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7 best foods for dogs with allergies, according to veterinarians

Over-the-counter or prescription dog foods from trusted brands like Royal Canin, Hill's and Wellness help reduce immune reactions and relieve allergy symptoms.
Domestic life with pet. Feeding hungry labrador retriever. Owner gives his dog bowl of granules
Dog foods that help soothe irritated skin and digestive issues can not only benefit dogs with allergies, but can also help allergy-free dogs, experts say. Chalabala/ Getty Images

With symptoms that include itchy skin, ear infections and bloating, dog allergies can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience — for pets and their humans. There’s good news, though: Food, contact or environmental allergy symptoms can be alleviated by certain foods, according to Cherie Pucheu-Haston, DVM, Ph.D., DACVD, a veterinary dermatologist and professor of veterinary dermatology and immunology at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.

There is a broad category of dog foods that can decrease inflammation from allergies, soothe the skin and improve skin barrier functions — even in pups who are allergy-free, according to Pucheu-Haston.

We spoke with veterinary dermatology and nutrition experts to help narrow down the list of foods that’ll relieve symptoms and help dogs with allergies.

SKIP AHEAD Best food options to consider | How to shop for food for dogs with allergies | Food intolerance vs. food allergy | Can plant-based dog food help with allergies?

Our top picks

How we picked the best food for allergy-prone dogs

When comparing the dozens of options that are available, our experts recommended keeping the following factors in mind:

Ingredients: Diets enriched with fatty acids can reduce inflammation, improve skin health and strengthen the skin barrier, says Paterson. Fatty acids are typically derived from cold-water fish. However, if your dog has a fish allergy, you can still find omega fatty acid-rich diets made with plant-based ingredients such as evening primrose, flaxseed and black currant oil, according to Paterson.

Recipe and diet type: Our experts recommended purchasing foods that have an Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutritional adequacy statement. According to AAFCO, if a food is marked “complete” it contains all the nutrients required for a dog’s life stage and; if it is marked “balanced” it means the nutrients are present in the correct ratios for their life stage. There are several types of diets a veterinarian may recommend when it comes to minimizing allergies and their symptoms (like itchy skin) including hydrolyzed diets, novel diets, elimination diets and more.

Brand advisor: A recipe created with the guidance of an expert, like a full-time, board-certified veterinary nutriotionist, is more likely to provide the appropriate nutrients for your dog's age and breed size.

Best food options to consider

The following highly rated dog foods meet or exceed AAFCO nutritional recommendations and are formulated under the guidance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. These factors ensure that your dog gets the right nutrients for their age and breed size. The list provides a variety of dietary options including prescription foods and OTC options. You should always consult your dog's veterinarian for any restrictions specific to your pup's age, breed or medical conditions.

Best hypoallergenic dry dog food: Royal Canin

Royal Canin Adult Ultamino Dry Dog Food

Food allergies typically occur when the immune system responds to a protein in the food, according to Pucheu-Haston. To minimize the chances of an immune response, the poultry proteins in this Royal Canin hydrolyzed dry food are broken into tiny, amino-acid sized pieces. This recipe includes vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids that promote a healthy coat and skin, and a blend of fibers that support healthy digestion, according to the brand. The kibble comes in an 8.8- or 19.8-pound bag; you’ll just need a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase it.

Best hypoallergenic wet dog food: Hills

Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Skin/Food Sensitivities

If your dog prefers wet food or is prone to not drinking enough water, this canned adult dog food uses hydrolyzed chicken liver to reduce immune reactions. The wet food option also helps improve skin irritation as well as digestion and stool quality, according to the brand. The prescription diet comes in 12-ounce cans.

Best dog food for environmental allergies: Blue Buffalo

Blue Buffalo True Solutions Perfect Skin & Coat

Healthy skin diets are enriched with fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation, improve skin health and strengthen the skin barrier, according to Paterson. This OTC kibble option from Blue Buffalo hasomega-3 and -6 fatty acids from deboned salmon, salmon meal and fish oil. It’s also free of wheat and soy, which are two common dog allergens, according to Pucheu-Haston.

Best novel protein dog food for allergies: Blue Buffalo

Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet NP Novel Protein Alligator

Novel diets can be effective in managing food allergies, particularly unconventional options like rabbit, kangaroo or alligator, Paterson says. This option from Blue Buffalo uses alligator as a novel protein source. The formula is enriched with fish oil and flaxseed to provide essential omega-3 fatty acids — which promote skin and coat health, according to the brand.

Best plant-based dog food for allergies: Open Farm

Open Farm Kind Earth Premium Plant Kibble Recipe

Chicken, beef and dairy are common triggers of food allergies in dogs, according to Pucheu-Haston. Instead of using those common meat proteins, Open Farm's plant-based recipe uses sweet potato, fava beans and whole grain barley as primary ingredients. According to Open Farm, this recipe also derives omega fatty acids from flaxseed, sunflower and coconut oil rather than fish — so even pups with fish allergies can eat this food.

