What is limited ingredient dog food?

You’ve heard of limited ingredient dog food — but what is it exactly, and is it right for your canine companion?

Limited ingredient dog foods are made with a minimal number of ingredients to reduce allergic reactions and food intolerances while still providing complete and balanced nutrition. Also called limited antigen dog foods, these diets have one to a few high quality proteins, and one to a few carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, or starches, though some veterinarians consider limited ingredient foods to be those containing only one protein and one carb.

What to look for – and avoid

Although commercially available limited ingredient recipes have improved over the years, no official definition exists for limited ingredient foods, and pet food labels can often be misleading. Here are a few things to look for when searching for limited ingredient dog foods for your canine companion:

  • Simple, high quality ingredients
  • Single protein
  • Free of fillers, preservatives, and additives

A few things to avoid:

  • General descriptions such as “poultry”, which can mean turkey, chicken, or any other fowl
  • Food dyes, artificial flavors, and preservatives
  • By-products or vague ingredients like “chicken meal”
  • Fillers like tapioca, soy, and corn

What is the best limited ingredient dog food for allergies?

Examine the label’s guaranteed analysis, which provides maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture and minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, to ensure you’re getting a balanced food.

It’s also important to find a food that’s minimally processed to ensure the bioavailability and preservation of nutrients. Raw or gently cooked diets are usually less processed than conventional canned or kibble diets.

Next, look for these characteristics:

  • The meal should contain only one protein.
  • Look for novel whole proteins. Novel foods are those the dog hasn’t eaten before, which means he would not have built up antigens against it. Novel foods won’t prevent allergies from developing, but they are less likely.
    • Examples of novel animal protein: Game meat, buffalo, kangaroo, pheasant, venison, and duck.
    • Examples of novel carbs: Squash, amaranth, millet, and quinoa. Limit the use of white potatoes because the natural component, solanine, can exacerbate arthritis.
  • Look for zinc, copper, and selenium, as well as vitamins A, C, E, and B6 to support the immune system in the gut.

Is limited ingredient dog food right for your dog?

If you suspect your dog has health issues, first consult with your vet to ensure there is no serious underlying condition. Keep in mind that foods cause less than 10% of dog allergies, yet they are frequently the first source held responsible for skin and other issues. Allergies usually result from environmental causes, such as pollen, grass, dust, soaps, cleaners, cigarette smoke, perfumes, shampoos or pests such as mites and fleas. However, a limited ingredient diet of sustainably raised protein and carbs can often soothe skin and digestive irritations and possibly pre-empt some health problems.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.