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Finding the best dog food for German Shepherds with skin allergies can feel like a maze!
You turn left, you swing right…
All the flashy marketing and bright labels are shouting for your attention!
It’s no wonder you feel so overwhelmed.
But getting your German Shepherd the food they need for their sensitive skin doesn’t have to be a nightmare.
It’s easier than you think to give your dog the relief they so desperately want…
Because I’m going to show you exactly how to buy the best dog food for a German Shepherd with skin allergies to soothe itchy, sore skin and ease your anxiety.
Let’s get started!
What is the best dog food for German Shepherds with skin allergies?
The best dog food for German Shepherds with skin allergies avoids common ingredient triggers, like beef, dairy, or gluten while encouraging skin health. A German Shepherd’s skin allergies go hand in hand with digestive issues and might be worsened if your dog’s digestive system isn’t properly functioning. Foods with probiotics can help reduce allergies and intolerances while increasing nutrient absorption to maintain a healthy skin barrier. These skin-loving diets soothe itching and scratching and help to play an essential role in the management of allergies and sensitivities.
Sounds impressive, right?
The only problem?
Picking the right food from the neverending aisles of product and in-your-face pet food marketing!
Instead of worrying, here are the best dog foods for German Shepherds with sensitive skin and allergies, shortlisted for your convenience.
Best Dog Foods for German Shepherds with Skin Allergies
A variety of commercial pet foods with limited and different protein sources are available for helping to manage skin allergies at home.
These commercial pet foods:
contain novel protein sources
are nutritionally balanced and complete
Review this list and compare it to your German Shepherd’s known allergies to help find the best choice for your dog.
Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Salmon & Potato Formula Dry Dog Food
Best Food for German Shepherds with Allergies
Wellness Simple Salmon and Potato Recipe is a limited-ingredient, grain-free dry food formulated with only five, specially-selected main ingredients.
The Simple ingredients include a single source of protein and aids in a shiny, healthy coat and supple skin. With natural probiotics, antioxidants, omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and taurine in a complete meal, your dog will love the tasty fish flavor.
Formulated with natural probiotics to soothe sensitive stomachs and food intolerances.
Incorporates a single source of protein with easily-digestible carbohydrates for decreased stomach upset.
Crafted to encourage whole-body health by supporting digestive function and promoting a healthy coat and skin.
Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Lamb & Brown Rice Formula Large Breed Dry Dog Food
Best Limited Ingredient Grain-Inclusive Dog Food
Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Dry Dog Food, Lamb & Brown Rice Large Breed Formula is a gluten-free, yet grain-inclusive dry dog food designed for dogs that are intolerant to common protein sources.
While still giving consumers the choice of including grains, without gluten, the fiber in brown rice helps maintain your dog’s healthy digestion. Brown rice aids in bowel regulation, while the larger kibble size helps keep teeth clean and strong.
The chicken-free formula uses real lamb as the first ingredient for sensitive dogs.
The grain-inclusive formula is gluten-free, for those owners looking for a grain-inclusive, limited ingredient diet.
Kibble is designed for large breed jaws and teeth to encourage large breed dogs to eat slower, reducing stomach gas and stomach upset.
Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Large Breed Chicken & Barley Recipe Dry Dog Food
Best Vet Recommended Dog Food for Sensitive Stomachs
Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Large Breed Chicken & Barley Recipe is specifically designed for adult, large breed dogs over 50 pounds.
Featuring real chicken first the veterinarian recommended diet contains prebiotic fiber to support a healthy microbiome for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Added beet pulp increases the fiber and encourages firmer, more regular stools.
For those who can’t afford prescription diets, this research-backed dog food is an inexpensive quality alternative for German Shepherds.
Blended nourishing prebiotic fiber assists in stool quality to make cleaning up less stressful.
Highly digestible ingredients for optimal nutrition that’s gentle to sensitive stomachs.
Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Formula Turkey & Potato Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food
Blue Buffalo’s Basics Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Formula is a tasty diet created with fewer ingredients for dogs with food sensitivities.
This limited-ingredient diet recipe contains a single animal protein source and includes pumpkin and easily digested carbohydrates. Prepared with BLUE’s exclusive LifeSource Bits to support your dog’s health and wellness. This combination of uniquely selected antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins is hand-picked by veterinarians and animal nutritionists.
The recipe is gluten-free for sensitive tummies that are easily upset by regular dog food.
Limited-ingredient turkey-based dog food that is not only healthy but appetizing to your pet.
Made without artificial flavors or preservatives to reduce chemical allergic reactions.
Tuscan Natural Simply Pure Lamb Meal Limited Ingredient Dry Dog Food
Tuscan Natural Simply Pure Lamb Meal Dry Dog Food is a hypoallergenic formula that’s made with humanely-raised grass-fed lamb meal as the first ingredient.
This single protein source helps dogs with allergies and sensitivities who are unable to tolerate more commonly used proteins. Crafted with antioxidant-rich extra virgin olive oil for healthy skin and coat, this grain-inclusive formula is sustainably-farmed.
The hypoallergenic, easy-to-digest formula helps reduce food sensitivities for fewer stomach issues and skin allergies.
Added olive oil delivers essential monounsaturated fatty acids that support shiny skin and coat.
Simple, limited ingredients for dogs with skin allergies and intolerances that are prone to stomach upset.
The best dog foods for German Shepherd with sensitive skin generally avoids known common allergens.
German Shepherd Puppies and Skin Problems
Even German Shepherd puppies might develop skin problems as a result of food allergies.
They can suffer from stress from leaving their mother and litter, upset stomach from a change of foods, or allergies from new irritants in their home.
So, what’s the solution?
Changing to a food that’s more suited to their sensitive puppy skin could help them to itch and scratch less, improve bowel movements, and decrease dry skin.
The Best Dog Food for German Shepherd Puppies with Skin Allergies
If you own a German Shepherd puppy you’ll want to feed a dry kibble dog food that is specially formulated for sensitive skin and stomach, has limited ingredients, or is created for gentle digestion. It’s a better practice to provide a large breed puppy with a nutritionally complete sensitive kibble for them to avoid any imbalances during their crucial growing time.
Dry kibble is the easiest to feed your puppy due to convenience, price, and the polishing effects on your puppy’s teeth for dental health. But, if your puppy prefers, you can moisten their food with warm water to soften the dry kibble into a mush to make the texture more enticing.
Purina Pro Plan Development Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Large Breed Dry Puppy Food
Purina Pro Plan Development Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice With Probiotics Large Breed Dry Puppy Food is research-backed with food trials for dogs with sensitivities.
Specially made for large breed puppies under 12 months old, delicious salmon is the main ingredient. And fish is known for not only its appealing tastes but its high rate of digestibility for dogs.
This makes for easier digestion and fewer upset stomachs to stress about.
Highly digestible salmon is a protein-rich recipe and easy on little bellies.
Created with oat meal to aid in calm digestion.
Contains DHA from fish oil for healthy brain development.
Probiotics support sensitive immune systems and create more balanced gut bacteria for smoother elimination.
Nulo Freestyle Limited+ Puppy Grain-Free Turkey Recipe Dry Dog Food
If you’re looking for a limited ingredient diet for your German Shepherd puppy, then you’ll be happy to know that Nulo Freestyle Limited+ Turkey Recipe Grain-Free Puppy & Adult Dry Dog Food is formulated with only a single animal meat source for 30% crude protein in every bowl.
Loaded with probiotics to support your growing puppy’s digestive and immune health, as well as omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.
The single animal protein formula has turkey as the first ingredient for dogs allergic to chicken and chicken meals.
With specially-formulated probiotics that help support a healthy gut and immunity — exactly what puppies with skin allergies need.
