Table of Contents
- 5 Best Hypoallergenic Dog Foods Reviewed In This Guide
- Why Do Hypoallergenic Dog Food Diets Exist?
- Why are dogs allergic to some foods?
- Are Hypoallergenic Dog Food Diets Effective?
- What Makes Dog Food “Hypoallergenic”?
- What to Expect When Switching to Allergy Diets
- Hypoallergenic Dog Food Labels
- Top 5 Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food Brands
- 1P.S. 100% Hypoallergenic Food for Dogs price to value: $13/lb (very expensive)
- 2Wellness Natural Limited Ingredient Dog Food price to value: $2.2/lb (affordable)
- 3Purina Pro Plan Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach price to value: $1.4/lb (very cheap)
- 4Outback Kangaroo Feast Hypoallergenic Dog Food price to value: $14/lb dry matter (affordable)
- 5Purina Hydrolyzed Dog Food price to value: $9.3/lb (extremely expensive)
- What are the Alternatives to Hypoallergenic Diets?
- Best Limited Ingredient Dog Foods as Alternatives
- Why Are Hypoallergenic Dog Food Diets So Expensive?
- What else can I do?
If your dog suffers from itchy skin or digestive problems, your veterinarian may have suggested a “diet trial” or “elimination diet” using hypoallergenic dog food as the most effective solution (1).
Many people are familiar with other products that are labelled “hypoallergenic”, such as cosmetics, but we rarely see foods labelled as such.
Usually, it's dog food ingredients first to be blamed when a dog shows food allergy symptoms.
While it's not always an allergic reaction to dog food per se, your veterinarian may ask you to switch your pet to a hypoallergenic dog food brand or a limited ingredient dog food formula.
While food allergies in dogs cannot be eliminated completely, you can manage them with a hypoallergenic diet.
Fortunately, several good hypoallergenic dog foods are available today that make feeding an allergic dog fairly easy.
They are very effective at what they claim to do. Below we'll discuss such dietary approaches, pick these foods, and do the best hypoallergenic dog food review round-up.
5 Best Hypoallergenic Dog Foods Reviewed In This Guide
What is hypoallergenic dog food?
It's common today for pet food companies to release a type of hypoallergenic dog food brands to go alongside their line of regular foods for dogs.
But not every hypoallergenic food will work for every dog, or every canine health problem it may be bought for.
In the most basic sense, hypoallergenic dog food is easier for dogs to digest and absorb.
When it comes to pet foods, the term “hypoallergenic” means that while the food may still contain potential allergens, their molecular structure is so small that the dog's body can’t recognize them. This is done by breaking down, or hydrolyzing, the proteins.
Hydrolyzed protein is a type of protein that's broken down (hydrolyzed) into amino acids, which are very small.
Yet this type of protein still provides a complete array of essential amino acids the dog's body requires.
This is done so that the bodies of dogs that have sensitive digestive systems don’t have to work as hard to break down their food (protein).
Food allergies in dogs are recognized and detected in a similar way they are in people, and research shows that people and dogs share many of similar food allergies (2).
Does Hypoallergenic Dog Food Work?
(and what else pet owners must know)
Why Do Hypoallergenic Dog Food Diets Exist?
Hypoallergenic diets were developed for dogs and cats that suffer from food allergies (3).
Food allergies in pets cause a wide range of problems – from chronic itchy or infected skin, to ear infections, to GI tract problems and more.
Food allergies in dogs are most often caused by well-known ingredients that the pet has eaten before.
Several studies show (4) that the most common type of foods that dogs are allergic to are beef, dairy products, chicken and wheat.
Further studies (5) show that dogs can be allergic to even more foods, with beef being on the lower scale:
Why are dogs allergic to some foods?
By design, the immune system in both dogs and humans is supposed to protect the body from foreign invaders that can hurt it, such as viruses and bacteria.
Allergies in dogs happen when the canine body’s immune system overreacts to a substance that is harmless, falsely labeling it as an “invader.”
