What’s the best dog food for skin allergies in our pets? Any pet parent who has ever owned a dog with skin allergies can attest to how miserable they can be; both for the dog and for the owner. It’s no fun to watch your pet engage in continuous biting, licking, scratching and chewing, trying to relieve the “itchies” due to allergies.
70% of canine skin conditions are allergy-related. Of that 70%, most of the allergic reactions are due to fleas or other environmental allergens such as dust mites, grass, pollen, mold, cigarette smoke, or even feathers.
*But food can also be an allergen and it’s estimated that 10 to 15 percent of all canine allergic reactions are in response to the animal’s food, or at least to one or more ingredients in that food. Let’s find out how we can alleviate food related skin allergies in our beloved pets.
What is a Canine Food Allergy?
Canine food allergies are hypersensitive responses by the dog’s immune system to “invading” proteins. When the animal’s immune system overreacts to an ingested protein in the dog food he eats, it identifies the protein as an invader rather than a nutritional ingredient. Then the dog’s system mounts an immune response which results in allergy symptoms.
The primary symptoms of food allergies in dogs manifest as skin problems. It starts with pruritis, which simply means ‘itchy skin’. The allergic pooch will scratch, lick, chew, or rub himself to try to relieve the feeling of itchiness. Other skin issues related to food allergies include rashes and hotspots, oily or scaly skin, a leathery skin texture, hyper pigmentation, loss of fur, and chronic ear infections. Often the pruritis is felt most acutely in the paws and the dog will lick and chew incessantly at his feet. Not surprisingly, excessive scratching and chewing only adds to skin inflammation, so It can be quite a miserable condition.
Some dogs with food allergies also exhibit gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Skin problems and digestive issues can be a telltale sign of a food allergy.
*Two-thirds of all dog food allergies are caused by beef, wheat, and dairy. Other common allergen ingredients are chicken, eggs, corn, and soy, and most dogs with allergies are allergic to more than one thing.
What Should I Do if I Suspect my Dog has a Food Allergy?
A consultation with your veterinarian would be the proper first step. He or she can help determine if your dog’s symptoms are an allergic reaction related to diet. Although blood tests and skin patch tests can be run to test for food allergies, they are not very accurate and are expensive to boot. Many vets consider them useless and more commonly recommend setting up a Dog Food Elimination Test.
What is a Dog Food Elimination Test? Many veterinarians consider putting a dog on an elimination diet the only way to properly diagnose a food allergy in pets. The premise behind a dog food elimination test is relatively simple: Put the dog on a hypoallergenic diet for a trial period and see if the allergy symptoms improve or disappear altogether.
Putting your pet on a hypoallergenic diet is a bit more complicated than just switching him from a beef or chicken based commercial diet to a lamb and rice formula. If you were to read the label on a bag of commercial lamb and rice recipe dog food, you might be quite surprised to find chicken as the main protein source ingredient.
Ideally, an elimination diet dog food should consist of just one carbohydrate source and one protein source. These are known as “Limited Ingredient” dog foods. These limited ingredients should also be “Novel Ingredients,” meaning a protein source and a carb source that the allergic pet is unlikely to have been eating as a steady diet. They should be new to your pet’s palate and digestive system.
Examples of Novels Ingredients might be:
- Salmon and Sweet Potato Recipe
- Rabbit and Barley Recipe
- Venison and Quinoa Recipe
- Duck and Potato Recipe
- Buffalo and Pumpkin Recipe
The Dog Food Elimination Test
Once a Limited Ingredient dog food is chosen for the Elimination Test, this should be the only diet your pet is fed for 8 to 12 weeks (that means no treats, table scraps, or getting into the cat’s food bowl). Yes for diet-related skin allergies, it usually takes that many weeks for symptoms to clear completely.
If there’s absolutely no improvement at all in the dog’s skin issues after a few weeks, pet parents should change both the protein and carb source and start a new trial.
But if (as we hope), your pooch’s immune system responds beautifully to the diet change and symptoms immediately begin to lessen, you’ll know there was something in his former diet that was triggering the allergic “itchies” and corresponding skin problems.
Challenging the Test Results
Once your cuddly canine’s skin allergies are under control, you can do one of two things. You can (A), keep your dog on the limited ingredient hypoallergenic diet, or (B), introduce a Dietary Challenge to try to narrow down and finally nail the ingredient(s) that trigger your pet’s allergies.
A.) Many pet parents decide to just stick with the hypoallergenic diet used in the initial Dog Food Elimination Test since their dog is now symptom free and happy with his new delicious diet. Limited ingredient hypoallergenic dog foods are quite popular and there are several top brands on the market, some of which produce tasty dog treats to compliment your canine’s new culinary cuisine.
B.) Other pet parents want to know just what dietary ingredients their dog is allergic to so they can pick and choose from dog foods that don’t contain these elements. Many veterinarians think that this is a very useful step in getting to the root of the problem.
The idea is to pick one ingredient per week such as beef, wheat, chicken, corn, or dairy, and feed that to your pet for a few days. What happens? Are the familiar allergic reactions triggered? This way, pet parents can comprise a list of the common culprit ingredients for their dog and eliminate them forever from his diet.
The Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies
As pet parents of a Labrador retriever mix who suffered greatly from food allergies, my husband and I did a few trial-and-error tests that found us our tried and true favorite diet for Layla. I must say she quite agrees with the favoritism since all of her miserable skin issues cleared up in a matter of a few weeks.
Natural Balance Potato and Duck Formula is a limited ingredient diet hypoallergenic diet that comes in dry and canned dog food, crunchy biscuits and chewy bites. We mix the canned and dry together for her meals, and give her the treats when she is an exceptionally good girl. She likes it as much as she likes being healthy again.
I hope you have enjoyed and learned from this article. Our precious pets don’t have to be miserable just because they suffer from food allergies. If you have any questions, comments, or would like to share a relevant experience, please drop me a line in the comment section below. Thanks for visiting My Geriatric Dog!