What Is The Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies? [2020]

LAST UPDATED 6 JANUARY 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski

Do you suspect that your dog may have an allergy? You definitely aren't alone. Itchy skin is one of the most common issues that dogs are presented to the vet for. In most cases, the cause of itchy skin is an allergy - either to a contact allergen, insect bite, or a food ingredient.

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How common are food allergies in dogs?

Different Approaches for Different Allergies

1. Hydrolysed Diets

2. Skin Care Diets

3. Novel protein diets

4. Fish-based diets

5. Home-cooked diets

Summary: Our Complete Comparison Table of allergy diets for dogs

How Common are Food Allergies in Dogs?

Does itchy skin = food allergy? You may have read about food allergies in dogs and how they often manifest in itchy skin. This is different to food allergies in humans, which usually present as gastrointestinal upset (or anaphylaxis, if you are highly allergic!). However, don't fall into the trap of assuming your dog's itchy skin must be caused by a food allergy. If you consult 'Dr Google', you are likely to read a lot about how food allergies, particularly grain allergies, are a major cause of itchy skin in dogs.

The truth is, true food allergies are not all that common in dogs - only about 5% of dogs harbour a true food allergy. It's actually much more common for your dog to be allergic to environmental allergens such as plants, pollens, insects, and dust mites. And when a true allergy does exist, the most common allergies are to meat proteins including chicken, beef, or pork, rather than grains.

But regardless of whether your dog truly has a food allergy, or is simply suffering from allergy to plants, nutrition will always help.

A different approach for different dogs

"For dogs with a food allergy, the primary goal is to feed them a diet free from the causal allergen.

For dogs with any other type of allergy, say to grass, the primary goal is less about restricting certain ingredients, and more about providing extra skin supporting nutrients like omega fatty acids."

The Different Types Food for Itchy Dogs

In general, there are four major categories of dog food that may help your dog with their skin allergies:

1. Hydrolysed diets

2. Skin care diets

3. Novel protein diets

4. Fish-based diets

We've outlined each category below, discussed which type of dog each is suitable for, and given our top recommendations.

Please be aware that only nutrition is discussed here. The most common causes of itchy skin in dogs are related to atopy, seasonal allergies or fleas. For a complete guide to the causes of itchy skin in dogs, see Dr Carla's article 'Here's Why Your Dog Won't Stop Scratching'.

1. Hydrolysed Diets

See All Hydrolysed Prescription Diets

Suitable for: FOOD ALLERGIES - Elimination trials to diagnose a food allergy / Maintenance diet for some dogs with food allergies

Less suitable for: CONTACT ALLERGIES or ATOPY - in general these conditions can be most benefited from a skin care diet or a fish-based diet.

A hydrolysed veterinary diet is the gold standard for completing an elimination diet trial. An elimination diet trial may be recommended by your vet to help determine whether your pet has a true food allergy. It involves feeding nothing but the hydrolysed diet for a few weeks, and then introducing one new protein every week to 'test' whether your dog has a reaction. In some cases, a hydrolysed diet may be fed long term if a dog is found to be overly sensitive and the diet is the only thing that gives them relief.

How do they work? Hydrolysed diets typically contain protein that has undergone a process called 'hydrolysation' - this is where the protein structure is broken down into its component amino acids. Hydrolysation is a process that reduces the 'allergenicity' of the protein, making it so small that it's unlikely to trigger an immune reaction. Diets that fall into this category are Prescription and Veterinary diets and can therefore only be recommended by your veterinarian.

These diets have been formulated under pharmaceutical grade conditions. This means that the manufacturer has undertaken extra processing steps to eliminate contamination with other protein sources. This is done through rigorous cleaning of all production equipment followed by testing of the equipment for traces of proteins before production begins.

Top Hydrolysed Diets for Allergies

Royal Canin Anallergenic

Using a hydrolysed feather protein source, this diet is currently the gold standard for diagnosing and managing food allergies.

Royal Canin Hypoallergenic

Great for diagnosing and managing food allergies, this diet may more cost-effective for large breed dogs who tolerate a soy-based diet.

