Inflamed skin, hot spots, ear infections, chronic diarrhea, upset stomach, and constant scratching. If even a few of these symptoms sound like your dog, the odds are pretty good they are suffering from some kind of food allergy or intolerance.
If you’re at a loss of how to help your pup find some relief, you’ll want to keep reading.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to tell if your dog has a food allergy or sensitivity and then outline the best way to use an elimination diet to nail down exactly which food it is that’s making your pet so miserable. Then we’ll review our top five picks of the best dog foods for allergies to help you and your dog find some much-needed relief.
What Causes Allergies In Dogs
If you’ve ever suffered from allergies, you know what it feels like. For humans, it usually means a running nose, itchy eyes, constant sneezing, and maybe even swelling in the throat and face.
But allergies affect dogs in a much different way.
Mast cells are the part of the immune system that is responsible for allergic reactions. In humans, the bulk of these cells lie in the respiratory tract, but in dogs, most mast cells exist in the gut, and by extension, the skin.
This means that, while a human who consumes a food they are allergic to will often show signs like difficulty breathing and swelling in the face, a dog will typically show signs like diarrhea, vomiting, and itchy skin.
In fact, the most common cause of dermatitis in dogs is allergies. And food sensitivities and intolerances can also cause itching.
The most common food allergies in dogs, listed in order, are beef, dairy, chicken, wheat, soy, lamb, corn, and eggs, according to a study by BMC Veterinary Research.
But how do you know if your dog is suffering from a food allergy or sensitivity or if they are allergic to something in the air like dust or pollen?
If your dog’s itching comes and goes with the seasons, then odds are they are suffering from an environmental allergy. But, if they have digestive issues in addition to itching or their itching remains constant even during travel or with the use of air purifiers and filters, there is a good chance they are reacting to something in their diet.
Dog Food Elimination Diet
While there are blood and skin tests to determine what a dog is allergic to, these tests tend to be very inaccurate for food allergies and completely useless for sensitivities and intolerances.
Instead, the best way to determine if your dog is suffering from a food allergy or intolerance is to do an elimination diet.
In an elimination diet, you remove all possible allergens from a dog’s diet. If their symptoms subside after a set period of time, then you can be relatively sure one of the ingredients you eliminated was the culprit.
First, List All Possible Allergies
Before you begin an elimination diet for your pooch, you need to make a list of all possible foods your dog is allergic to. But how do you know what your dog might be allergic to?
Easy. They can be allergic to literally anything they have consumed in the past.
That means you need to list every ingredient in their current dog food and any past dog foods you are aware of, as well as ingredients in their treats, human food they have been given, flavors in their medication and any other food product they have consumed.
Next, Find a New Diet Without Possible Allergens
Once you have a full list of potential allergen foods, then your rather difficult task is to find a dog food that doesn’t contain any of those ingredients.
Below, we have included many limited ingredient dog food reviews. This would be a great place to start looking for a new food that might work for your dog.
The best limited ingredient dog foods (LID) for this new trial diet should have only one protein source and one starch. On this ingredients label, you should see something like “salmon, peas” and then a long list of vitamins and minerals.
Make sure neither the listed protein or starch are on your possible allergen list. And that the remaining ingredients are also free of any potential allergens.
Slowly transition your dog to the new diet and be sure they are not receiving any treats, table scraps, or even medications that contain ingredients on your list.
If your dog suffers from digestive issues due to a food allergy, you should see symptoms clear within two weeks, according to Whole Dog Journal. For dogs who suffer from allergy induced itchy skin, it is likely to take much longer, even up to three months for symptoms to clear.
Make sure you wait at least three months before deciding if the new diet helped your dog. If their symptoms remain the same, find a different LID and repeat the process.
If your dog is still showing symptoms, then it is likely their issues are caused by some other type of allergy or disease.
But, if your dog’s symptoms do clear on the new diet, then you can start to celebrate because you are well on your way to figuring out exactly what your dog is allergic to.
Finally, Reintroduce Possible Allergens
Many people are happy to stop the trial diet process here. They’ve found a food that works well for their dog and they are fine with leaving that long list of ingredients out of their dog’s diet for the rest of the dog’s life.
Luckily, at least the best LID dog foods provide balanced and complete nutrition and can be fed long term. If you are happy with where your dog is at on their new diet, then there is little harm in stopping here.
But, the healthiest dogs eat a variety of different foods and your allergy-prone dog should have that option as well. If you want to be able to offer your dog a variety of different foods or just need to find a less expensive protein that they can eat, then you’ll need to continue with the elimination diet process.
