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  • Ultimate Guide to Find the Best Dog Food for Dogs with Food Allergies

    Written by: Steve Watts



    Time to read 14 min

    Navigating the Challenge: A Comprehensive Guide to Selecting the Best Dog Food for Canines with Food Allergies

    Dogs respond to their diet differently, and food allergies in dogs can be tricky to diagnose. Finding the best dog food for dogs with food allergies early can prevent unnecessary suffering and restore good health. Eliminating the allergy-causing ingredient(s) in your dog's diet is essential for clarity and recuperation. 

    The phrase "A dog is a man's best friend" is much more than a feel-good sentiment. It is a proven fact that has brought much joy to dog owners over the centuries.

    Dogs, like us, also develop dietary issues that include allergies to certain ingredients in their food. This typically results in the outbreak of a rash and itchy, dry skin.

    The generalization that dog food is suitable for all dogs simply because it is dog food is unfounded. There are many kibble recipes, each designed to provide the ultimate diet for your pup.

    We all know that dog food is generally characterized by the dog's size, age, and weight, but there is more to selecting the right dog food for your best friend. Many quality diets are available to help your dog avoid food allergens. You must remember that there is also a process to follow as you change your dog's diet.

    Let's discuss this often-overlooked issue in more detail.

    canines dog

    Identifying a food allergy in your dog 

    Common food allergy symptoms include red and inflamed skin or a rash, severe itchiness, fur loss, flaky and dry skin, and other skin conditions. The primary symptom is itchy skin, mainly affecting your dog's face, feet, ears, forelegs, armpits, and the area around the anus. 

    Symptoms may also include chronic or recurrent ear infections and skin infections that respond to antibiotics but flair up again once the course of antibiotics is completed.

    Some dogs may develop digestive issues such as vomiting, watery stool, or excessive gas, which could be an intolerance to a particular food and isn't an allergy. That specific food doesn't sit well with their digestive system. 

    Evidence suggests that dogs with food allergies tend to have increased bowel movements. Non-allergic dogs typically have about 1.5 bowel movements per day. Dogs with food allergies may have three or more bowel movements per day.

    In addition to these common symptoms, dogs experiencing food allergies may appear lazy or anxious as they don't feel well. 

    Food allergy symptoms can also manifest through environmental issues like fleas, pollen, chemicals, or medical issues. It is worth remembering that a food allergy is generally a less common cause of skin issues than environmental allergens like fleas or pollen.

    What is vitally important is to identify the cause of the many symptoms listed above. 

    If you notice any of these common conditions, your first port of call should be a visit to a veterinarian. If a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian will discuss your dog's diet and recommend an alternative recipe with a different protein source as its main ingredient.

    Black and white dog

    What are common dog food allergens?

    Alleviating a food allergy often involves trials using dog food made with different protein sources as their main ingredient. Usually, the cause of a food allergy manifests as a reaction to the primary protein source in dog food like chicken, beef, lamb, and so on. But dogs can also be allergic to non-protein additives in their food, like dairy, wheat gluten, and soy.

    Having said this, if your dog has a food allergy and you note itchiness, red skin, and excessive chewing, it could result from one of the following ingredients in your dog's food:

    • Chicken: Chicken is a popular dog food protein that often includes organs like the liver. Pay close attention to the ingredient list to look for additives common in dog food. Look out for additives such as chicken fat, poultry by-products, and chicken meal, but fats are less likely to cause a food allergy. 
    • Eggs: Eggs are seldom used as a primary protein source in dog food, yet they are sometimes included in recipes.
    • Beef and lamb: Beef and lamb are commonly used as a primary protein source in many dog food recipes. Of the two, beef is identified as the more common allergen among some dogs. 
    • Soy: Soy is usually used as a protein source, an all-around filler, and maybe a food allergen for some dogs. To avoid soy-based dog foods, carefully read recipe lists for ingredients like soy flour, soy oil, and soybean meal to eliminate soy from your dog's diet. Oils and other fats, however, are less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
    • Wheat and corn: Dogs typically don't have an issue with rice in their diet, but wheat and corn are more challenging to digest and are also allergens for some dogs.
    • Dairy: Many dogs have a tough time digesting dairy products like cheese and milk, but this doesn't mean they're a food allergen for them. They may not be able to digest it. If your puppy develops tummy trouble or inflamed red skin and regularly eats cheese or milk-infused dog food, you should cut dairy from their diet.