For reasons that are still not fully understood by science, in some individuals and canines, the immune system is overly sensitive, and it will react with “allergy symptoms” to certain otherwise harmless substances.
Some of these allergies can be genetically linked in dogs, while others may be due to previous exposure to a certain food item.
The reason most hypoallergenic dog foods alter their protein, is because studies have shown that protein is what most dogs and cats are usually allergic to (6).
Typically, it's very difficult to pinpoint exactly what food item the dog may be allergic to.
This is why the elimination diet using hypoallergenic dog food may be the most effective method we have today, allowing the vets and owners to find the exact food allergen (7).
Are Hypoallergenic Dog Food Diets Effective?
Most of the time, hypoallergenic diets work. While it's not a sure-proof way, or the most fastest way to understand what foods the dog may be allergic to, some studies have shown that currently, an elimination diet with hypoallergenic dog foods and gastroscopic food sensitivity testing (GFST) is the best approach we have (8, 9, 10).
Hypoallergenic dog food is especially good for very allergic dogs that do not respond to other types of therapeutic dog food diets; however, that's not always the case.
Dogs and cats that benefit most from hypoallergenic dog food typically suffer from:
- Food allergies
- Atopic Dermatitis (10% of dogs with atopic dermatitis will have food allergy)
- Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
Owners need to be aware that simply switching your dog or cat to a hypoallergenic dog food diet will not change their condition overnight. Studies have analyzed (11) the length of using hypoallergenic dog food, and found that while 3 weeks are sometimes enough, it's usually recommended to keep the dog on the diet for at least 10 weeks.
Furthermore, other issues that contribute to your pet’s allergic discomfort, such as an active skin infection, need to be addressed before a complete diet change (5).
ASK A VET: How to Put an Overweight Dog on a Diet?
What Makes Dog Food “Hypoallergenic”?
Hypoallergenic dog food is easier for dogs to digest and absorb due to its ingredient composition, which is more rare and unique than some popular brands.
These diets are often more expensive than regular brands (but cheaper than the prescription foods from vet clinics).
Note that not every hypoallergenic dog food formula will work for every pet with food allergies.
That said, they are still likely to be better than your standard brand.
Although no officially defined term governs laws regarding this part of dog food labels, dog food is considered hypoallergenic when it contains:
- A limited (minimal) number of ingredients
- Novel ingredient(s) that are high quality
- Least offending ingredients (less likely to cause allergic reactions)
Most top-rated hypoallergenic dog foods are prescription dog food diets that pet owners can buy from their vets.
However, prescription diets can be very costly, and most pet owners don't really need to pay 3-5 times more for their dog food because over-the-counter brands will have the same or similar ingredient composition.
What to Expect When Switching to Allergy Diets
Your veterinarian will give specific instructions for switching your dog's old diet onto his new hypoallergenic feeding regime. Typically, the switch is made very gradually. This will help prevent any digestive upset for your dog.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when switching to hypoallergenic dog foods:
1. Purchase new water and dog food bowl for your pet (as above studies show, old dishes, especially plastic bowls, can hold allergens even if cleaned in a dishwasher).
2. Transition your dog slowly. Start by mixing his old dog food with his new hypoallergenic dog foods for 3-4 days, and then feed only the hypoallergenic diet.
3. Do not give your dog any doggy treats, no bully sticks or bones, no chews or anything else that could contain non-hypoallergenic ingredients.
4. Do not give your dog any people food for the very same reason.
5. As the above study indicates, it's best to feed your dog the hypoallergenic dog food diet exclusively for at least 6-8 weeks, and possibly even 10 weeks.
After the “diet trial” period of 6-10 weeks, many dog owners will know if the new hypoallergenic dog food really works or not. You will need to consult with your vet about signs you may or may not be seeing in your pet, which will potentially point at allergens.
