Many of our dogs suffer from skin allergies. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, but it's safe to say they always make your pup uncomfortable.
There are various ways to give your dog some relief, including allergy medication, bathing with special shampoos, and limiting exposure to certain substances. What your dog eats also has a lot to do with skin allergies — adjusting your dog's diet is one of the best ways to help him or her feel better. So, what is the best dog food for skin allergies?
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as picking any new food at the pet store and calling it a day. You'll need to work closely with your veterinarian to find an appropriate dog food that suits your dog's specific needs. However, diet adjustments alone might not solve the problem.
Let's take a closer look at what your dog's allergy symptoms might look like, what kind of food is best for your dog's ailment, and how else you can give your pooch some relief.
Symptoms of Your Dog's Allergies
The main symptom of skin allergies in dogs is intensely itchy skin. This is because there is a higher proportion of mast cells in your dog's skin, which release histamines in response to allergies and cause itching.
Your dog's constant itching can lead to hot spots, which are red, irritated lesions on your dog's skin caused by the consistent chewing and scratching. These areas can also become infected over time, leading to more problems.
In addition to problematic scratching and the development of hot spots, symptoms can include things like:
- Poor coat quality
- Hair loss (alopecia)
- Self-mutilation caused by constant chewing/scratching
- Dry, crusty skin
- Thickening of the skin
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Ear infections
If you see these kinds of symptoms in your dog, it's important to talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Pay close attention to your pup's behavior, too — it's not always easy to tell when a dog has skin allergies, because it may appear their licking and/or scratching is normal. And because your dog is covered in fur, it might not be easy to see redness and irritation on the skin itself.
When it comes to the health of your canine companion, it's always better to be safe than sorry. If your dog seems more uncomfortable than usual and appears to lick, chew, and scratch themselves a lot, skin allergies might be to blame. It's time to call the vet.
Common Allergens for Dogs
What causes allergies in dogs, exactly? There are many possibilities, and allergens that affect your dog's immune system are often the same substances that cause allergy symptoms in humans. Your dog's skin allergies will probably fall into one of these categories:
Contact and inhalant allergies are caused by substances in your dog's environment they come into contact with or inhale. These allergens include things like pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds, mold, dirt, and dust mites.
It’s not always easy to tell when an allergy is caused by a contact allergen, because the symptoms will probably look similar to the signs of other types of allergies. A combination of patient history (such as examining what potential environmental allergens they may have been exposed to) and your veterinarian’s help will help to nail down a contact allergy diagnosis.
If you've noticed your dog's allergy problem seems to happen seasonally, perhaps worsening in the spring or summer months, a pollen allergy is often to blame. But if it happens year-round, it could be mold or dust. You’ll need your veterinarian’s help to know what particular allergen causes your dog’s reactions.
Contact or inhalant allergies will usually be treated with medication, and you’ll need to limit your dog's exposure to the particular allergen they react to.
Many skin allergies are actually caused by ingredients in your dog's diet. This allergy typically has to do with the protein source found in your dog's food — nearly all food allergies and food sensitivities in dogs are caused by proteins.
The most common proteins that cause food intolerance or allergies are:
Note that most of these allergens are animal proteins, but there are also non-protein-related allergens. It's possible for things like wheat, soy, and corn to also cause allergies in dogs.
Treatment for dog food allergies will involve what's called an elimination diet, which means putting your dog on a novel protein source your dog may not have eaten before, like duck or salmon, and gradually adding in more common protein sources like those listed above.
If your pup has a reaction to one of the new protein sources, it may be responsible for their allergic reaction. That way, you'll know what kind of ingredients to avoid, and you can get your dog a prescription diet or a limited-ingredient dog food. (We'll learn more about the best dog foods for allergy trouble in a moment.)
You may be surprised to learn that fleas themselves do not cause the allergic reaction in dogs — proteins in flea saliva do. Even a few bites from a flea can cause reactions. Symptoms include intense itching, scratching, hair loss, and other allergic responses.
A flea allergy might be treated with corticosteroids, flea prevention medications, dietary adjustments, or a combination of all of the above. If the scratching caused by flea allergies has led to a secondary bacterial infection on the skin, an antibiotic regimen might be needed.
Best Dog Food for Allergy Symptoms
We've seen how various types of allergies — contact allergies, flea allergies, food allergies, and more — can cause reactions on your pet's skin.
About 10 percent of all skin-related allergies are caused by food, meaning many pets need a change in diet to feel better.
There are various types of foods you'll come across when searching for the best dog foods for skin allergies. Here are some common terms you'll likely see on the packaging of both wet food and dry food that can help with your dog’s allergies:
- Limited-ingredient diets. The fewer ingredients in your dog's food, the lower chance there is of an allergic reaction to one of those ingredients. These kinds of foods usually have a single protein source and might have only one carbohydrate source (brown rice, for example). For many pet owners, a limited-ingredient dog food is a good way to reduce or eliminate their pooch’s allergy symptoms.
- Grain-free food. For those dogs with sensitivities to grains like wheat, corn, or rye, grain-free dog food can help. Your veterinarian can help you pick out a grain-free diet that suits your dog's life stage and nutritional needs. Note that last year, the FDA issued a warning linking grain-free foods to heart disease. Get the all-clear from your veterinarian before purchasing grain-free dog food.
- Novel protein source diets. This kind of food has an uncommon protein source that your dog hasn't eaten before, such as venison, duck, or salmon. Note there is some overlap here with limited-ingredient formulas. A limited-ingredient diet may also contain a novel protein source, and a novel protein source diet could be considered a limited-ingredient diet.
- Prescription diets. A prescription diet can only be obtained from a veterinarian. It's specially formulated by a veterinary nutritionist for the dietary needs of your particular dog. This approach may be necessary for dogs with severe allergies.
It's also important to pay attention to the wording of the ingredients list on your dog's food. You might see the terms meat meal, turkey meal, fish meal, chicken meal, lamb meal, etc.
Meat meal means the meat and the bone are cooked, ground, and sifted to create that ingredient. This is not pure meat, and its processing could result in additional allergens. Try to find a pet food with only pure meat sources, not by-product meal.
Other Ways To Improve Your Pup’s Allergy Symptoms
Do a quick search on Amazon, and you'll find plenty of dog foods to choose from that could help with your pup’s allergy problems. Blue Buffalo, Hill's Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan, natural dog foods with no preservatives, GMOs, or harmful by-products... the list goes on and on. The key is to work closely with your vet to figure out what kind of diet will help your dog stay comfortable.
If you’re looking for other ways to help manage your dog's skin allergies, we have a few suggestions. Giving your dog a dietary supplement that contains omega-6 or omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, or prebiotics can make a big difference to their skin health. Fish oil has also been shown to help soothe dogs' skin and create a smooth, shiny coat.
Additionally, medicated shampoos and sprays can help a lot of dogs to feel better. In the most severe cases, allergy medicine can be prescribed to help manage symptoms. Ask your veterinarian for more information about these options.
The Best Dog Food for Skin Allergies: How to Choose
Ultimately, there is no one single best dog food for skin allergies. The best choice for your fur friend depends on their particular situation and what kind of allergens they react to, whether it's food allergens or environmental allergens like pollen.
However, by working closely with your vet and choosing a diet with quality ingredients that are appropriate for your pup's needs, you can help put your dog's reactions to skin allergies in the past.
Learn more about your dog's health and wellness needs by visiting the PetHonesty blog.