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Allergies plague around FIFTY MILLION people in the U.S. every year. And the numbers keep climbing. Everything from pollen to food to medications trigger problems. You may have at least one allergy on your list that you report to doctors. But have you thought about your dog? Canine allergy numbers aren’t quite as high as ours (around 10-20% of the world population), but they suffer from similar problems. If your pup is one of that percentage, you’ve probably considered finding a dog food for dogs with allergies. And you know it’s tricky. But why? We’re going to break it down for you.
Allergies in dogs behave the same as ours. A protein enters their system. The immune system decides it’s not supposed to be there. So the body panics and sets up an antihistamine cascade. As a result, you get typical allergic reaction signs:
- Itchy eyes, ears, or skin
- Swelling of the face
- Red, irritated skin
- Watery eyes
And your dog feels pretty crummy until the body calms down. If the source of the allergy remains, you may see chronic licking of the irritated skin or excess bacterial growth in the ears. Neither situation is good as they lead to complications such as pyoderma or chronic ear infections.
Causes of Dog Allergies
People like to jump on food as the source of dog allergies. However, when you break down the numbers only, 5% of dogs have genuine food allergies. It’s more likely for dogs to suffer from atopy or flea dermatitis. And even when food IS involved, there’s a chance your dog may have a food intolerance.
While you may not recognize the word, odds are you’re familiar with atopy. Atopy is the fancy medical term for inhalant allergies. So when you start reaching for the tissue box when spring goes into bloom? That’s atopy.
Most dogs with allergies suffer from atopy. The environment causes them to develop the same sneezing and watery eyes we cope with. That means allergies to:
- Dust mites
You usually see the symptoms come and go with the seasons (though if they’re sensitive to mold or dust, that’s not always true). Switching to a dog food for dogs with allergies? It may not work. Your best bet is to talk with your vet about allergy medication. And, of course, limit exposure.
Who’d think the humble flea could cause a dog so much trouble? (Well, you know – other than the usual flea problems) As with any animal, fleas carry proteins in their saliva. And some dogs develop allergic reactions to those proteins when a bite happens. The result? Flea dermatitis.
You can look for all the dog foods for dogs with allergies you want, but your poor pup is going to continue itching. These dogs need medical intervention. Obviously, they need flea prevention. And then they often need a course of steroids to calm their immune systems.
You WILL see upset stomachs in dogs with food intolerance, but it’s not the same as an allergy. Some breeds (such as German Shepherds) simply have touchy tummies. They can’t process certain ingredients in their food. But there’s no antihistamine cascade, and you WON’T see swelling or itching after they eat.
Do these canines benefit from dog foods for dogs with allergies? Sure. But that’s because the diets often contain limited ingredient profiles. And if you avoid the triggers that upset their GI tracts, they stay happy. But it’s important to watch for clues and NOT confuse intolerance with allergy.
Food allergies in dogs start in their genetic code. Puppies have an inability to digest specific proteins. However, owners often don’t “discover” the food allergy until their dogs are much older. And it’s usually a food their pup’s eaten for YEARS. Symptoms of food allergies DON’T often show up right away.
The most common proteins dogs struggle with?
But if your dog has a food allergy, the odds are high they have other allergies. And there’s also a good chance they’ll develop FURTHER food allergies down the road. This is why finding a dog food for dogs with allergies gets tricky.
Certain breeds of dogs show up time and time again with allergies. The genetics predispose them to developing SOME kind of allergy. So if you have one of these breeds, you need to keep an eye out for symptoms:
- Bichon Frises
- Chinese Cresteds
- German Shepherds
- Lhasa Apsos
- Shar Peis
- Shi Tzus
When you need to pin down your allergies, it’s easy. You get an intradermal skin test (or a prick test). For dogs? It’s not as simple. They CAN have the prick test done. Vets shave a spot in their fur to perform the test. Or they can have a serum allergy test performed, where a blood sample gets sent to a lab. Either one works great – for everything EXCEPT food allergies.
The Elimination Diet Trial
To pin down a food allergy, you embark on the elimination diet trial. This involves a special dog food for dogs with allergies known as a hydrolyzed diet. Hydrolyzed diets are prescription foods that contain proteins that undergo hydrolyzation.