Once your dog’s symptoms have ceased, then it is time to reintroduce one ingredient from their possible allergens list. You can do this by finding a new dog food that includes the previous two ingredients you were feeding plus the one you want to introduce, or you can add the test ingredient in whole form to the current food you’re using.
Once you start adding the test ingredient to your dog’s diet, you’ll need to wait at least a month to see if their symptoms return.
If not, then you can add a second test ingredient into their diet and repeat the process. If the allergy symptoms do return, then you can be relatively certain that your dog is allergic to that test ingredient.
If that’s the case, you should remove that ingredient from their diet again, wait until symptoms subside and then continue testing the ingredients on your list one at a time to make sure your dog doesn’t have any additional food allergies.
How to Choose a Quality Hypo-Allergenic Food
Once you have figured out exactly what all your dog is allergic to, then you can start hunting for a new complete diet to feed them.
When choosing the best dog food for allergy-prone dogs, the first thing you’ll need to do is thoroughly read the ingredients list. Any food can work for a dog with allergies so long as it doesn’t contain ANY ingredients they are allergic to.
The best dog food for sensitive skin and dogs with sensitive systems is one that is all-natural and not overly processed.
Most importantly, remember that the best allergy-free dog food for one pup may not be the best dog food for allergies in another pup. The most important thing is what’s in a dog food, not how it’s marketed or who it’s marketed to.
Below, we have picked the top five best dog food brands for allergies and food intolerances. These foods made our list because they contain limited ingredients, novel proteins, and novel plant ingredients.
Our hope is that you will be able to find a quality food that will work around your dog’s allergies and help them find some relief.
Reviews of The Best Dog Food for Allergies
#1. Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Grain Free Recipe Natural Dog Food & Toppers
The first food on our list was chosen with special consideration for dogs going through an elimination diet. Instinct’s Limited Ingredient diets contain only one protein and one vegetable, making it easy to find a flavor to meet your dog’s needs.
This line LID line comes in four flavors: duck, lamb, salmon, and turkey. Each protein is paired with one low-allergy starch, making it easier to find a diet that is free from potential allergens on your list.
Most importantly, this food is balanced to meet all the nutritional needs of an adult dog, meaning it can be fed long term if needed. In our minds, that easily qualifies this as one of the best dry dog foods for allergies and food sensitivities.
Each flavor has between 24 and 29% protein and around 17% fat to help your dog feel energized. The high levels of these important macronutrients also make this one of the best dog foods for skin issues as protein and fat are vital for skin and coat health.
Like most LID foods, this diet costs more than your typical dog food, but is actually less expensive than others on this list, making it a great choice for owners looking to spend only a moderate amount on their dog’s food.
#2. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw
The second food on our list was chosen specifically for dogs with one or two protein allergies and those with sensitive systems. Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw is packed with whole-food nutrition and available in multiple flavors to meet the needs of your sensitive pup.
This diet comes in twelve unique flavors like rabbit, venison, and duck. Depending on the flavor, each recipe contains either one protein source and a short list of different proteins.
What makes this one of the best novel protein dog foods isn’t just that it is available in strange flavors, but that even the flavors that contain multiple meat types are largely allergy-friendly.
For instance, the duck flavor contains duck, turkey, and goose. It does not contain any chicken and the poultry it does contain are all less common allergens.
This unique approach makes this food a great choice for dogs who need to be on allergy-friendly food for life.
Best of all, this food is nutrient-packed with whole food ingredients in their raw form to allow your dog to absorb all the good stuff. While this might not be the best non-allergenic dog food for pooches that are allergic to certain plant ingredients, it is the perfect choice for those sensitive to chemicals and synthetic additives.
This food also comes in two formulas specifically for puppies, one that is chicken-free and one that is beef-free, making this the best food for puppies with allergies on our list.
All that nutrition will cost you and this is easily the most expensive food on our list. However, if your dog struggles to find a food that works with their system, this one is definitely worth a try.
#3. ACANA Singles Limited Ingredient Dry Dog Food, Lamb & Apple, Biologically Appropriate & Grain Free
Our third choice is only available in one flavor, but what it lacks in options, it makes up for in quality. Acana’s Limited Ingredient lamb is perfect for the picky dog owner and the picky dog alike.
This food contains a short list of whole-food ingredients, including lamb and freeze-dried, nutrient-rich lamb organs. In fact, this food is made of 60% animal ingredients, exactly what your carnivore needs, allergies or not.