Best fresh dog food for allergies: JustFoodForDogs

JustFoodForDogs Venison & Squash

This adult formula is a fresh-food option that is cooked in a kitchen and free of gluten, grains, preservatives and growth hormones, according to the brand. Lamb is its only animal protein source, (which may be a novel protein for some dogs) but has the potential to cross-react in dogs with beef allergies, according to Pucheu-Haston. The recipe also includes Icelandic fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids and safflower oil for omega-6 fatty acids, promoting healthy skin, as detailed on the brand’s website. JustFoodForDogs recommends defrosting the frozen food in the refrigerator in a glass or plastic container prior to serving it to your pup.

Best budget dog food for allergies: Wellness

Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet Lamb & Oatmeal

This limited-ingredient, grain-free dry food uses lamb as its single meat-protein source. The recipe has carbohydrates that are gentle on the stomach and probiotics for easy digestion, according to the brand’s website. It also has nutrients that help soothe skin allergy symptoms like omega fatty acids and glucosamine, according to the brand. While glucosamine is typically added to the diet to support joint health, Paterson says it also benefits the skin.

How to shop for food for dogs with allergies

Picking the right food should be done with the help of your veterinarian, our experts told us. The right diet depends on your pet’s individual health needs and personal preferences as well as your dog’s life stage and breed size. Here’s what to keep in mind while shopping, according to expert guidance:

Every dog’s needs are different.There are four categories of life stages for dogs: growth (for puppies), all life stages (for puppies or adult dogs), adult maintenance (for adult dogs), and gestation/lactation (for pregnant or nursing dogs). If your dog is pregnant or nursing, talk with your veterinarian about the right diet for them. You should also take your dog’s breed and size into consideration, too.

Look for an AAFCO statement. AAFCO is a nonprofit that recommends nutritional guidelines based on an animal’s life stage. If dog food has an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement that means it contains all the necessary nutrients for that life stage.

Check for cross-contamination. Pet foods made on shared packaging lines can lead to cross-contamination, Paterson says. When trace amounts of other ingredients may inadvertently end up in your dog’s food, it can cause an allergic reaction. Prescription veterinary diets made on dedicated packaging lines are the least likely to have trace ingredients, according to Paterson.

Know your dog’s safe ingredients. Common food allergens in dogs include proteins like chicken, dairy, beef, wheat or soy, according to Pucheu-Haston. While unlikely, dogs can also have an allergic response to additives like artificial flavorings, colorants and preservatives, Paterson says. Your dog may have cross-reaction allergies, according to our experts. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken, they may also be allergic to other poultry such as pheasant, duck and turkey. Therefore, Paterson recommended unconventional novel diets like rabbit, kangaroo or alligator as an effective way to manage food allergies.

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

Food intolerances and food allergies may share some symptoms, but they’re not the same medical conditions. “Food intolerances have nothing to do with the immune system and have everything to do with missing a certain digestive enzyme,” says Pacheu-Haston. Because they can’t properly digest the food, dogs with food intolerances typically have symptoms that are limited to the digestive tract, she says.

True food allergies are an overreaction of the immune system — this could be in response to something your dog touches, inhales or eats, and can result in a range of symptoms including chronic ear infections, itchy skin and digestive issues, according to Pacheu-Haston.

What is the best food to give your dog with allergies?

There are no perfect hypoallergenic diets, but synthetic amino acid-based diets come very close, according to Pucheu-Haston. Other veterinary-recommended diets for dogs with allergies include ultra-hydrolyzed and amino acid-based diets, which are made up of tiny protein molecules that the immune system cannot recognize.

If your dog suffers from environmental or contact allergies, Paterson recommended fatty-acid-enriched diets since they’re proven to reduce inflammation, improve skin health and strengthen the skin barrier. If your dog has a fish allergy, you can try a plant-based food option like Open Farm's Kind Earth kibble, which has planted-based omega fatty acids and is free of fish oils.

Can plant-based dog food help with allergies?

Yes, plant-based dog food can help with allergies. While dogs are classified as carnivores, they are physiologically omnivores, which means they don't need an animal-based diet to obtain all their essential amino acids, according to Dottie Laflamme, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist and independent consultant of animal nutrition.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Dottie Laflamme, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, is an independent consultant of animal nutrition. She worked for Purina's research and development team until her retirement in 2015.

Cherie Pucheu-Haston, DVM, Ph.D., DACVD, is a veterinary dermatologist and professor of veterinary dermatology and immunology at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Susan Paterson, VetMB, MA, DVD, DECVD, MRCVS, is a veterinary dermatologist and telemedicine veterinary director at Veterinary Dermatological Ltd and Virtual Vet Derms.

Why trust NBC Select?

Janelle Leeson is a Portland-based freelance writer with a bachelor of science degree in biology. Her approach to pet-care writing and reporting is rooted in scientific principles that consider a pet's biological need for play, proper nutrition and environmental enrichment. For this piece, Janelle interviewed two experts who specialize in veterinary dermatology and one expert who specializes in veterinary nutrition. She also researched dozens of dry dog foods on the market that met criteria based on our experts' insights. She included dog foods recommended by experts, along with those that are highly rated and meet expert shopping guidance.

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