Is that hypoallergenic dog food as clean as you think?

We all know how confusing dog food labels can be. We can’t even pronounce half of the ingredients on there and sometimes the list is longer than your arm! So when you step onto the pet aisle and see dozens of bags of food staring back at you, it can leave you feeling lost. Especially when you have a dog with allergies.

A lot of pawrents tend to just grab the best sounding hypoallergenic dog food they can find. But sadly, these foods aren’t necessarily as great as they may seem.

And there’s no way you’d know as an owner because these are respected brands. The packaging looks great, the description sounds perfect, and other pawrents down at the park might have even recommended it to you. In some cases, these brands are even approved by vets.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. So we want to help you wrap your head around confusing labels and empower you to make the right decision for your doggo. 

Tackling allergies from the source

If your dog has allergies, it’s tempting to immediately put them on hypoallergenic dog food. Surely that’ll do the trick? But before you make that jump, there’s something you might want to try before going out and grabbing a bag.

Change their protein. 

While a dog can be allergic to almost anything, protein sources are the most common causes, with chicken, pork, beef, dairy, and eggs being among the likely culprits. Swapping their protein for fish or lamb could fix that in no time. 

If you try that and it doesn’t work, then there’s no harm done. Now you can cross off that idea and start looking at hypoallergenic kibble. But where do you even begin? 

What’s the first ingredient?

You want to look at the first ingredient on the list. Dogs need protein. Some form of high-quality protein should be right at the top. Many dog food companies use soy. And while soy is considered generally safe for dogs to eat in moderation, it’s also a common allergen. 

You might be wondering why they’d include this in their dog food, but I can answer that for you. It’s cheap. A lot cheaper than meat and eggs. 

And the soya is often “hydrolysed”. This basically just means it’s been broken down with water. Dog food companies hydrolyse proteins because it lowers the molecular weight, reducing the risk of nutrient intolerance. So, basically, they break down the soy with water to decrease the chances of causing an allergic reaction in your pup. 

But the keyword here is chance. It’s not definite – it’s only making it less likely. If your pup is allergic to soy, they could very well still have an allergic reaction to that food. 

Not only that, soy is much less bioavailable to dogs compared to animal proteins. This means it’s harder to digest and they can’t extract as much goodness from it as they would from animal protein. To get the same amount of nutrients from soy, they’d have to eat a lot more of it than they would with meat. And if soy is okay for dogs only in moderation, should it be the main ingredient in their daily food?

So let’s look at animal protein. How do you know if it’s any good?

Animal derivatives

Dog food companies often use “animal derivatives” in their food. These are all the nasty parts you and I wouldn’t dream of touching. It could be eyeballs, veins, beaks, feathers – quite literally any part of an animal.

If you pick up a bag of food and see “animal derivatives”, put it back. Especially if you have a dog with allergies. The term tells us nothing. Is it chicken? Fish? Pork? Ox? Llama? Who really knows? They don’t specify. If your pup has an allergy to chicken, there’s a very real possibility of a flare-up because there are chicken feet in that kibble. It’s just not worth it. Especially when there are foods that use high-quality protein and tell you exactly what animal it comes from.

Another phrase to look out for is “X meal”. That can be chicken, fish, or any other protein.

Chicken meal is rendered chicken meat that has been dried and ground up. It can include flesh, skin, and/or bone. This is taken from a well-known dog food brand’s website. But let’s dissect what that really means.

First of all, it’s not too dissimilar from animal derivatives. It could contain some really gross cuts. But what does “rendered” mean? Rendering is a process that converts waste animal tissue into dog food. They could just chuck an entire carcass in and call it a day. And we have no idea what state these carcasses are in. They could have died in transit, at a farm, or aren’t suitable for human consumption. Why should we give that to our fur babies?

Meal could have ridiculously high amounts of fat or consist of parts that barely have any nutritional value. It’s just not good enough. Our pups deserve the best.

Vegetable derivatives

You may have also seen “vegetable derivatives” on a few labels. It sounds good. Vegetables contain all sorts of vitamins that your pooch needs to stay healthy. But “vegetable derivatives” is a phrase that can cover a lot of ingredients. 

It can be anything that isn’t classed as a cereal, grain, or meat. It’s just all the by-products of foods they can’t sell to humans. “Vegetable derivatives” go through a process that strips them of any real nutritional value, with the exception of fibre, and you have no idea what’s in it.

If your pup has allergies, this is a reaction just waiting to happen. For example, if your pooch is allergic to carrots, you obviously want to avoid carrots. But a food that contains “vegetable derivatives” could include carrots. And they won’t necessarily use the same ingredients in each bag. It’s a massive risk.

Every single food that lists these vague terms is a gamble with your dog’s allergies because you never know for certain if you’re avoiding an ingredient they’re allergic to.


There’s a certain hypoallergenic brand that many pawrents love. It’s even approved by vets. What’s not to love? But after checking out the label, there’s an ingredient on there that’s questionable, to say the least.

And that ingredient is starch. 

Dogs only recently evolved to be able to digest starch. But that doesn’t make it easy for every dog to digest. Some pups will have a harder time with it. And some sources of starch are harder to digest than others. Sweet potato, for example, is generally really easy to digest. But isolated starch? That’s a whole other story.

So starch in and of itself isn’t necessarily an ingredient to avoid. But it definitely shouldn’t be the main ingredient. And why isolate it? It’s because starch is a cheap, easy way to fill out dog food while holding zero nutritional value. It would be much better to look out for food like sweet potato so doggos can benefit from all the vitamins that come along with it.

Understanding dog food labels isn’t easy. And the process gets even harder when you’ve got allergies and intolerances to bear in mind. Now you know the tactics some dog food companies use to hide the questionable ingredients for you. Take that new-found info and give your dog the diet they deserve.

Looking for hypoallergenic dog food that doesn’t cut corners? Swagwags hypoallergenic kibble is nutritionally complete and packed with everything your pooch needs to stay happy and healthy. We only use natural ingredients and prime cuts of meat. Buy your pup’s new favourite food today.

If you’re ever concerned about potential allergies, take one of our sensitivity tests. It’s non-invasive and takes 5 minutes to do – a small price for perfect pup health!