Posted on: February 23, 2024 Posted by: Petsynse Comments: 0

You, like me, are not alone if you have never heard of hydrolyzed dog food. Many of us only learn about this specially formulated nutritional option if our pup needs it. Hydrolyzed dog food is a specialty product, often available by veterinarian prescription, with the protein broken down into tiny particles, making it easier to digest.

Dogs generally only need this diet if they are experiencing food intolerance, allergy, or irritable bowel disease. So, what exactly is hydrolyzed protein dog food? I explain what it is and discuss some top picks.

Table Of Contents

What Is Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food?


Beagle dog looking up sitting next to bowl of hydrolyzed protein dog food.

Hydrolyzed protein is not simply chopped up small or even ground up. Hydrolysis is a chemical process in which water is added to the protein to break apart the molecules and remove the identifiers that tell a dog what it is, like chicken or beef. The process reduces the proteins into base components, and the body can no longer identify the specific animal it originated from. Hydrolysis makes it much easier to digest, and dogs can get the nutritional benefits without digestive upset.

You and I eat hydrolyzed proteins, too, even if we don’t realize it. Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVP) are used in many human food products, for example, as a flavor enhancer in snack foods, sauces, processed meats, and more. Many baby formulas use hydrolyzed whey proteins.

This specially prepared nourishment is not intended for every dog, but it can be helpful for pups that have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or food allergies. By breaking the protein down into the basics of amino acids and peptides, your dog’s body does not know it came from chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, or another animal. If the body does not know it’s eating protein from the allergy-inducing culprit, it will not have an allergic reaction and can still digest and use said protein. Many dogs are allergic to chicken, and this is an option veterinarians can turn to help eliminate bad reactions.

You may need a prescription to purchase many hydrolyzed pet food options from a retailer or manufacturer. If you purchase this food second-hand, this is a significant risk to your pup and not something I would ever advise. It’s safer for your pup to work with your veterinarian to find the right food specifically for them.

When Does My Dog Need A Hydrolyzed Protein Diet?

Why would your dog need to eat meals made with hydrolyzed proteins? Your pup may be put on the prescription diet if the vet is working to help relieve allergy symptoms or identify a dietary allergy. This route may also be advised if your pup suffers from digestive distress from irritable bowel disease (IBS) or other conditions.

You may have heard of hydrolyzed protein if your pup is on an elimination diet. An elimination diet is when you feed your dog a bland diet to identify an ingredient that may be causing an adverse reaction. This dietary approach should be done only under your veterinarian’s supervision.

1. Food Allergy

Canines often experience nutritional intolerances and allergies. These conditions are sometimes also referred to as food hypersensitivities. In these circumstances, a dog’s system views a particular ingredient as a problem rather than a nutritional benefit.

Animal proteins are dogs’ most common cause of dietary intolerance and allergy. Beef, dairy, chicken, and wheat top the list as the most common offenders. Some dogs may have sensitivities to eggs or some produce as well.

Dogs with dietary allergies can experience a range of symptoms, including:

  • Itchiness, rash, and hives
  • Skin infection
  • Ear infection
  • Paw infection
  • Hot spots
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

2. Irritable Bowel Disease

Irritable bowel disease (IBD) can be quite distressing in dogs. The condition occurs when dogs have a reaction that irritates their intestinal tract. This condition is chronic, and the intestines will become inflamed. It is hard to pinpoint this specific cause of IBD; it is often idiopathic, but it is thought to be caused by bacterial infection, parasites, or as a reaction to a dietary trigger.

IBD can cause chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Affected dogs can also experience constipation, lethargy, increased gas, and changes in appetite. IBD can last for several weeks, even months. It can cause weight loss, poor appetite, and even behavior issues. Your pet may need a veterinary exam, testing, and sometimes even a tissue biopsy to diagnose IBD. There is no cure for IBD. However, hydrolyzed proteins are often an effective management method.

How Long Can A Pup Eat Hydrolyzed Dog Food?

Hydrolyzed food is not a permanent diet for most dogs. These options are usually given for about 6 to 12 weeks to start. Some pups can be on this type of nourishment longer than that but are taken off when their symptoms have resolved fully. In the case of suspected allergies, the protein, such as chicken or beef, a possible allergen, can then be fed to a pup. If the symptoms and distress return, they are likely allergic to that ingredient.

If your dog is allergic to certain proteins, your veterinarian may suggest a longer-term prescription or special diet.

Our Personal Experience With Dog Eating Hydrolyzed Protein Food

My dog has suffered from anal gland issues, and my vet suspected that it was a result of a food allergy. I tried a number of different vegetarian options, but my picky eater was not a fan. So another specialist he saw recommended he try a hydrolyzed protein food. After running it by his primary vet, they agreed that might be a good solution, and my dog has been a huge fan ever since (plus no more anal gland issues). He gobbles it right up! It makes me happy knowing he’s getting the protein he loves and craves but without causing any health issues as a result.

Sadie Cornelius, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog parent, Canine Journal Creative & Content Marketing

Best Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food

Purchasing most hydrolyzed formulas will require a veterinary prescription or approval. Your ultimate decision will depend on your veterinarian’s recommendations for your pup’s specific needs. Wet and dry options are available; your vet may prescribe a combination. Below, I review some of the best dog foods with hydrolyzed protein.