Hill's Prescription Diet Z/D

This completely hydrolysed diet is perfect for elimination trials. It includes essential fatty acids and clinically proven antioxidants.

Royal Canin Sensitivity Control

Combining a hydrolysed protein with a novel protein (duck) and carbohydrate (tapioca), this diet is great for sensitive skin or stomach.

What are the drawbacks of a hydrolysed protein diet?

    • The cost. As you can imagine, the extra processing and care taken to produce these diets isn't cheap
    • Reduced palatability
    • Lack of evidence documenting whether dogs allergic to the parent protein will actually tolerate a hydrolysed product
    • Some diets are contraindicated in puppies, pregnant and lactating dogs
    • May not be suitable for dogs with pancreatitis
    • A veterinary prescription is required before purchasing. Click here to find the diet recommended by your veterinarian

2. Skin Care Diets

See All Skin Care Diets

Suitable for: MILD SKIN ALLERGIES / SENSITIVE SKIN - Including contact allergies, insect allergies, or allergies of unknown cause

Less suitable for: FOOD ALLERGIES - as these often (but not always) contain poultry products and other common allergens. Food allergy dogs are better suited to a hydrolysed or a novel protein diet.

For the purpose of this classification, 'skin care diets' refers to those diets which are available without a prescription, which are formulated for the purpose of providing extra skin support. Generally these are considered to be 'everyday' diets, with added skin care nutrients.

These 'general skin care' diets are perfect for dogs who have mild but persistent skin issues such as dry skin, seasonal allergies, or allergies of unknown cause.

So what special ingredients are in 'skin care diets'?

Every skin care dog food on the market does have marginal differences in their recipes, so we've had a look at Royal Canin Dermacomfort as an example, to see what ingredients they include for skin support. These ingredients include:

  • B group vitamins
  • An essential amino acid - combined with the B Vitamins, these help support cerumides, which are the connecting bonds between skin cells. This ultimately helps to strengthen the skin barrier.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids (including EPA and DHA) - these have a proven antiinflammatory effect which helps soothe itchy, inflamed skin
  • Omega 6 fatty acids (including gamma-linolenic acid) - helps support healthy skin and a shiny coat
  • Antioxidants including Vitamin C and Vitamin E - help suport the immune system, and reduce skin-damaging free radicals

Top Skin Care Diets for Itchy Dogs

Shop Royal Canin Dermacomfort Range

Available for 'mini', 'medium', or 'maxi' dogs, this formula is enriched with an exclusive nutrient complex to help support the skin barrier role, as well as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Hills Science Diet Sensitive Skin and Stomach

The skin care range from Hills contains beneficial antioxidants, as well as extra omega fatty acids, to help support the skin. This particular diet is also highly digestible, to help dogs with sensitive digestion.

Advance Sensitive Skin

This new formula from Advance is designed with Aussie pets in mind. It contains fish as the primary protein source and extra vitamins and antioxidants for skin support in harsh Aussie climates.

Eukanuba Sensitive Skin and Stomach

This highly palatable skin care diet from Eukanuba contains fish as a natural source of omega fatty acids, as well as potato in place of wheat or grains.

3. Novel Protein Diets

See All Novel Protein Diets

On a similar train of thought to the 'Hydrolysed Diets' discussed before, another option is to feed a novel protein diet. A novel protein is a new meat source that your dog hasn't encountered before. The theory goes that if your dog hasn't encountered it before, they are unlikely to be sensitive or allergic to it.

Suitable for: FOOD ALLERGIES to the most common allergens / Elimination trials to diagnose a food allergy / Maintenance diet for some dogs with food allergies

Less suitable for: CONTACT ALLERGIES or ATOPY - in general these conditions can be most benefited from a skin care diet or a fish-based diet.

Novel protein sources commonly used in pet food include venison, rabbit, bison, kangaroo, and fish. For the purpose of this article, we have separated fish-based diets into their own category below, due to their extra level of natural skin support, and the growing number of fish diets available.