    Although you may have heard of food allergy tests that analyze a sample of your dog's blood or saliva, these tests are unreliable for determining dog food-based allergies.

    The most common food allergens include chicken, beef, soy, and wheat. If you aren't sure which ingredients are causing an allergic reaction, avoid recipes with multiple protein sources. This will simplify your search for the best allergy-safe option. 

    Food allergy and food intolerance

    food allergy occurs when your dog's immune system identifies a specific ingredient in the dog food as harmful, and your dog creates defensive antibodies to fight the offending ingredient.

    A food intolerance is a digestive problem rather than an immune response. 

    A food intolerance occurs when a dog's digestive system cannot digest a specific ingredient. 

    For example, lactose intolerance is a common condition where dogs cannot digest lactose, a sugar found in milk.

    hairy  brown dog

    A deeper look into food allergies

    It is challenging to distinguish food allergies from atopy, a condition associated with heightened immune responses to common allergens or allergies based on physical symptoms. 

    Rest assured, there are a few signs that indicate a possible food allergy. One such sign is a dog with recurring ear issues, particularly yeast infections. Puppies with moderate or severe skin problems are another tell-tale sign.

    A third indicator is if a dog suffers from allergies year-round or if the symptoms begin in the winter. Finally, if your dog has very itchy skin and does not respond to steroid treatment, you should look more closely at your dog's food choice.

    We all love to treat our dogs, but if you suspect a food allergy, looking at the kibble alone while you feed your dog with treats, including your leftovers, off the table is pointless. This is one of many issues you should take into consideration.

    food allergic dog

    Diagnosing a food allergy

    Diagnosing food allergies is usually straightforward, but many other problems can cause similar symptoms. For this reason, all other problems must be clearly identified and treated before diagnosing potential food allergies. 

    Atopy, flea bite allergies, intestinal parasite hypersensitivities, sarcoptic mange, and yeast or bacterial infections can all cause similar symptoms as food allergies. Only once all these possible causes are ruled out or treated can you undertake food trials to identify a food allergy.

    Dogs with food allergiesshould be monitored for recurrence of the symptoms. Some dogs with food allergies may develop allergies to new foods if they are fed those foods long enough. It is best to consult your veterinarian if you suspect an allergy of any sort.

    dog eating food

    Food trials and elimination diets

    A food trial consists of feeding your dog a new food source of protein and carbohydrates for at least 12 weeks. This new dog food should be a protein and carbohydrate that your dog has never eaten before, like rabbit, rice, or venison and potato. A variety of these dog foods are widely available. 

    The standard treatment for food allergies is avoidance. Once the offending ingredient has been identified through a food trial, it is eliminated from the diet and substituted with a new ingredient. Sadly, there is no known prevention against food allergies.

    In addition, there are specialized diets or prescription diets where the proteins and carbohydrates are broken down into very small molecular sizes to no longer trigger an allergic response. These are known as limited antigen or hydrolyzed protein diets.

    Homemade diets are a good option as you can choose and regulate the ingredients. Regardless of the diet choice for your dog, it must be the only food your dog eats for the 12-week food trial.

    In the past, veterinarians would typically recommend a special diet for three weeks. Still, recent studies show that only 26% of dogs with food allergies responded by day 21. The overwhelming majority respond within 12 weeks. It is, therefore, essential to keep your dog on the same trial diet for the full 12 weeks before you reach a conclusion.

    If your dog shows improvement or elimination of the symptoms, then your dog is once again placed back on the original food. This process is called provocative testing and is necessary to confirm the diagnosis. If there has been no change in symptoms, a food allergy is still strongly suspected. Another food trial using a different dog food will be necessary. Repeat this process until you find a diet that agrees with your dog.