Best Overall: Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet HF Hydrolyzed Salmon Review

Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet HF Hydrolyzed Salmon

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Blue Buffalo’s Natural Veterinary Diet is a grain-free formula using hydrolyzed salmon. The recipe is a single protein, prescription-only kibble. I like that this recipe includes vegetables and fruits like peas and pumpkin, which help digestion. It also includes flaxseed, fish oil, dried kelp, and a variety of added nutrients. These help with the immune system as well as skin and coat health.

Blue Buffalo’s veterinary formula is made specifically for dogs experiencing gastrointestinal distress. The recipe is designed to minimize adverse reactions and to provide a taste and texture dogs enjoy with no grains, corn, wheat, or soy. The chicken-free formula is a good pick when chicken is suspected to be a trigger. Blue Buffalo’s kibble contains 24% crude protein (min) and 12% crude fat (min). It has 368 kcal/cup. Blue Buffalo also makes excellent quality wet veterinary options.


Best Variety: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein HP Review (Dry) Review

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein HP.

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Royal Canin makes numerous varieties of therapeutic, prescription pet nutrition. Specifically, they make seven different varieties of hydrolyzed protein foods for dogs. Several of these products are formulas crafted to address specific needs, including renal support, hypoallergenic, urinary health, satiety, and a formula for small breeds.

For this review, we are focusing on the Royal Canin veterinary diet HP formula. The kibble is designed to be highly palatable and support healthy digestion. It includes brewers rice, hydrolyzed soy protein, chicken fat, dried beet pulp, vegetable oil, and fish oil, among other ingredients. It’s a slightly lower protein kibble than some, with 19% crude protein (min). This kibble has 324 kcal/cup and is suitable for adults of all breeds.


In-Depth Review Of Royal Canin Dog Food

Be sure to read our full review of Royal Canin for more details on recipes, ingredients, and other special dietary needs Royal Canin serves. You can also learn more about their dog DNA test.

Best For Sensitive Skin: Farmina Vet Life HP Derma Canine Review

Farmina Vet Life HP Derma Canine Dry Dog Food.

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The Farmina Vet Life HP Derma Canine formula does require a prescription. It is formulated specifically to help with skin issues like atopic dermatitis, food sensitivities, and IBD. The protein comes from hydrolyzed fish, and the recipe also contains herring oil and rice starch. Farmina’s recipe has fairly limited ingredients as it is intended only to be used for a short time, about three to eight weeks.

This food is safe for all life stages and all breeds. The kibble contains 17.5% crude protein, 14% crude fat, and 2.9% crude fiber. The limited ingredients and high palatability make this very easy to digest, and it can be a beneficial tool in an elimination diet. This food is made in Italy by a family-owned company. It is formulated by a team of veterinarians and nutrition experts.


  • Starting at $38.99 ( 4.4-lb bag)

Best Wet Hydrolyzed Dog Food: Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d Original Skin/Food Sensitivities Review

Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Original Skin/Food Sensitivities.

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Hill’s Prescription Diet Wet is a top choice for skin and dietary sensitivities. It has no pea proteins and uses hydrolyzed chicken livers as the primary meat source. The limited-ingredient recipe does not contain many common allergens, making it easy to digest. Fatty acids are added, which support skin and coat health, while antioxidants boost the immune system.

The soft pate is highly palatable, easy to digest, suitable for adults, and can be used with all breed sizes. Hill’s does require a prescription. They also make a top-quality prescription dry kibble, so your vet may recommend using both. Sticking to the same brand can be important for pups with sensitive stomachs who need these veterinary nutritional options.


Best Nonprescription Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food: SquarePet VFS Skin & Digestive Support Review

SquarePet® VFS Skin & Digestive Support.

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Veterinarians craft the SquarePet hydrolyzed formula specifically to support dogs with dietary sensitivities. It’s one of the few that are available without a prescription. The limited ingredients include hydrolyzed pork, brown rice, white rice, sunflower oil, pork fat, natural pork flavor, calcium carbonate, flaxseed oil, and a nutrient blend. The recipe includes other ingredients like dandelion greens, taurine, L carnitine, and dried kelp.

SquarePet kibble is made in the United States, and the pork-based formula is suitable for small, medium, and large breeds. This formula is best for adults. It is crafted for sensitive digestion and contains no peas, corn, wheat, or soy. This recipe does contain grain, which is very important in the digestive process as a source of natural dietary fiber. Though the meat is broken down, the recipe still packs 414 kcal/cup and 22% crude protein (min). It has a good fat and fiber balance without artificial preservatives or ingredients.


  • Starts at
      (4.4-lb bag)

Best Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food Alternative: Chippin Cricket-Based Dog Food Review

Chippin Cricket-Based Dog Food.

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Novel proteins are a good alternative if you are unsure about the prescription route. Novel proteins are often ones your pup has not eaten before and are less commonly used. Crickets are one such example. Chippin has created a human-grade, cricket-based dehydrated formula just for pups. The recipe meets AAFCO guidelines for adult dogs and offers complete nutrition. It does not require a prescription and lasts quite a long while.