Novel protein for elimination trials: Some pet owners choose to try a novel protein source instead of a hydrolysed diet when completeing an elimination trial, as they can be more affordable than a hydrolysed diet, and they are non-prescription. In general, the principal is the same (ie, feed something they won't react to as the base diet, and introduce one new ingredient per week until you figure out what their trigger is). However, novel protein diets are not the 'gold standard' for elimination trials, as the ingredients haven't been hydrolysed, which means your pet could still be sensitive to one of the ingreidents present in the formula.

When selecting a novel protein diet, it is important to check that the recipe only contains the one type of meat protein you're after. Some pet food varieties may be labelled as a novel protein (such as 'kangaroo') but will also include 'chicken' or poultry byproducts in their recipe.




Top Novel Protein Diets for Dogs

Holistic Select Rabbit and Lamb Dry Food

Using rabbit and lamb as protein sources, this diet is suitable for dogs with allergies to common proteins (chicken, beef, grains etc). It's also grain-free, using chickpeas, lentils and peas as alternative carbohydrates.

Ziwi Peak Wet Dog Food Venison

Suitable for dogs of all life stages and sizes, this diet has venison as the only protein source. New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel is added to support the joints, and it's free from wheat, soy and grains, using chickpeas as the carbohydrate source.

K9 Natural Lamb Feast

With a recipe using tasty lamb, this diet is a raw, freeze-dried diet that also contains cage-free eggs and New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel. It's free from wheat, rice, soy, gluten and artificial additives.

Savourlife Kangaroo

This Australian-made dry food contains lean, nutritious kangaroo meat as it's only protein source, and is also completely grain free. Plus, 50% of profits are donated to rescue dogs!

See All Fish-Based Dog Food

Suitable for: FOOD ALLERGIES to the most common allergens / Elimination trials to diagnose a food allergy / Maintenance diet for some dogs with food allergies and CONTACT ALLERGIES or ATOPY

Not suitable for: Dogs with seafood allergy (this is however very rare)

Fish-based diets have a double-whammy benefit: they are both a novel protein, and full of skin-supporting nutrients from the natural fish oil. This means that they are at the same time suitable for dogs with food allergies (unless your dog is allergic to fish, which is very rare) and also good for dogs with general dry skin or unknown allergies, who just need a little support. Plus, if you are concerned about a grain allergy, most of the recipes are grain-free too.

A growing number of dog owners are reporting great results when they swap their itchy dog over to a fish-based diet. It's often unclear whether this is due to the exclusion of common allergies like chicken, or simply due to the increased level of omega fatty acids from the natural fish oils. But who really minds what the cause is, if it gives your dog relief?

Fish-based diets are often the first recommendation for itchy dogs, as they are at the same time a novel protein diet and contain high levels of natural fish oil, making them similar to a 'skin care diet'. This means they are likely to help with any type of skin allergy.

Similar to novel protein diets, it is important to check that the recipe only contains fish and no other meat sources. Some pet food varieties may put poultry into the recipe.

Top Fish-Based Diets for Dogs

Billy and Margot Salmon and Superfood Blend

This salmon diet from Billy and Margot is one of the few diets on the market that includes either raw or fresh fish as the number one ingredient.

Canidae Grain Free Pure Sea

Using a grain-free formula and fish as the only protein source, this diet is very well-reviewed by owners of itchy dogs.

Savourlife Salmon Grain Free

This Australian-made dry food uses salmon as the only protein source, and is also completely grain free. Plus, 50% of profits are donated to rescue dogs!

Ivory Coat Grain-Free Ocean Fish

This dry food is very popular among owners of dogs with skin issues. It is Australian-made and grain free, and its high palatability means it is good for tempting fussy eaters.

5. What About A Home-Cooked Diet?

Preparing your pet's food at home might sound like a good option and there are certainly some benefits. You'll know exactly what is going in to the food, and can be sure there are no hidden pet food additives or contamination with other protein sources.

