yet they’re still connected to healthy skin. That’s because proteins are found all over the body — from muscles and skin to nails, hormones, saliva, and fur. Dogs who are predisposed to skin sensitivity may see greater skin and coat health from a diet of hydrolyzed proteins.

What’s in Hydrolyzed Foods?

Hydrolyzed foods differ slightly from traditional foods, so what’s in them matters. Often, hydrolyzed foods are prescription pet diets because a vet has recommended them. This recommendation might come from lab results or routine examinations, or it might come from physical symptoms or long-standing health issues that never clear up.

Pet parents will often see chicken, poultry, fish, or soy as the protein source for hydrolyzed dog food. Many times, the carbohydrate source will be a non-grain or non-wheat source to further reduce the risks of food allergic reactions. Potato, cornstarch, and rice are all commonly found as one of the main carbohydrates in these specialized foods.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. For dogs, there are 10 essential amino acids:

  • Arginine

  • Histidine

  • Isoleucine

  • Leucine

  • Threonine

  • Lysine

  • Tryptophan

  • Valine

  • Phenylalanine/tyrosine

  • Methionine/cystine

When proteins are already in amino acid form, a dog’s body doesn’t have to work as hard to benefit from the nutrients.


Peptides are another protein component more readily available in a hydrolyzed dog food product. Essentially, peptides are short chains of amino acids, with the best known being collagen. Collagen peptides are important for good skin and joint health, and they work alongside vitamins, minerals, and fatty acid sources to help the dog thrive.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Fatty Acids

Hydrolyzed dog foods must be balanced and complete to meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) qualifications. In addition, since these prescription diets follow strict procedures during manufacturing, they should contain all the essentials that dogs need.

Vitamin D is one essential nutrient, and so are vitamins K, E, A, and B. A high-quality source of vitamin E will help support a dog’s immune system and skin and coat, helping reduce the risk for skin sensitivities. Some of the crucial minerals that hydrolyzed dog food should also include are:

  • Calcium

  • Potassium

  • Magnesium

  • Iron

  • Phosphorus

  • Manganese

For dogs, the most important fatty acids are linolenic acid, linoleic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are commonly found in fish and other omega-3-rich foods.

Protect Your Dog’s Digestive Health With the Right Nutritional Diet

The dog’s digestive health plays a significant part in healthy living, influencing everything from their skin to joints to energy levels. Connect with Fuzzy Pet Health today to get answers on food allergy concerns, find products for digestion, and learn how you can help your pet stay in peak health.

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