The multi-stage life cycle formula is good for puppies who are transitioning to purely adult foods.
Stay away from multi-vitamins for puppies as your dog’s dry kibble is complete and balanced. Any additional vitamins and minerals in a concentrated form could cause joint damage during growth due to a calcium or phosphorus imbalance.
I know that’s a lot of information to take in…
But stick with me here and you’ll learn lots to help manage your German Shepherd’s itchy skin.
What are the most common dog food allergies for German Shepherds?
In German Shepherds, the most commonly reported food allergies are beef, dairy, wheat, chicken, and egg. All of these ingredients have been very prevalent ingredients in commercial diets over the past three decades, and pets tend to be allergic to proteins that have been in their diet for months to years.
Many people don’t suspect food allergies as the cause of their German Shepherd’s itching because their dog has been fed the same food all its life and has just recently started showing symptoms. However, German Shepherds can develop allergies to a substance over time, so this fact does not rule out food allergies.
German Shepherd Dogs carry a higher rate of genetic predisposition to skin allergies. While food allergies can develop at almost any age, allergies tend to develop in middle-aged dogs (source).
It is important to note, however, that not all commercial foods have been adequately tested in dogs with known food allergies.
The quickest way to determine your dog’s cause of allergic reactions is a visit to your veterinarian.
Keep in mind that in order to see benefits from a diet to help with skin allergies the effects can take up to 8 to 12 weeks.
Other Food Allergens
Although proteins are generally a bigger trigger for skin allergies in German Shepherds than other ingredients, there are a large number of other potential food allergens.
Common food allergens in German Shepherds:
Dairy is another ingredient that may cause skin allergies to worsen or induce stomach sensitivity. Some dogs are lactose intolerant and dairy may be to blame for their red, itchy, and scratchy skin.
Lactose intolerance may also cause your German Shepherd bouts of bloating, flatulence, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea after ingestion of dairy or milk products.
Do grains cause skin allergies in German Shepherds?
No, grains don’t generally cause skin allergies in German Shepherds. Grains are actually less common causes of allergies than animal products, despite the opposite being widely reported on the internet.
Corn is responsible for only about 4% of allergies.
However, wheat grains are reported as a food allergen in 13% of dogs.
Although grains are a less common cause of skin allergies it’s a good practice to check the dog food you’re buying for any wheat ingredients to avoid this known allergen.
Adverse Food Reactions in German Shepherds
A recent study published in BMC Veterinary Research Journal discovered that German Shepherds are at a high risk of developing adverse food reactions (source).
But, what some owners call a “food allergy” is more appropriately termed an “adverse food reaction” from a clinical standpoint.
Adverse food reactions in dogs are generally divided into two categories:
Let’s take a quick look at each so you can better help your dog with their skin problems.
A food allergy involves an immune system response to specific proteins in your dog’s diet. German Shepherds with food allergies may have gastrointestinal signs (diarrhea and vomiting), skin problems (redness, itching, secondary skin infections, and ear infections), or they could experience both.
Thankfully, true food allergies in German Shepherds are very rare. Less than 1-3% of dogs experience a clinical food allergy (source).
On the other hand, food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. For example, lactose intolerance (a reaction to dairy products) and fat intolerance (some dogs develop diarrhea when fed a portion of food or treat that is high in fat).
Food intolerances are somewhat common and can result in diarrhea, vomiting, or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Less commonly, but still possible, food intolerance can cause skin problems.
When you change your dog’s food more than just the ingredients are changed – proteins, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, digestibility, and amounts of other nutrients or supplements may have also changed.
These changes can all affect your dog’s digestion. This makes it a challenge to solve your German Shepherd’s skin issues.
What protein sources are best for a German Shepherd with skin allergies?
Food allergies in German Shepherds are usually to a specific protein in the food. This is commonly gluten, beef, or dairy.
Food allergy treatments generally involve avoiding the offending protein. Diets based on novel (unusual) proteins might help provide allergy relief for itchy skin problems.