However, it can be difficult to balance without the help of a veterinary nutritionist. This makes it not ideal for growing animals or pregnant females. If you choose to home cook your dog's food, we recommend discussing some balanced recipes with your vet.


A complete comparison

See below for a complete comparison of the top selling skin care dog food varieties. The review compares popular diets from each of the categories above - hydrolysed veterinary diets, general skin care diets, novel protein diets, and seafood / fish-based diets. The first five ingredients from each recipe are listed. To see full ingredients panel, please check the individual product's page by clicking on its image.

In the table below, 'common allergens' refers to chicken, beef, pork, wheat, egg, dairy, soy, and corn. Therefore, 'free from common allergens' refers to recipes that do not contain these ingredients. Please be aware that in rare cases, some dogs may still be allergic to other 'uncommon' allergens, such as rice or fish.

Name of Food Type Prescription required? Suitable for... First 5 Ingredients How does it help the skin? Cost Per Bag (Largest Bag Available) Cost Per Kilo

Royal Canin Anallergenic

Hydrolysed diet

Yes

Elimination diet trials / Severe food allergies

Maize starch, feather hydrolysate with low molecular weight, copra oil, soya oil, minerals

The hydrolysed formula prevents any reaction in dogs where food allergy is the primary cause

$138.50 (8kg bag)

$17.31

Royal Canin Hypoallergenic

Hydrolysed diet

Yes

Elimination diet trials / Severe food allergies

Rice, hydrolysed soya protein, animal fats, minerals, hydrolysed poultry liver

The hydrolysed formula prevents any reaction in dogs where food allergy is the primary cause

$164.95 (14kg bag)

$11.78

Hill's Prescription Diet Z/D

Hydrolysed diet

Yes

Elimination diet trials / Severe food allergies

Corn Starch, Hydrolyzed Chicken Liver, Soybean Oil, Powdered Cellulose, Calcium Carbonate

The hydrolysed formula prevents any reaction in dogs where food allergy is the primary cause

$139.50 (11.3kg bag)

$12.35

Royal Canin Skin Support

Skin Care Diet (Prescription)

Yes

Moderate-Severe Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Rice, dehydrated poultry meat, animal fats, vegetable fibres, hydrolysed animal proteins

Skin barrier support with added aloe vera, beneficial oils, marigold extract, antioxidants (Vitamin E) + omega fatty acids. High quality protein.

$104.60 (7kg bag)

$14.94

Hills Prescription Diet Derm Defense

Skin Care Diet (Prescription)

Yes

Moderate-severe Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Brewers Rice, Chicken Meal, Whole Grain Sorghum, Cracked Pearled Barley, Pea Protein

Skin barrier support with added bioactives and phytonutrients, antioxidants (Vitamin E) + omega fatty acids. High quality protein, free from corn.

$154.34 (11.3kg bag)

$13.66

Royal Canin Dermacomfort

General Skin Care Diet

No

General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Rice, wheat gluten, wheat, animal fats, maize gluten

Skin barrier support with added B Vitamins + amino acids + antioxidants (Vitamin E) + omega fatty acids. Reduced allergen formula also reduces likelihood of reaction if food allergy present

$134.99 (14kg bag)

$9.64

Hill's Science Diet Sensitive Skin

General Skin Care Diet

No

General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Brewers Rice, Whole Grain Corn, Corn Gluten Meal, Pork Meal, Egg Product

Skin barrier support with added antioxidants (Vitamin E) + omega fatty acids. High quality protein for easy digestion

$92.25 (12kg bag)

$7.69

Advance Sensitive Skin

General skin care diet / Fish-based diet

No

Some Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Salmon Meal, Rice, Rice Flour, Maize Gluten, Sorghum, Chicken Fat

Reduced allergen formula, with skin barrier support from added antioxidants (Vitamin E) + probiotics + omega fatty acids. Fish-based recipe contains high levels of natural omega fatty acids.

$99.00 (13kg bag)

$7.62

Eukanuba Daily Care Sensitive Skin

General Skin Care Diet / Fish-Based Diet

No

Some Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Maize, dehydrated fish (21%), animal fats, beet pulp, yeasts and parts thereof

Reduced allergen formula, with skin barrier support from added antioxidants (Vitamin E) + omega fatty acids. Fish-based recipe contains high levels of natural omega fatty acids.

