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The real facts about allergies and allergy diets for dogs

Feeding a nutritional, allergy specific diet is the foundation of managing food sensitivities and intolerances. The importance of feeding only the recommended diet should be stressed to everyone who comes into contact with the dog and all treats should be avoided.

When a food allergy or intolerance is suspected, the dog’s diet should be changed without the usual food transition, under vet supervision. It is likely the dog will then require nutritional management for the remainder of his life.

Specially formulated diets are a very important aid for your dog. To maximize diet benefits, feed little and often and always ensure your dog has access to clean, fresh drinking water.

Allergy diets may be used for the following conditions:  

  • Dietary sensitivity or allergy (with gut and/or skin-related symptoms)

  • Dietary intolerance

  • Acute diarrhoea (ie. sudden, recent onset, short duration)

  • Chronic diarrhoea (ongoing diarrhoea)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Post-surgical nutrition

  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

  • Bacterial overgrowth in the bowel


It’s important to note that most food allergies and sensitivities develop over a period of time – the risk of allergy development is greater if an allergy-prone dog is exposed to the same protein repeatedly over a long period.

Food allergens (the things that cause an allergic reaction to the food) are proteins within the food that are not broken down by the heat of cooking, by stomach acids or by the enzymes that digest food. As a result they survive to cross the gastrointestinal lining, enter the bloodstream and go to target organs, causing allergic reactions throughout the body.

Lactose is a milk protein. Lactose intolerance is a common food intolerance in dogs, usually resulting in diarrhoea. Levels of lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, fall after the dog is weaned from it’s mother’s milk. If cow’s milk is fed to adult dogs and cats, undigested lactose remaining within the small intestine can cause digestive disorders.

Wheat gluten is a cereal protein occasionally associated with food sensitivity  in dogs.

Nutritional structure

Blue whiting (fish) and tapioca (root starch) are highly digestible ingredients found in some hypoallergenic dog foods. They are less likely to cause an allergic reaction because they are rarely used in canine food preparations, and will therefore be “new” to the dog’s system.

Very high amounts of biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid in combination with zinc reduce water losses through the skin and support the barrier effect of the skin. High levels of DHA & EPA omega-3 fatty acids naturally present in fish help maintain skin health and elasticity. Added Fructo-Oligo-Saccharides (FOS) promotes the growth of beneficial digestive bacteria (‘friendly’ bacteria) and helps protect the intestinal mucosa.

Eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids are omega-3 long chain fatty acids that are added to these diets to modulate skin reactions and help to maintain the integrity of the bowel lining (or intestinal mucosa). Fructo-Oligo-Saccharides promote healthy digestive flora and contribute to the intestinal mucosal integrity. Hypoallergenic foods are normally wheat gluten and lactose free.

Key benefits

  • Restricted protein and carbohydrate sources

  • Protein sources from a single animal to avoid initial allergic sensitization e.g. chicken, duck and blue whiting, which are less likely to cause a reaction

  • Carbohydrate sources such as tapioca are seldom associated with food sensitivity in the dog and are therefore a good replacement for common carbohydrate food allergens.

  • High digestibility

  • Lactose free

  • Wheat-gluten free

  • Eriched with antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals produced during body metabolism

Types of food

Royal Canin Veterinary Clinical Hypoallergenic Canine Dry

A highly palatable, highly digestible, lactose and wheat gluten free, hydrolyzed soy protein isolate diet that is indicated in the diagnosis and management of adverse reactions to food.

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Royal Canin Veterinary Clinical Sensitivity Control Canine Dry & wet

A highly digestible, hypoallergenic sensitivity control diet for puppies and dogs. The SC24 diet has been formulated to assist in the investigation and management of dietary hypersensitivity and dietary intolerance. Royal Canin Sensitivity Control is also suitable for the management of some types of diarrhoea and has been clinically proven to be effective in the dietary management of idiopathic chronic colitis, atopic dermatitis and acute gastroenteritis. 

Hills Z/D Canine

Helps minimise allergic reactions to food. The unique hydrolysed formula provides a safe solution to virtually any food allergy. Chicken hydrolysate is the only protein source.

Helps nourish skin and coat as it is formulated with high levels of essential fatty acids.

Hills D/D Canine

Based on novel protein sources such as duck, it helps to reduce signs of adverse reactions to food and supports healthy skin function with the right levels of natural omega-3 fatty acids. Helps to neutralise free radicals as it contains high level of antioxidants.

Eukanuba Special Care Dermatosis FP Formula

Can be used as an exclusion diet to help in the diagnosis of food allergy/intolerance.

This article is intended as a guide only. Always seek advice from your vet who will be able to advice the best type of food for your dog’s nutritional needs.