What’s hydrolyzation? They take a protein (usually soy – which confuses owners as that’s on the food allergy list) and break it down into individual amino acids. The amino acids are considered too small for the dog’s immune system to flag them as a problem. It’s a LONG process.
Every manufacturer uses pharmaceutical-grade equipment. NO other proteins are allowed. They have to clean EVERYTHING, and they have to test EVERYTHING to make sure there’s no cross-contamination. (Which is why these diets cost so much)
You feed the hydrolyzed diet for TEN WEEKS – and NOTHING else. No treats, no snacks, not even a CRUMB of human food. If your dog gets anything else, the trial fails.
If the allergy symptoms go away? You know your dog has a food allergy.
Types of Dog Foods for Dogs with Allergies
You have a few options when it comes to dog foods for dogs with allergies. In an ideal world, you work with your veterinarian to pin down what’s going on with your pup. They can help you figure out the best course of action. Which may be one of these diets.
- Fish Diet: What do fish have LOTS of? Omegas. And omegas are great for the skin and the immune system. They also serve as protein sources dogs usually tolerate well, as they’re easy to digest.
- Hydrolyzed Diet: Some dogs STAY on hydrolyzed formulas. The sensitivity of their systems will only tolerate amino acids and not full proteins. You DO need a prescription for the diet, though, and they ARE expensive. Plus, amino acids? They’re not tasty.
- Novel Protein Diet: “Novel proteins” are meats your dog probably hasn’t eaten before. These dog foods for dogs with allergies believe if your dog’s system hasn’t seen the protein, it won’t react. The problem is so many of these diets are on the market now, most of the proteins AREN’T novel anymore. Plus, many STILL contain chicken or beef in their ingredients.
- Skincare Diet: Dog foods with a focus on skincare do wonders for dogs with allergies. They add amino acids, omegas, antioxidants, and vitamin B complexes to the formulas. All of them support skin cells and the immune system. Not a bad choice for dogs with allergies.
You may see some dog foods for dogs with allergies advertised as “hypoallergenic.” It sounds awesome, but there’s no such thing. Every dog comes with their own list of allergies, so it’s IMPOSSIBLE to make a hypoallergenic food. Ignore the label and focus on what YOUR dog needs.
The internet often steers people with allergic dogs toward raw diets. The theory is an uncooked meat has a different protein structure than a cooked protein. (And there’s some truth there) However, there’s no evidence raw diets are sound for dogs with allergies.
- Clostridium spp.
- E. coli
- Salmonella spp.
You’re putting yourself and your dog at risk, and it’s not worth it.
You CAN make homemade diets. But once you find out how complicated balancing all of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and supplements get? You may think twice. You MUST consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to ensure you have everything right (NOT an internet site). They’ll walk you through everything and help you out.
Best Dog Foods for Dogs with Allergies
Since hydrolyzed diets – and a few other specialty diets – require prescriptions, you won’t find them on this list. Does that mean they aren’t effective dog foods for dogs with allergies? Of course not – they work wonders. But there’s not much point listing something you can’t readily purchase, is there?
Allergies – especially food allergies – in dogs are tricky things. And trying to keep your dog as comfortable as possible drives you to find the best diet. You’ll probably face a lot of trial and error. Don’t get frustrated. Your pup knows you love them and are trying hard to get them comfortable.
AvoDerm is a skincare dog food for dogs with allergies. They use chicken as the protein source, but then they add in avocado oil, vitamins A, B6, and E, and probiotics. Your dog gets a punch of health for their immune system and skin. They also pressure cook their batches to make the diet easy to digest, something sensitive tummies will appreciate. But there’s no wheat, corn, soy, peas, potatoes, OR legumes anywhere in the ingredients.
Downsides? Obviously, if you’re trying to avoid chicken, there’s a problem. And it is a little frustrating that it’s chicken meal and not whole chicken as the first ingredient. But from a skincare standpoint, it’s not bad.
Diamond Naturals focuses on lamb as their protein source. They use pasture-raised lambs, too. And the premium ingredients don’t stop there. They add in plenty of superfoods to give your dog the antioxidants their skin and immune system need. They also blend in glucosamine and chondroitin to help keep joints moving smoothly. Then, there’s a blend of probiotics (80 million CFU/pound) to help your dog’s stomach digest the food without a problem.
The downsides? Once upon a time, lamb ranked among the novel protein set. Now? It’s no longer novel. It may work for some dogs, but not others. And, unhappily, it’s lamb meal and not the real deal.
