When I was doing research on hypoallergenic dog food recently for my dog Cooper, I kept noticing the terms “novel ingredients” and “novel proteins.” It piqued my curiosity. What are these novel ingredients and should I be feeding them to my dog? At first, it seemed like a no-brainer: give your dog something that they’ve never had before and they’ll be less likely to have a sensitivity or allergy too it. Maybe it seemed a little too easy. So I dug in and did a bit more research.
I was surprised to see that there are actually two schools of thought on feeding dogs novel ingredient hypoallergenic food. On the one hand, we have vets and experts who think it’s a great idea. On the other hand, vets who aren’t on board with it at all. Since we like to give you both sides and let you make up your own mind, I’m sharing my findings with you so you can decide.
Novel Ingredient Hypoallergenic Dog Food: Yay or Nay?
If we’re going to debate novel ingredient hypoallergenic dog food, it would help if we’re all on the same page with what it means, right? Put simple, novel proteins and ingredients are those that your pet hasn’t eaten before. In the grand scheme of pet food, it usually refers to stranger meats, like bison, duck and salmon. Or at least it used to. Even those seem pretty common now (which is where the naysayer comes in later). But bottom line, even if it’s chicken, if your dog hasn’t eaten it, it’s novel to your dog. That’s how I’m understanding it. If someone understands it differently, please let me know.
Pro Side: Novel Ingredients are a Great Way to Deal with Food Sensitivities
First, we have those in favor of novel ingredients in hypoallergenic dog food. PetSmart has a great article on novel ingredients. They explain that some dogs develop sensitivities after eating the same ingredients over and over. These sensitivities can range from gastrointestinal discomfort to itchy skin. With Cooper, I’m seeing the later. He’s a very itchy dog. I give him Benedryl every night. Isn’t he a handsome boy?
With a novel ingredients hypoallergenic dog food, you’re basically taking away those common ingredients and replacing them with a different protein source. You have to really look at labels though, because you want to remove all traces of the common ingredient. For example, feeding your dog a duck-based food that has chicken listed further down the list (if chicken is the issue) really isn’t going to do much good, because he’s still getting the chicken.
Sometimes it’s also not enough to just give your dog a novel protein. Maybe it’s not the protein that’s bothering them. Maybe they’re allergic to eggs, or a certain grain, or another secondary ingredient entirely. So when you’re trying out a novel protein, it’s important to note down all the other ingredients in the food. If your dog is still showing signs of allergies, you’ll need to investigate further. Cross-reference, make charts, highlight common ingredients and do a process of elimination.
Still, if your dog is showing signs of food sensitivity, a novel ingredient hypoallergenic dog food may be a good place to start.
Con Side: Novel Proteins May Make Things Worse in the Long Run
On the flip side, we have a vet on PetMD who seems to think feeding your dog novel ingredients is a recipe for future disaster. She explains that in the past, if you wanted a novel ingredient, your vet had to prescribe it to you. That way, fewer dogs were exposed to it. By allowing consumers to make the decision on their own to try novel ingredients, it’s basically taking the power out of the vet’s hands to come up with a good solution. By the time she gets the dog, the owner has already tried everything she’d recommend.
She admits that she hasn’t seen a case yet where it was a problem, but she imagines a future where it will become an issue. Where owners feeding their dogs something new “just for the heck of it” will be setting those dogs up for failure when it comes to diagnosing and treating sensitivities. While I can kind of see her point, I am finding it hard to agree with it overall. I think most dog parents aren’t really going out and buying kangaroo just for the heck of it. First, novel ingredient hypoallergenic dog food is typically more expensive than other healthy grain-free options. Second, we tend to stick with the familiar until we see evidence that it’s not working for our dogs. Most of us aren’t saying “gee, eel sounds like fun! Hey, Fido, want eel tonight?” If I’m wrong, though, and everyone out there is picking up weird stuff just because, well, then there is something to her argument.
Personally, I like that more foods are available to us and more power is in our hands. I do think we all have to be responsible enough to talk to our vet and keep him in the loop when it comes to our dogs’ health, but based on extensive research, I’ve yet to find anything in a prescription dog food that requires it to be sold by prescription. If you want to learn more about that, I recommend checking out this excellent article. (*Please note that this is my opinion, and not the opinion of DogVills as a whole. We have other writers on staff who do stand behind prescription diets as a good solution.)
I’m not pointing that out to be controversial or start an argument about prescription diets, but I think this information, coupled with the fact that the vet mentions she’s never seen a problem yet, plays a role in helping make an informed decision about whether novel ingredients are the way to go. I will repeat (because my fellow DogVills writer Ben would slay me if I didn’t and because it’s just common sense) that your vet really does need to be part of the discussion and process, just like your doctor is part of your process when you start a new diet to rule out allergies.
One last thing: if you are going to try a novel ingredient diet, Drs. Foster & Smith say that you have to give it a good 12 weeks before deciding that it doesn’t work. They say that vets used to recommend a 3-week trial, but more and more dogs weren’t responding by the end of that 3 weeks. They found that it can take up to 12 whole weeks for a dog to really respond to a new diet.