Sometimes, your dog can be returned onto the regular high quality commercial kibble as long as you avoid certain ingredients. Other times, you may need to incorporate homemade dog foods. Occasionally, if the hypoallergenic dog food diet is the only thing that works for your canine, it may need to be a life-long change to avoid any issues.
Hypoallergenic Dog Food Labels
The term “hypoallergenic” actually has no legal definition in the pet food industry.
Also, hypoallergenic diets rarely name themselves using this term but rather opt for a “limited ingredient diet” terminology, making them more appealing to a wider range of consumers since not all dogs with food sensitivities are allergic but may have other issues.
These food formulas for dogs with allergies have been developed based on several scientific studies showing allergy sources (source).
When a portion of hypoallergenic dog food is limited in ingredients, it will typically have under 10 ingredients, most commonly 5-7 ingredients.
Some of the best-limited ingredient dog foods make it easy to pin down allergens, i.e., causation.
They may also contain a hydrolyzed protein source, which research showed is effective in dog food allergies (source).
Novel ingredients in hypoallergenic pet foods are something a sensitive stomach dog is much less likely to be allergic to, but that is not always guaranteed.
For some dogs with food allergies, sensitive stomach brands can be a good option.
However, only testing and/or an elimination diet can tell you exactly what your dog is allergic to (source).
Top 5 Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food Brands
1P.S. 100% Hypoallergenic Food for Dogs
price to value: $13/lb (very expensive)
- Unavailable on Chewy
PS for Dogs offers a 100% hypoallergenic dog food that uses a single source for its high-protein content, which is either lamb or turkey.
All of the ingredients are hypoallergenic, low-glycemic, and grain-free. It's also the most expensive dog food brand out there.
As the saying goes, dogs are what they eat. Therefore, allergic reactions often need to be treated from within.
With this specially-prepared food, dogs get their required high-protein diet without the ingredients that trigger allergies.
According to many dog owners, this dog food actually resolved their pets’ issues in just a matter of days after feeding it.
- REDUCES PAW LICKING: Our low...
- SOLVES SKIN ITCHING, REDNESS,...
- GRAIN FREE, HIGH PROTEIN AND...
- SOLVING ALLERGIES IS OUR SOLE...
- Made in New Zealand in Small...
The skin reactions were significantly reduced, and after a few weeks more, the dog's skin visibly cleared up, and hair even showed signs of growing back.
Because of the limited number of ingredients, P.S. 100% Hypoallergenic Dog Food is great in isolating the cause of allergies.
Optimum health and minimum to zero allergic reactions – nothing could make pet owners happier.
Buyers admit that this product is on the pricey end, but they find great value. They say that they have spent so much more on vet visits and medicines just so they and their dogs can live happy, normal lives.
The right food heals, and that is the reason why this brand is on our top 5 best hypoallergenic dog food list.
2Wellness Natural Limited Ingredient Dog Food
price to value: $2.2/lb (affordable)
The key is in the ingredients. Fewer ingredients mean fewer components in the food to react to.
This dry dog food from Wellness Natural Pet Food contains only natural components, a single protein source, and no usual allergens such as wheat, corn, soy, and gluten.
There are no fillers, meat by-products, eggs, and artificial color or flavor, just high-quality lamb meat and choice carbohydrate sources.
Protein variations include duck, salmon, and turkey. This product is made in the USA and comes in 4.5, 10.5, 24, and 26 pounds.
Pet owners who purchased this product say the simplicity of the ingredients list suited their dogs, even the ones intolerant to most dog food brands.
- LIMITED INGREDIENT DOG FOOD:...
- A LIFETIME OF WELLBEING:...
- WHOLE BODY HEALTH: Supported...
- FIND THE RIGHT FOOD: Wellness...
- Made in the USA using only the...
Buyers surmise that with just five ingredients to deal with, their pets had fewer bouts of allergy or stomach disturbances, rarely over-ate, and had better stools.
Their coats turned healthier, too, with much-reduced scratching and chewing.