While this food would not be good for a dog with lamb allergies, or even fish allergies as it contains pollock oil, it is one of the best dog foods for chicken allergies as it is 100% chicken free.
This diet also contains a ton of omega-3 fatty acids to help keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy. This is an important feature for dogs who have been suffering from chronic dermatitis due to their allergies.
All that healthy fat plus 31% protein makes this the best dog food for skin and coat health on our list.
Speaking of skin, this food is perfect for dogs who’s sensitivities to grain and starches send them into an itching frenzy. This food is one of the best grain-free dog foods for skin allergies on our list as it contains no grains or potatoes.
As a biologically appropriate, whole-food, limited ingredient diet, this food is on the higher end of the price spectrum.
#4. NUTRO Limited Ingredient Diet Adult Dry Dog Food
Third on our list, is a food that has something for everyone. Nutro’s Limited Ingredient formula comes in multiple flavors, kibble sizes, and is easy on the wallet as well.
For owners looking for that key one-protein food, they have four great options with this brand. You can find their LID in lamb, duck, salmon, and venison.
While all four versions do contains more than one vegetable, these foods are all grain-free and contain only low-allergen legumes and potatoes.
If you’re looking for the best dog food for small dogs with allergies or for giants dogs with allergies, you’ve found it with this food. This diet is available in small breed and large breed specific formulas that are tailored to your dog’s nutritional needs while taking their sensitivities into account.
One thing to note is that this food is lower in protein than many others on this list and may not be the best choice for highly active or young dogs.
But, it is the least expensive dry food on our list which is an important factor if your dog will require a limited ingredient diet for life.
#5. NUTRO Limited Ingredient Diet Adult Natural Wet Dog Food
Last one our list is the best canned dog food for allergies. Nutro’s Limited Ingredient canned diets contain the same quality ingredients as their LID dry food but in a form more appealing to picky eaters.
Nutro’s LID wet food comes in three flavors: lamb, fish, and turkey. Each flavor contains only the named protein and potatoes, making this food a great choice for the elimination diet.
All three flavors are loaded with protein and the lamb flavor especially is high in fat, making it one of the best dog foods for healthy skin and coat. Though, even with the high protein percentage, it’s important to note that these foods all contain a lot of potatoes, at least as much if not more than the total meat content.
Another feature that makes this diet one of the best wet dog foods for allergies, is that it contains no added chemical preservatives, dyes, or other harmful substances that can cause sensitive dogs to react.
This food is an especially great choice to add to one of the dry dog foods listed above if you happen to have a picky eater. Wet food is more palatable than dry food and even mixing in one spoonful can be enough to entice your dog to eat.
This food is reasonably priced for a limited ingredient canned food and would fit well into most budgets.
What Is the Best Dog Food for Dogs With Allergies?
We searched through the growing market of limited ingredient diets, novel protein foods, and hypoallergenic formulas to find the best dog food for skin allergies and sensitive systems. In the end Instinct’s Limited Ingredient line stood out for its quality and the truly limited nature of the ingredients list and qualified this food as the best dog food for allergies.
Instinct’s LID is available in four flavors, each with a unique and low-allergy protein and easily digestible peas. Because this food is balanced with all the vital minerals and vitamins your dog needs as well as substantial amounts of protein and healthy fat, you can feel confident feeding your dog this diet for the long term.
If you’re looking for a diet that has less restricted ingredients or something that will work for your puppy or small breed, we’ve included some great options for those above as well.
Also, if you’re looking for a premium dog food that provides your dogs the maximum nutrition to fuel their organs, muscles, and soul, you should check out this guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Summed Up: The Best Dog Food for Allergies
|Name||Instinct Limited Ingredient||Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw||Acana Singles Limited Ingredient||Nutro Limited Ingredient Dry||Nutro Limited Ingredient Canned|
|Hypoallergenic Features||Four flavors, one protein, one veggie, quality ingredients||Twelve unique flavors, nutrient-rich whole-food ingredients||Chicken- and grain-free, high protein, quality whole-food ingredients||Four flavors, small and large breed formulas||Three flavors, one protein, one veggie, highly palatable|
- Cynthia Foley. “Will Your Allergic Dog Benefit From a Food Elimination Diet?” wholedogjournal.com, 12 February 2015, Updated: 21 March 2019
- Ralf S. Mueller, et al. “Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats” bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com, 12 January 2016.
- Various. “Canine Allergic Dermatitis: Causes and Treatment Options” animalmedcenter.com.