How to Tell If Your Dog Needs Hypoallergenic Food
First, we should be careful not to confuse food allergies with food intolerance. Food allergies occur when an immune system identifies a specific ingredient as harmful, whereas food intolerance is more of a digestive problem.
Allergies vs. Intolerance
Is your dog itching and shaking his head more than normal? Does he have constant diarrhea or gas? In addition to exhibiting gastrointestinal issues, dogs sometimes manifest food allergies in the form of skin problems. Common symptoms may be associated with itchiness—excessive scratching, licking of the paws, and shaking of the fur. So while both food allergies and food intolerances may cause digestive issues (gas or diarrhea), only food allergies affect the skin.
Trial by Elimination
One way to diagnose dog food allergies accurately is an elimination diet. You can take the dog off all the foods he's been eating and put him on a food that he's never had before. Then, after the dog's symptoms improve, start reintroducing the old foods you think may have caused the problems in the first place. Introduce one food at a time and see if he has a reaction.
Dr. Stephanie Janeczko D.V.M., Medical Director for Animal Care & Control of New York City, recommends performing an elimination trial for 1-3 weeks. Observe the dog's reaction to one new ingredient for a couple of days before adding another ingredient to the dog's diet.
Food intolerance or allergy? Either way, hypoallergenic dog foods can help while at the same time help prolong your dog's life by feeding him wholesome, healthy dog food made from real ingredients.
What's in Hypoallergenic Dog Food?
Hypoallergenic dog food also does not contain these common ingredients that are found in regular dog food:
- meat by-products (fillers)
- artificial flavoring
- artificial coloring
Hypoallergenic dog food brands avoid the use of ingredients most likely to provoke an allergic reaction. Some of the most common are:
Check out the ingredients for this high-quality hypoallergenic dog food: Deboned chicken, chicken meal, turkey meal, russet potato, lake whitefish, chicken fat, sweet potato, whole eggs, turkey, salmon meal, salmon and anchovy oils, salmon, natural chicken flavour, sunflower oil, sun-cured alfalfa, dried brown kelp, carrots, spinach, peas, tomatoes, apples, psyllium, dulse, glucosamine Hcl, cranberries, black currants, rosemary extract, chondroitin sulfate, sea salt. It is no wonder this is the #1 recommended healthy dog food!
Orijen is a company from Canada. Their farmers raise their own chickens while their fishermen catch and deliver fresh fish. They also use whole eggs instead of dried egg products and include only the highest quality ingredients.
This award-winning hypoallergenic dog food is good for your dog's muscles, heart, coat, and skin. For the carbohydrate requirement, Orijen uses highly digestible fruits and vegetables with antioxidants and vitamins.
Notice that this dog food does not contain grain (which is cheap, difficult to digest, and is often the main culprit for allergies).
As you can see there is a high amount of protein in this brand. So if your vet suggest that your pal stays on a lower-protein diet, I would suggest considering the brands below.
Pet Food of the Year Award
Glycemic Research Institute has awarded Orijen another Pet Food of the Year award for 2012! The institute, based in Washington D.C, also does clinical investigations for our government.
A note about high-protein diets: Use caution for the daily needs according to your dog's weight. Remember to read the instructions on the label for the recommended amount.
2. Acana Dog Food
The fresh ingredients of Acana Dog Food provide high amounts of protein and it's grain-free. It contains a low amount of carbohydrates and is high in antioxidants. In addition, there are omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for your dog's coat.
Their classic line of dog food is 55-65% meat (including cage-free chicken, wild-caught flounder, and whole eggs) plus fruits and vegetables.
I like the fact that Acana (manufactured by the same Canadian company that makes Orijen) does not use artificial ingredients, flavors, or fillers.
3. Flint River Ranch
Flint River Ranch is an all-natural healthy dog food brand that provides fresh, oven-baked food. It contains proper amino acids and does not have the usual animal by-products or preservatives.
They also have sample packets so you can start with a small amount to test your dog's reaction and palate. You can buy the samples in the following flavors: lamb, duck, fish, oatmeal, and specifically formulated ones for senior dogs and puppies. It's pretty cheap, too--about $5 for a 2 pound sample.
4. Avoderm Natural
Avoderm Natural is full of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and essential oils that are needed to keep your pet free of allergies. But the most interesting ingredient is the avocado fruit which is good for keeping dogs' coats shiny.