Chippin uses no meat meals, by-products, legumes, chicken, beef, or dairy. The cricket recipe contains ten essential amino acids. It also uses crickets, oat flour, rolled oats, dehydrated pumpkin, sorghum flour, ground flaxseed, dehydrated apple, dried kale, dehydrated carrot, dried cranberry, and a nutrient blend. Though much different than your regular pet chow, the Chippin cricket formula is a top pick as an alternative to hydrolyzed nutrition. Dogs love the taste, and it is easy to digest.


In-Depth Review Of Chippin Dog Food

Be sure to read our full review of Chippin cricket-based dog food. You will learn a lot more about this novel protein and how it may benefit your pup and help with dietary and digestive issues.

Best Hydrolyzed Dog Treats: Royal Canin & Hills Prescription Diet Reviews

There are fewer options for hydrolyzed doggy treats. Both Hill’s and Royal Canin make these prescription treats.

Hill’s Prescription Diet Hypo Crunchy Treats Review

Hill's Prescription Diet Hypo Crunchy Treats.

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These tasty tidbits are crunchy biscuits made with hydrolyzed chicken liver. These require a prescription and are suitable for adults of all breeds. Treats have limited ingredients and include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support skin health. The crunchy biscuits are also helpful in cleaning tartar and plaque from the teeth as a pup chews.


Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Hydrolyzed Dog Treats Review

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Hydrolyzed Dog Treats.

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These are veterinary-formulated treats made with hydrolyzed soy protein and chicken fat. It promotes a healthy urinary system, protects skin and coat health, and is formulated to help reduce skin and GI reactions from meat intolerance. These are easy to digest and great for pets on a hydrolyzed or an elimination diet.


Side Effects Of Hydrolyzed Dog Food

Hydrolyzed nutrition can benefit some pups, but it is not a go-to for allergies or even something some of us will ever need to feed our pets. If a pup is on this specialty nutrition, there are a few potential side effects to watch for. Side effects can include:

  • Digestive upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Change in appetite
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Along with these side effects, sometimes prescription pet foods have a smell, taste, or texture some fur babies do not like. Sometimes, they will not work to alleviate allergies or IBD symptoms. As with any nutritional change, it is often a matter of trying something out to see what happens. Changing foods frequently can cause gastrointestinal issues, pain, and even blood in your pet’s stool.

Does Pet Insurance Cover Hydrolyzed Dog Food?

Depending on your pet insurance company, it may include coverage for special diets like hydrolyzed dog food. Prescription food, which hydrolyzed dog food can fall under, is sometimes excluded from coverage by pet insurance providers. If this is something you want included, you’ll want to ensure you choose a pet insurance company that offers it.

However, pet insurance does cover allergies and IBS, including necessary treatment for the conditions. Treatment can result in the need for a hydrolyzed protein diet. However, if symptoms of allergies or IBS are presented before your pet insurance policy’s effective date, the condition may be considered pre-existing; therefore, coverage for a hydrolyzed protein diet would be excluded.

Should I Consider A Vitamin Or Supplement For My Dog?

Adding an allergy supplement, vitamin, or digestive enzyme to your pup’s regimen may be tempting. Probiotics are known to support digestion. Many of us wonder about supplements to boost our dog’s mood or to help them calm down. Supplements and vitamins can be beneficial, but discussing them with your veterinarian before starting is best, especially if your pup is on a prescription or veterinary-instructed diet.

Discuss significant dietary changes with your vet first, and consult a pet nutritionist if you need more one-on-one guidance. You can also look into a dog allergy test to help determine the cause of symptoms. I often seek out advice from others who have experienced similar issues. This sharing helps us all be better pet parents. I would love to hear about your experience with specialty and prescription dog food. Please share with us in the comments!

Our Methodology

We analyze hundreds of dog food brands and individual formulas to provide our recommendations for the best nutrition. Each of the following elements helps us determine the best dog food for any dietary need. Our in-depth research includes:

  • Scrutinizing all ingredients included in every formula
  • Having firsthand experience with our dogs for many of the foods we recommend
  • Assessing the guaranteed analysis for every formula, including protein, fat, fiber, and caloric content
  • Investigating the latest scientific studies on dogs’ nutritional needs and benefits of ingredients
  • Researching the specific dietary needs for breed sizes and health conditions
  • Reading hundreds of customer reviews
  • Staying informed on every dog food recall
  • Diving into every pet food brand’s history and reputation
  • Keeping on top of pet food trends

Unlike many other review sites, we give unbiased reviews based on countless hours of research. Our goal is to provide our readers with the healthiest options for their pups.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Danielle has had a special bond with dogs since she was a young child. She has over 30 years of pet care experience. Danielle has worked as a professional researcher for many years and spends countless hours researching the latest science and data-backed research on pet care, health, nutrition, and training developments. Danielle has tested and researched over 100 dog food brands and counting with the enthusiastic help of her two dogs, Daisy and Falkor. She works with a professional and experienced team to bring our readers the best, most accurate, and up-to-date information.

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