As with all the best hypoallergenic dog food products, there are reviews from buyers who say that this food didn't help their pets.
A few reviewers also noted that this food made their pet ill, but that could have been a drastic diet change.
3Purina Pro Plan Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach
price to value: $1.4/lb (very cheap)
Probiotics, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants are three nutrients that dogs with sensitive skin and tummy need a good dose of in their daily meal.
Purina Pro Plan has created Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon and Rice dry dog food to keep the correct balance of these key nutrients in your dog’s daily food intake.
The product is available in three bag sizes, including a 5-lb bag for those dogs trying this out for the first time or transitioning to this hypoallergenic diet.
The protein source for this best hypoallergenic dog food is premium-grade real salmon, but your dog can also have a lamb variant.
Problematic dog allergies often mean constant visits to the vet, expensive treatment, and an unhappy dog.
Stressed pet owners say they’ve searched for every possible solution to make life easier and more normal for their dogs. Finding this product saved the day for them.
- One (1) 30 lb. Bag - Purina...
- Oat meal is easily digestible...
- Fortified with guaranteed live...
- Sunflower oil rich in omega-6...
- Antioxidants for a healthy...
After successfully transitioning to Purina Pro Plan Focus Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food, their dogs showed significant improvement and seemed to like the food, which is often the first test on how new dog food is going to work.
Gone were the digestive upsets, skin irritation, and infections that constantly hounded their four-legged companion.
Most dog owners don’t particularly approve of the food’s fishy smell but say that they can live with that as long as their dog enjoys the chow and evidently benefits from it.
Many long-time users of this food have also stated that Purina changed the formula recently, and it upset their pet's digestion.
4Outback Kangaroo Feast Hypoallergenic Dog Food
price to value: $14/lb dry matter (affordable)
If your dog is allergic to the usual protein sources like beef, chicken, fish, or lamb, maybe it’s about time to try a totally new kind of dog food – dehydrated raw kangaroo meat.
The chunky Outback Kangaroo Feast from Addiction Pet Foods is made from raw kangaroo meat that underwent a special dehydration process to preserve its nutrients and flavor and protect it from spoilage.
It also contains apples, carrots, canola oil, papayas, potatoes, spinach, and sunflower seeds.
The company carefully prepared this new alternative to the usual dog fare to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs per AAFCO standards.
Dog owners appreciate the convenience that this product offers.
It has the advantage of being raw but without the hassle of preparing raw food – previously impossible with traditional raw dog food.
- Great price for value: Made...
- Flavorful and nutritious:...
- Convenient and safe...
- With Coconut Oil: Gentle on...
- Can be served in different...
Most dogs have not been exposed to kangaroo meat before, so they’re less likely to have developed allergies to it.
Many buyers of Outback Kangaroo Feast have long used this for their dogs, and they recommend it to people with sensitive dogs. They say that this has resolved previous health issues, and they now have a dog with a lustrous coat, happy disposition, and evidently healthy condition.
While the feed costs more than the above-average best hypoallergenic dog food brands, pet owners can’t stop buying something that has reliably kept expensive bills and wearying therapy at bay.
Some reviewers stated that their dogs would not eat this food, and they questioned the amount of meat in it. Unlike other similar types of dog food, they say that it is all powder, and there are no chunks of dehydrated meat.
5Purina Hydrolyzed Dog Food
price to value: $9.3/lb (extremely expensive)
Dogs are meat-eaters by nature, but some dogs are allergic to meat due to some genetic factors.
Some develop rashes that lead to intense itching, while others react with an upset stomach when fed with meat.
Purina Veterinary Diets has created this vegetarian food that is designed to meet the dietary requirements of this particular group of canines. The main ingredient of this dry dog food is hydrolyzed soy protein.
This best hypoallergenic dog food is enhanced with vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids to ensure proper nutrition and a strong immune system.
Vegetarian food is not for every dog, though. It was formulated as a treatment for dogs with sensitivities to animal protein.