The gluten-free Chicken Meal & Brown Rice is made with no corn or wheat. The first seven main ingredients are chicken meal, ground whole brown rice, ground whole white rice, oatmeal, chicken fat, rice bran, and avocado. Your dog might prefer their other flavors, like lamb or tuna.
Pinnacle is a hypoallergenic dog food that contains essential probiotics, vitamins, and minerals. The common ingredients are fish, oatmeal, flax seed, quinoa, along with vitamins and other minerals.
Notice the first few ingredients: Trout, Oatmeal, Herring Meal, Oat Flour, Canola Oil (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols & Citric Acid), Sweet Potatoes, Calcium Carbonate, Flax Seed, Lecithin, Dicalcium Phosphate, Organic Quinoa Seed Meal...
Will Switching to Hypoallergenic Food Help?
Feeding your pet hypoallergenic dog food is one of the best things you can do to help keep their symptoms to a minimum, but there are other benefits that are equally as important: feeding your dog high quality dog food also improves overall health and increases longevity.
Finding the right hypoallergenic dog food can be a challenge since not all dogs, allergies, or intolerances are the same. If you have tried many different dog food brands but can't find one that works for your dog, don't give up just yet. You may want to learn about these 5 highest rated hypoallergenic foods so you can find the best one for your dog.
Hypoallergenic dog foods may be more expensive, but you can feed your dog less because they have higher nutrient values, keeping them healthy and free from disease. Plus, you'll be saving money down the road from fewer visits to the vet!
If you don't have the time to prepare homemade dog food, this is the next best thing. Hypoallergenic dog food that leads to a healthy and happy dog, not to mention a prolonged life is absolutely worth the price!
Homemade Dog Food
If you have the time and the inclination, you can also learn how to make your own homemade hypoallergenic dog food! In another article, I include a comprehensive guide to choosing healthy ingredients for your dog, with easy and quick recipes. Your dog will thank you!
What Brings You Here?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Comments: Hypoallergenic Dog Food
john on October 30, 2017:
wtf ?? your top five foods for allergic dogs contain 3 of the top ten cause's???? chicken. fish and egg. r u all friggin crazy
Quinn on February 23, 2017:
Just a note... Orijen and Acana are manufactured by the same company. I have used both for my pit mix who suffers from skin irritation, and ear infections due to food allergies. I have had better luck with the Acana singles line, as the Orijen Adult formula is made up of multiple protein sources. The singles line is a sole protein formula, which is more recommended for dogs with food sensitivities and allergies.
Lana on December 06, 2016:
My dog allergic to the chicken.
Tania on September 21, 2016:
My 16 yr old shih tzu is very allergic to chicken, or anything to with chicken in treats. She vibrates so bad I have to take her to the vet for an allergy shot.
Better Yourself from North Carolina on March 30, 2014:
This is a great hub and hopefully opens some pet owners eyes to the reality of dog allergies and intolerance. I have one dog with Gastrointestinal problems and on a special prescription diet and 2 dogs with food allergies and allergies so they are on a hypoallergenic diet and daily allergy pills. It's amazing the difference in how they all feel so much better with their allergy issues under control!
Shelley on September 24, 2013:
Hi there, My Beautiful Bassett Hound "DEXTER" suffers from chronic yeast infection both in his ears and between his pads. I have been looking for an Hypoallergenic food that would benefit him...I will be trying some of your suggestions, Thank you !
JP Bell on September 22, 2013:
Look for low or no histamines present in the ingredients
Suzanne Winters on April 08, 2013:
I fed my English Mastiff raw chicken backs & necks with meaty bones, beef organs and fish oil with no problem for over 2 years. Kibble diet prior to that (including Acana) gave her terrible diarrhea. But the itching began and as of 2 weeks ago are now on the vet hypoallergenic diet. Raw chicken and beef and she's now allergic. She doesn't digest grains or veggies well at all and I thought I had a homerun with the raw meat diet. Definitely not a cure all for every dog. :-\ Had nothing to do with grain as far as I can tell.
Petcetera on March 26, 2013:
Your article is a fair start, but you're recommending foods that mix allergens, and until you have a clear understanding of exactly what ingredients are causing the reaction you can't make a proper decision. That job is best done by consulting with a veterinarian, and if available, a certified dermatologist.