$122.39 (12kg bag)

$10.20

Pro Plan Sensitive Skin and Stomach

General Skin Care Diet / Fish-Based Diet

No

Some Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Salmon and tuna; oats; vegetable protein concentrate; fish protein meal; brewers rice

Reduced allergen formula (no chicken/beef/wheat/corn/soy), with skin barrier support from added antioxidants (Vitamin E) + omega fatty acids. Fish-based recipe contains high levels of natural omega fatty acids.

$101.99 (12kg bag)

$8.50

Billy and Margot Salmon and Superfood Blend

Fish-Based Diet

No

Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), and General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Salmon, Whole Field Peas, Whole Chickpeas, Red Lentils, Sweet Potato

Fish contains natural omega fatty acids which helps support the skin. This recipe is also free from common allergens.

$89.00 (9kg bag)

$9.89

Canidae Pure Sea

Fish-Based Diet

No

Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), and General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Salmon, salmon meal, menhaden fish meal, sweet potatoes, peas

Fish contains natural omega fatty acids which supports the skin. This recipe is also free from common allergens.

$113.95 (10.88kg bag)

$10.47

Ivory Coat Ocean Fish

Fish-Based Diet

No

C

ommon Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), and General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Ocean Fish, Salmon Meal, Peas, Potatoes, Tomato Pomace

Fish contains natural omega fatty acids which supports the skin. This recipe is also free from common allergens.

$100.98 (13 kg bag)

$7.76

Savourlife Salmon Dry Dog Food

Fish-Based Diet

No

Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), and General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Salmon Meal, Peas, Tapioca, Potato, Poultry Oil

Fish contains natural omega fatty acids which supports the skin. This recipe is also free from common allergens.

$89.99 (10kg bag)

$8.99

Meals for Mutts Grain Free Salmon and Sardine

Fish-Based Diet

No

Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc), and General Sensitive Skin - Dry Skin, Contact or Seasonal Allergies

Salmon & Sardine, chickpeas, seasonal vegetables, alfalfa, natural fats and oils

Fish contains natural omega fatty acids which supports the skin. This recipe is also free from common allergens.

$145.64 (20kg bag)

$7.28

K9 Natural Lamb Feast

Novel Protein Diet

No

Novel Protein diet trials / Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc)

Lamb, Lamb Blood, Lamb Tripe, Eggs, Lamb Liver

Novel protein (lamb) provides an alternative protein source for dogs with common food allergies.

$156.99 (3.6kg bag freeze-dried)

$43.61**

Ziwi Peak Dry Dog Food Venison

Novel Protein Diet

No

Novel protein diet trials / Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc)

Venison, Venison Tripe, Venison Heart, Venison Lung, Venison Liver

Novel protein (venison) provides an alternative protein source for dogs with common food allergies.

$175.99 (2.5kg bag air-dried)

$70.39**

Taste of the Wild Pine Forest Venison

Novel Protein Diet

No

Novel Protein diet trials / Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc)

Venison (10%), lamb meal, garbanzo beans (10%), peas (10%), lentils (10%)

Novel protein (venison and lamb) provides an alternative protein source for dogs with common food allergies.

$119.00 (13kg bag air-dried)

$9.15

Holistic Select Rabbit and Lamb Dry Food

Novel Protein Diet

No

Novel Protein diet trials / Common Food Allergies (chicken / beef etc)

Rabbit Meal, Lamb Meal, Chickpeas, Lentils, Peas

Novel protein (rabbit and lamb) provides an alternative protein source for dogs with common food allergies.

$119.99 (10.88kg bag air-dried)

$11.03

** Freeze-dried or air-dried formulas are very nutrient dense and provide more meals per kilo than a dry kibble.

The bottom line is this - what works for your dog might not work for another and vice versa. In all cases, it's important to work with your veterinarian to work out which diet is truly hypoallergenic for your pet.

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