When you want to pin down a novel protein, you turn to Natural Balance. Their line of limited ingredient diets focuses on ONE protein, leaving out any other potential problem sources. You have six different options, including duck and salmon (to give you a break from the standard proteins). They skip corn, wheat, and soy, and there are NO fillers to worry about. Your dog still gets the vitamins and minerals they need, but none of the artificial chemicals they DON’T.
So what are the downsides? This is one of the more expensive dog foods for dogs with allergies out there. You’ll need to decide if it’s worth it. And not all of the varieties have novel protein options. Plus, you don’t get the bonus of omegas (unless you choose the salmon), superfoods, or probiotics. But when you want a basic allergy diet? It works.
Yeah, Purina shows up quite a few times on this list. Their Beyond Simply line is the limited ingredient diet option they provide. They offer two flavors – chicken or lamb – both raised without steroids. They skip corn, wheat, and soy, but they add a touch of sunflower oil (a natural source of omegas). Your dog also gets probiotics (600 million CFU/pound) in the mix to help them digest the food without a problem.
Downsides? Always check the ingredient label (I know, it’s small). Both flavors contain beef fat. And the lamb? It has chicken meal. So there’s a possibility of some food allergy triggers, if that’s a problem for your dog. If not, though, it’s a reasonably-priced dog food for dogs with allergies.
Dog foods for dogs with allergies are often expensive. You don’t want your dog to be miserable, but you also can’t go broke. That’s where Purina ONE comes in. They start with salmon (so lots of omegas) as the protein source. Then they add prebiotics to help your dog’s microbiome work efficiently. You also get extra omega-6 AND vitamin E for healthy skin and coat. It’s a nice blend that won’t break the bank.
The downsides? When you skim the tiny print on the ingredient label, you’ll find chicken by-product and beef fat. If your dog’s particularly sensitive, those two could cause trouble. There are also dried peas (I let it skate by because it’s Purina, and they have board-certified nutritionists on staff).
When you want a skincare diet, you can’t go wrong with salmon as your protein source. And that’s where Purina Pro Plan comes in. All of those fantastic fish oils do wonders for dogs with itchy skin, making it an ideal dog food for dogs with allergies. They also add in sunflower oil, which has additional omega-6s. The oatmeal’s easy on the stomach, and they add in 600 million CFU/pound of probiotics, just in case. Plus, they include plenty of prebiotic fiber, so the gut bacteria stay nourished and healthy. You WON’T see any corn, wheat, or soy on the ingredient label, but you will see improvement in your dog’s skin.
Our Greyhound is allergic to grass. But she INSISTS on rolling in it every spring and summer. This is the only food we’ve ever fed her, and it DOES make a difference in how often she turns red and itchy. Is it perfect? Of course not. We still need to reach for antihistamines at times. But she’s sleek and shiny. I’d hate to think what she’d look like without the salmon oils at work.
So what are the downsides? It is a little pricey, though not the worst of the dog foods for dogs with allergies. And, yeah, there’s some beef fat in there.
Science Diet is one of the most veterinarian-backed dog foods for dogs with allergies. They focus on making an easy-to-digest diet packed full of prebiotic fiber made from beet pulp. They then add omega-6s and vitamin E to keep the skin and coat as healthy and shiny as possible. It’s a perfect blend for dogs with tummies and skin that struggle with problems. And everything’s formulated by vets and nutritionists, granting you complete peace of mind.
Downsides? Chicken’s an easy protein to digest, but it’s also on the list of food allergy proteins. You’ll also find soybean oil in the ingredient list. So while it works for tender tummies, it may not work for food allergies. You’ll have to find out with your vet what’s best for your dog. Oh, yeah, and there are yellow peas on the list (but it’s Science Diet).
Itching, Scratching, Sneezing – No More!
The process of pinpointing canine allergies is often lengthy and frustrating. You need to wade through testing and trials. And you may need to switch from one dog food for dogs with allergies to another to find the right fit. Establishing a close relationship with your vet will go a long way to easing the strain. They’ll help you make the best diet choices. (And, yes, they understand choosing non-prescription options)
Once you have the food choice down, you’ll see your dog’s body settle. And then you can breathe easier. Well, you know, until YOUR allergies kick in.