As for your suggestions, their multiple protein sources make it more likely one of the items in the food will cause a reaction. Truly, your best bet (going it alone) is to try limited ingredient formulas like duck/whitefish/lamb/venison + potato or brown rice and evaluate after three months. Eventually you will find a food that works. 'Grain free' does not guarantee anything, and has no basis for being a higher quality food than a product made with grains. You do not necessarily need to avoid grains to be hypoallergenic.
Otherwise, veterinary diets offer multiple hypoallergenic approaches that dwarf anything available in stores (in terms of production quality, removing allergens, and 100% guaranteed effectiveness or your money back). You'll have the most success buying through a clinic.
Kim Lam (author) from California on January 16, 2013:
Hi Karen, have you tried an elimination test on your Jack Russel? If he has an allergy, it is usually a specific ingredient. Please keep me updated! :-)
Karen Ellis from Central Oregon on January 15, 2013:
Thanks for the suggestions. Our Jack Russel Terrior has alergies. She is a rescue and didn't have them when she came to us. I am suspecting that it is the food, although I've tried different brands.
Kim Lam (author) from California on January 07, 2013:
Hello J- thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback regarding my article. I will add to the article a section for my readers to consult a veterinary dermatologist for further evaluation on their dog's skin issues. Also this recommendation was based on the assumption that the dog does not have an allergy to chicken, etc. But you are right- I guess my article is not clear on that assumption. The article was mainly focused on the benefits of hypoallergenic foods, rather than a discussion on allergens.
As a current student of holistic nutrition, I wanted to let people know that additives and preservatives are definitely harmful to humans AND dogs. Nowhere in the article did I mention that it was an allergen. But I willl try to make the article less confusing. :-)
Thanks for your great contribution, especially regarding the elimation diet trials. I'm glad to know that there are more and more dedicated veterinary dermatologist out there! Take care!
J on January 06, 2013:
Looks like you have some great information on your site. However, I would love to see you edit this page/topic as it unfortunately currently contains some incorrect information.
Your comments about food allergy being related to ingredients is a great one. However, there is no scientific support for grains being any more common food allergens than other ingredients such as chicken beef or dairy. (Yes I realize it si all over the internet). But to recommend a chicken based diet as number one on your hypoallergenic diet list is a poor choice. The reality is that like any other allergy, those individuals that are predisposed to allergic reactions will develop those reactions to whatever ingredients they have been exposed to in the past. So really to recommend ANY set of ingredients without knowing an animal's dietary history would have a chance of failure.
Secondly, additives and preservatives as food allergens are in a category of "often suspected but almost never proven".
Finally, elimination diet trials to identify food allergy in dogs should be performed for 8 weeks, with some veterinary dermatologistts preferring as many as 10-12 weeks. In our practice oonly about 50% of dogs who will improve on strict diet trials, get better in the first 4 weeks. The rest really do take longer.
I hope you will consider making some changes and at least somewhere along the way consider recommending that pet owners consult a veterinary professional or maybe even a veterinary dermatologist.
Thanks. you have a great site
Board certified veterinary dermatologist
Kim Lam (author) from California on July 02, 2012:
Hi Deborah- Thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad you were able to help her in the last few years.
Hi pikegirl99- Have you reviewed the ingredients in the food that your vet recommended? Maybe you can compare with another brand that has the same ingredients.
pikegirl99 from My House on June 29, 2012:
I have a clumber spaniel and she always chews at her paws...we have to buy her special food that is really expensive and also comes from the vet... I just wish there was a less expensive way.
Deborah Neyens from Iowa on June 28, 2012:
I had a dog with chronic skin problems and ear infections. She was constantly licking her paws. We finally figured out it was food allergies and started feeding her an expensive hypoallergenic food that we could only get at the vet's office. It did help. I'm just sorry we didn't realize it sooner, although the last few years of her life were much better for her. With my dog now, we only feed grain-free food.
Kim Lam (author) from California on June 27, 2012:
We switched my Pit's dog food from Kirkland to Orijen and since then, his skin problems have gone away. Sometimes I make homemade dog food for him too. Each dog is different so each brand may yield different results. I would suggest trying the smallest sample of one first. Good luck!
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on June 27, 2012:
I've never seen the first two kinds. Do you know that they really help? I've been looking for a long time something healthier for my dog and that would make him scratch less. I have tried so many things. Thanks for the tip. Very nice hub.