Two popular trends in the realm of dog nutrition are hypoallergenic and grain free dog food. In this blog, we’ll explore what these terms mean, why dogs might need these diets, and address some of the common questions raised.


Dog licking its owners hand

What Are Allergies, Dietary Intolerances and Adverse Food Reactions?

Adverse food reactions are defined as ‘an abnormal or exaggerated clinical response to the ingestion of a food or food additive. Adverse food reactions can be split into 2 distinct categories [1]:

  • Food allergies – reactions acting through the immune system
  • Food intolerances – reactions not acting through the immune system

Food allergies and intolerances are very different, but their symptoms are indistinguishable from each other as well as from other allergic reactions, such as those due to environmental allergens or flea bites. Signs and symptoms of food allergies and intolerances are mainly gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating, discomfort and increased flatulence), red, itchy, inflamed skin (pruritus) and chronic ear problems. In practice, the incidence of true food allergies is thought to be as little as 0.1% [2]

Adverse food reactions can occur at any age and can take many years to develop. Some breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters and West Highland Terriers do appear to be more prone to developing dietary sensitivities.

Anaphylaxis is a serious condition caused by an extreme allergic reaction, which can be life-threatening. To our knowledge, there have been no reports of anaphylaxis in dogs [1].

How do I Know if my Dog Has an Allergy or Food Intolerance?

Identifying if your dog has an allergy or food intolerance can be challenging, as the symptoms of both are the same, but can also be caused by so many different things, including environmental allergens such as dust and pollen or even as a result of scavenging foods!

Schedule a visit to the Vet to discuss your dog’s symptoms and receive a professional assessment. They may recommend tests or advise that an elimination trial is conducted, which must always be done under veterinary supervision.

This can involve feeding your dog a hypoallergenic diet, a novel protein diet of a hydrolysed protein diet for a period to see if symptoms improve and to help to try and identify any potential triggers. The key to an elimination trial is that key ingredients will be removed from the diet and an assessment made as to whether symptoms have improved.

This is then confirmed through the reintroduction of the suspected ingredient(s) to see if symptoms reoccur. However, elimination diets are difficult, time consuming and require very strict compliance to the trial diet.

Keeping a detailed diary of your dog’s symptoms, including when they occur, how often, and any potential triggers, can also help pin-point potential causes for the symptoms they are experiencing.

Small brown dog eating food out of a bowl

What is Hypoallergenic Dog Food?

Hypoallergenic dog food is specially formulated to reduce the likelihood of triggering adverse food reactions in dogs. Almost all protein-containing ingredients in pet foods have the potential to trigger adverse reactions if they are regularly fed, the difficulty is establishing which specific proteins our little ones are sensitive to.

Hypoallergenic dog foods typically feature novel protein sources, limited ingredients and are formulated without specific named ingredients, to try to help minimise the risk of triggering adverse food reactions.

For a small proportion of dogs requiring strict dietary management, specialist prescription diets using hydrolysed proteins (proteins that are broken down) are available and should be fed under veterinary advice and supervision.

Dalmatian dog scratching ear on some grass

Why Might Dogs Need a Hypoallergenic Diet?

Dogs may need a hypoallergenic diet for various reasons, including:

  • Exhibiting common symptoms of food allergies, such as itching, gastrointestinal upset, skin problems or chronic ear infections. Switching to a hypoallergenic diet, removing the offending ingredient from the daily ration, may help to alleviate these symptoms. .
  • Vets may recommend hypoallergenic diets as part of an elimination trial to help diagnose specific food allergies or intolerances. Novel protein and hydrolysed protein diets can also be used for this purpose.

Why Might Dogs Need a Grain Free Diet?

Some dogs may develop an intolerance to grains, leading them exhibiting the typical symptoms of an adverse food reaction. Grain free diets can be a suitable alternative for these individuals.

Butcher's Dog Food Lean & Tasty

What is Better For my Dog?

The choice is entirely yours! If your dog has an adverse food reaction to grains, we’d recommend our range of grain free recipes, but there are multiple benefits to a wholegrain diet.

Wholegrains are a slow-release energy source and are gentle on tummies. Our Lean & Tasty recipe contains wholegrain rice as a great source of fibre and slow-release energy to help give your dog a “fuller for longer” feeling.

Can Dogs be Gluten Intolerant?

While gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, most dogs do not need a gluten free diet. Unlike some humans who have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, dogs have a different digestive system that is better equipped to handle grains. However, individual dogs may have specific allergies or intolerances to certain grains, and in such cases, a grain free or hypoallergenic diet might be recommended.

What to do if concerned:

For any concerns, it’s always best to seek advice from your vet, particularly as some of these signs and symptoms are similar to those of some more serious conditions.

Woman on phone with dog in lap in coffee shop

Where Can I Get Specific Allergen Advice For Butcher’s Recipes?

If you need specific allergen advice, please get in touch with our consumer team, consumerservice@butcherspetcare.com. We always aim to respond within 48 hours, but please allow us up to five working days.

Choosing the right diet for your dog involves considering their individual needs, health issues, and any potential allergies or sensitivities.

Grain-free and hypoallergenic dog foods can be valuable options for addressing specific dietary concerns and promoting overall well-being. As always, it’s essential to consult with your Vet before making significant changes to your dog’s diet to ensure that their nutritional and dietary needs are met.


[1] The European Pet Food Industry, FEDIAF Nutritional Requirements October 2021, pgs 64-66

[2] Buffington, T, Holloway, C, Abood, S, Manual of Veterinary Dietetics, pg 118



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