    Homemade diets should not be ruled out as each dog responds differently to the food they eat. After all, you will essentially be creating a unique diet for your dog. An important note on homemade diets is that they must be well balanced, with the correct ingredient quantities, vitamins, and minerals. A veterinary nutritionist should ideally develop homemade diets for long-term use.

    During food trials, you should avoid the following.

    • Treats
    • Rawhides
    • Pigs Ears
    • Cow hooves
    • Flavored medications, including heartworm preventives or supplements
    • Flavored toothpaste
    • Flavored plastic toys
    • Any other food is given with medication

    If you want to give a treat, use the recommended trial diet as a guide. 

    Ideally, it would help if you kept your dog out of the room at meal times. Any food dropped on the floor or licked off a plate can render an elimination trial useless and will require you to start over.

    You must keep a record of the food trial and include as much detail as possible. This will prove valuable and will inevitably reduce your dog's suffering.

    a dog with supports healthy hips and joints bottle

    Medications for food allergies

    If your dog is in poor condition, your veterinarian may recommend antihistamines, steroids, or antibiotics as a short-term relief to treat secondary infections and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics may be recommended to support the skin and immune system.

    When in doubt, speak to your veterinarian and get the clarity you need firsthand.

    food allergic dog

    Best dog food for dogs with food allergies

    A wide range of assorted dog foods are available on the market, and choosing the best food for your dog can be daunting. Listed below are a few recommended diets for dogs suffering from food allergies:

    The Farmer's Dog (Pork)

    First five ingredients: Pork, sweet potato, potato, green beans, cauliflower

    Type: Grain-free

    Design: All Life Stages

    Best for: All dogs, including large-breed puppies

    The Farmer's Dog pork recipe derives most of its animal protein from fresh pork. The recipe contains 36% protein, 28% fat, and 28% estimated carbohydrates, providing a fat-to-protein ratio of about 78%.

    Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet

    Turkey and Potato Formula is one of 6 recipes.

    First five ingredients: Deboned turkey, turkey meal, potatoes, peas, dried ground potatoes

    Type: Grain-free

    Design: Limited ingredient

    Profile: Maintenance

    Best For: Adults only (not for puppies)

    Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet derives most animal protein from fresh turkey and turkey meal. The recipe contains 29% protein, 14% fat, and 49% estimated carbohydrates, providing a fat-to-protein ratio of about 46%.

    Raised Right Dog Food

    Raised Right Beef is one of 11 fresh recipes 

    First five ingredients: Beef, beef heart, carrots, beef liver, cranberries

    Type: Grain-free (carrots, cranberries)

    Profile: Maintenance

    Best for: Adult dogs only

    Raised Right Beef derives its animal protein from fresh beef. The recipe contains 61% protein, 24% fat, and 8% estimated carbohydrates, providing a fat-to-protein ratio of about 39%.

    Canidae Grain-Free Pure Limited Ingredient

    Real Salmon and Sweet Potato Recipe is one of 10 recipes

    First five ingredients: Salmon, salmon meal, menhaden fish meal, sweet potatoes, peas

    Type: Grain-free

    Design: Limited ingredient

    Profile: Maintenance

    Best For: Adults only (not for puppies)

    Canidae Grain-Free Pure Real Salmon and Sweet Potato get the bulk of its meat protein from fresh salmon, as well as salmon and menhaden fish meals. The recipe contains 36% protein, 20% fat, and 36% estimated carbohydrates, providing a fat-to-protein ratio of about 56%.

    As stated, not all dogs respond to different diets similarly. You will know what food your dog enjoys, but avoid experimenting aimlessly with different diets. Consult a veterinarian for advice and a diet plan to alleviate your dog's food allergy.

    dog food bottle happy bonds

    Final words

    Most dog food is formulated to provide a nutritious, well-balanced diet, but sadly, food allergies are a reality that some dog owners must contend with. Food allergies can be very unpleasant for your dog; the sooner you seek help, the better.

    Identifying the specific ingredient in your dog's diet causing the allergy is a trial-based process that can be time-consuming. To alleviate the cause, it is highly recommended to consult a veterinarian with the knowledge and skills to assess your dog's condition and make recommendations, including short-term relief if necessary.