- One (1) 25 lb. Bag - Purina...
- Formula contains hydrolyzed...
- Single carbohydrate source
- Highly digestible to promote...
- High-quality protein
Pet owners say that Purina Veterinary Diets Canine HA Hypoallergenic Vegetarian Dog Food is one of the few food products their sensitive dogs can take without developing adverse reactions.
The vegetable ingredients are definitely easier on their stomachs, as was evident from the firmer stool. Itching has disappeared, and the dogs are noticeably more comfortable.
The dogs love the food, too, and that solves half of the problem. It's difficult to find a poor review of this product, but some buyers claimed that their dog would not eat it.
Others said that their dog's condition showed no improvement when switched to this diet.
What are the Alternatives to Hypoallergenic Diets?
As the above research indicates, elimination diet using hypoallergenic dog food is the most common way to deal with allergies in dogs. But there's an alternative.
For canines with food allergies, veterinarians use one of two types of diets when addressing allergies. The first is the hypoallergenic diet and the other is what is called the novel protein/carbohydrate diet. These novel protein/carb diets introduce a single protein source and a single carbohydrate source into the dog's diet.
Ideally, the protein and carbohydrate should be the ones that the dog has never been exposed to before.
Many of these diets most commonly include wild meats or fish, such as venison, salmon, lamb or duck (6).
The carbohydrate sources can include vegetables like sweet potatoes or peas.
Novel protein slash carbohydrate diets for dogs are introduced in the same manner as a hypoallergenic dog food diet I've outlined above.
Often they are slightly less expensive than hypoallergenic diets, but they still require veterinary prescriptions.
If your veterinarian recommends a novel protein/carb diet, it may be possible to cook at home for your pet using appropriate homemade dog food recipes that will work for your dog.
If home-cooking interests you, definitely ask your vet for a referral to a canine nutritionist. The nutritionist can formulate a recipe specifically for your pet’s needs.
Best Limited Ingredient Dog Foods as Alternatives
The above list of the five best hypoallergenic dog food brands contains the most popular based on their ingredient composition, but most of them are expensive.
Below are ten cheap limited ingredient dog foods for dogs with food allergies that are more affordable.
6. Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet ($3.2/lb) is one of the most expensive hypoallergenic dog food brands and one with the highest success rate.
Instinct limited ingredient dog food contains only two ingredients – one animal protein and one vegetable source.
No other dog food formula offers this. It's one of the best limited ingredient dog food brands due to its simplistic formula with no fillers, grains, or otherwise unknown or suspicious ingredients.
Its easily digestible protein source makes it perfect for most dogs with food allergies and food sensitivities.
7. CANIDAE Grain Free PURE Land Formula ($2.5/lb) is well-known for sourcing unique, high-quality ingredients for their dog food formulas.
This one contains bison as the main source of protein and six additional ingredients made up of whole grains.
This may not suit every dog with allergies since the number of ingredients is still longer than some other formulas.
8. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Food ($2.1) – this grain-free formula contains premium quality protein and carbohydrate sources (no grains).
However, even though Natural Balance is known for its best-limited ingredient dog food formulas, this one may not be the top option for many dogs due to a comparably higher number of ingredients.
Nevertheless, the recipe is easy to digest.
9. Rachael Ray Nutrish Just 6 Natural Food ($1.07/lb) – a very similar formula to the above-mentioned Canidae, this hypoallergenic dog food may be a good alternative to the Natural Balance formula (and vice versa).
The recipe is simple with only six ingredients and added vitamins and minerals, no by-products or fillers, but it does contain grains, ground, and brown rice.
10. BLUE Basics Limited Ingredient Diet ($2.08/lb) – another one of the best hypoallergenic dog foods due to its low number of ingredients, high protein source, and no grains.
While some BLUE dog foods have been under heat in the past, their limited ingredient formula is still one of the best hypoallergenic dog food brands you can find, but it may not fit every dog with sensitivities.
11. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient High Protein Food ($2.5/lb) – this hypoallergenic dog food is a better alternative to the above-mentioned Natural Balance limited ingredient dog food due to the larger percentage of high-quality protein (32% real beef) in it.
However, it also comes with a hefty price tag compared to other best hypoallergenic dog food brands. It doesn't contain any grains either.
12. The Honest Kitchen Hope Dehydrated Minimalist Food ($10/lb) – the most expensive hypoallergenic dog food brand on this list.
The Honest Kitchen company hasn't been top-rated among dog owners, which is unjust since their human-grade, FDA-approved dog foods are actually very high quality.
This formula is easily one of the best hypoallergenic dogs foods out there.
It's one of the best-rated dehydrated foods resembling raw feeding and only contains six quality ingredients.
13. Merrick 1 Count Limited Ingredient Diet ($2.5/lb) – one of the best grain-free dog foods out there, Merrick is a favorite among pet owners looking for high protein dog food with no grains.
Their limited ingredient dog food formula is another winner with 34% real chicken and the rest filled with five quality ingredients.
The recipe, however, will not fit a lot of dogs with food sensitivities and allergies.
14. NUTRO Limited Ingredient Diet ($2.5/lb) – although NUTRO's dog foods are generally highly rated five-star brands, they're not known for their limited ingredient formulas or best hypoallergenic dog foods.
This one is mostly an alternative if you can't pick any other limited ingredient dog food brand.
It contains ten ingredients, no grains, and claims to have eliminated popular food sensitivity ingredients.
15. SportDogFood Elite Food ($1.9/lb) – final contender on the list for best hypoallergenic dog food brand is a fairly new company SportDogFood.
Their Elite formula for advanced allergic reactions in dogs contains no grains and eliminates the most popular allergy-causing ingredients for dogs with food sensitivities.
On paper, this hypoallergenic formula looks good, but many pet owners have reported allergic reactions nonetheless.
Why Are Hypoallergenic Dog Food Diets So Expensive?
The most common explanation for this expense increase is that these diets take years, if not decades, to develop and test.
The processing that the hypoallergenic dog food requires costs more than manufacturing regular dog food.
For example, Hill’s Science Diet reports that its hypoallergenic food, z/d Ultra, is produced exclusively on its very own production line in a separate facility from the rest of its food processing where their other dog food brands are made.
They explain that this eliminates cross-contamination of allergens from other production lines. The separate equipment, maintenance and personnel add onto the overall cost.
Another example – Royal Canin. They use both controlled manufacturing practices and a DNA test for each batch of Anallergenic food to ensure that there is no “foreign” protein contamination.
The more precautions that a pet food company takes to ensure good quality control and to ensure the food is hypoallergenic, the more expensive it will be.
What else can I do?
As discussed above, an elimination diet using either hypoallergenic dog food or a novel protein/carb diet is the best way toward success.
It is best not to rely on the “fish oil” that is on the ingredients list.
This is because these kinds of fat are very susceptible to processing, so its likely that there is little to no fish oil even if the food claims to have it.
The best way to add omega-3s into the dog's diet is give dog fish oil supplements.
Another thing to consider are probiotics for dogs.
There is no evidence (15) as to how effective probiotics are for dogs with allergies (yet good for their general health), but there's a lot of studies on positive effects for people with allergies (16, 17).
As established above, dogs and humans have a lot in common when it comes to dealing with allergies.
Find a way to add any of these into your dog's diet, whether through supplementation or by adding some fish oil and probiotics into your dog's food. However, discuss this with your vet beforehand so that you can successfully track the elimination diet.
READ NEXT: 8 Resources for Most Common Dog Allergies
Have you tried any of these hypoallergenic dog foods? How did your pup react to any of these limited ingredient dog food brands? Share your experience below, so more dog owners are aware of any issues.
READ NEXT: How to Feed Dogs with Food Allergies