    Many dog food types are on the market, some more expensive than others. Looking at the bigger picture, expensive dog food is a drop in the ocean of a lifelong friendship you will enjoy with your dog, your best friend.

    a black dog

    Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Food Allergies

    What are the common symptoms of food allergies in dogs?

    Common symptoms include intense itching, particularly around the face, ears, and paws, along with gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and vomiting. Skin reactions are also common, manifesting as hives, redness, or bald patches. Some dogs may experience chronic ear infections or recurring skin infections that improve with antibiotics but return afterward.

    How can I tell if my dog has a food allergy?

    Identifying a food allergy involves monitoring for symptoms like persistent itching, skin irritations, and gastrointestinal disturbances. These symptoms, especially if they occur year-round, may point to a food allergy. A veterinarian can conduct a thorough examination and may suggest an elimination diet to pinpoint the allergen.

    What are the most common food allergens for dogs?

    The most prevalent allergens include proteins such as beef, chicken, lamb, and dairy products. Some dogs are also allergic to wheat, corn, soy, and eggs. It's important to note that each dog is unique, and what triggers an allergy in one dog may not affect another.

    Is it necessary to visit a vet for a dog food allergy?

    Absolutely. A veterinarian's guidance is crucial in diagnosing and managing food allergies. They can help rule out other conditions that mimic allergy symptoms and advise on appropriate dietary modifications and treatments.

    How long does it take to identify a food allergy in dogs?

    Identifying a food allergy can take several weeks or months. An elimination diet, where ingredients are gradually removed or replaced, is typically followed for at least 12 weeks to observe any changes in symptoms and identify the allergen.

    Can a dog be allergic to any type of meat?

    Yes, dogs can develop allergies to any meat type, including common proteins like chicken, beef, and lamb. Each dog's immune system is unique, so they can potentially develop allergies to meats they've consumed without issues in the past.

    What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance in dogs?

    A food allergy is an immune system response to a perceived threat from a food ingredient, often leading to skin and ear problems or gastrointestinal distress. Food intolerance, on the other hand, is more of a digestive issue, where the dog's system cannot properly digest a certain food, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, or gas but not an immune response.

    Are grain-free diets better for dogs with food allergies?

    Grain-free diets can be beneficial for dogs allergic to specific grains like wheat or corn. However, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some dogs may be allergic to proteins or other ingredients in grain-free diets. It's essential to identify the specific allergen before choosing an appropriate diet.

    What is an elimination diet for dogs?

    An elimination diet involves feeding the dog a very simple diet, typically composed of ingredients the dog has never eaten before. This could include novel protein and carbohydrate sources. Over time, other foods are slowly reintroduced to determine which ingredient causes the allergic reaction.

    Can a dog develop an allergy to a food they've eaten for years?

    Yes, dogs can develop allergies to foods they've consumed regularly for years. This sudden sensitivity results from the immune system suddenly perceiving a previously harmless ingredient as a threat.

    Are there any reliable tests for food allergies in dogs?

    While certain blood and saliva tests claim to detect food allergies, they are generally considered unreliable by most veterinarians. The most effective method for identifying food allergies is an elimination diet under a veterinarian's supervision.

    Can homemade diets help with food allergies?

    Homemade diets can be particularly effective for managing food allergies as they allow for complete control over the ingredients. However, it's crucial that these diets are nutritionally balanced. A veterinary nutritionist can help formulate a homemade diet that meets all of your dog's dietary needs.

    What should I avoid during a food trial for allergies?

    During a food trial, it's essential to avoid any treats, flavored medications or supplements, and any other food not included in the trial diet. Even small amounts of the allergen can affect the results of the trial.

    Are there any medications that can help with food allergies in dogs?

    While medications don't cure food allergies, they can provide relief from symptoms. Antihistamines, steroids, and antibiotics may be prescribed to manage itching and secondary skin infections. Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids can also support skin health.

    How do I choose the best dog food for a dog with food allergies?

    Choosing the right food involves identifying the allergen through an elimination diet and selecting a diet that avoids this ingredient. Limited ingredient diets or hypoallergenic foods are often recommended. It's important to read labels carefully and consult with a veterinarian to find a nutritionally complete food that meets your dog's specific needs.