Novel protein diets include a single protein source that your dog has never eaten before and. therefore, hasn’t developed an allergy. Examples of novel proteins include venison, duck, salmon, and whitefish. Some novel proteins are even more exotic — such as kangaroo.
Novel proteins include:
These meats are usually found in hypoallergenic diets for German Shepherds to reduce inflammatory skin and keep sensitive stomachs soothed.
Hypoallergenic Diets for German Shepherd Allergies
Most hypoallergenic diets include proteins and carbohydrates that your dog hasn’t had before to reduce possible allergens. As beef, dairy, and wheat are responsible for 80% of food allergies in dogs, you should avoid feeding these products (source).
Novel protein sources used in hypoallergenic diets include pork, salmon, duck, and kangaroo. Carbohydrate sources can include potatoes, peas, yams, sweet potatoes, and canned pumpkins.
Although the quickest and best way to determine which foods your German Shepherd may or may not be allergic to is through affordable at-home allergy testing, in many circumstances your GSD may suffer from a food sensitivity as opposed to a true allergy.
In these cases, commercial hypoallergenic diets may resolve or lessen skin allergies in German Shepherds (source).
Protein Sources in Hypoallergenic Diets
Common Allergen Proteins
Novel Proteins versus Common Allergen Proteins
Premium Dog Foods and German Shepherd Skin Allergies
Another familiar misconception is that German Shepherds are only sensitive to poor-quality, commercial dog food. But, if they are allergic to an ingredient, it doesn’t matter whether it is in premium food or the cheapest brand on the market.
While the quality of the premium dog food is better for a German Shepherd’s diet and nutrition, the allergy source is still the same in both foods.
One advantage to buying premium foods for your GSD is that you generally need to feed less of the food because of the quality of the ingredients.
Skin Allergy Supplements for German Shepherds
There are two commonly recommended supplements for German Shepherds with dry, itchy skin.
Omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids
And allergen supplements for seasonal flare-ups
Omega Fatty Acids
Omega fatty acids are necessary for supporting your dog’s healthy skin and aid in a shiny coat. These fatty acids have mild anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and are beneficial to decrease skin dryness. They’re reportedly helpful in about 20% of allergic dogs and are not harmful when given per the manufacturer’s instructions. There are virtually no side effects.
Given their effects on skin problems and low rate of side effects, it’s worth it to include them in your German Shepherd’s diet (source).
There are numerous combination products manufactured for dogs, available in capsule, powder, liquid, or chewable tablet form. Fatty acids work to help reduce allergic skin inflammation and itching, but dogs with other medical conditions such as high cholesterol or clotting problems shouldn’t take them.
Allow 4 to 12 weeks time to see effects from either supplement treatment.
Recently, there’s been a trend toward raw-feeding and proponents of the diet usually included references to its “natural” ingredients or is “evolutionary correct.” But these statements are not backed by science (source).
Don’t take my word for it…
You can see the official statement by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association for yourself.
Unfortunately, raw feeding is risky, especially for German Shepherds with skin problems.
Dogs with allergies are already susceptible to pathogens due to their compromised immune systems. Raw meats and proteins carry bacteria that are harmful to not only your dog but to yourself and your children.
Even impeccable cleaning of work surfaces, or freezing of the raw meat first, won’t prevent your dog from transferring the bacteria and pathogens in the raw meat through their saliva.
These pathogens are left all over the house, putting you and your family at risk of illness. If you do have your heart set on raw feeding, then please take the time to get your German Shepherd an at-home raw food intolerance test to understand the best raw food diet for their health.
Raw Diets and German Shepherd Puppies
Raw food diets are difficult to balance and carry many risks for German Shepherd puppies.
There are an increasing number of studies that show serious concerns for nutritional imbalances and health risks to dogs, especially growing puppies.
Here’s why this is important…
One research study found that 6-week-old large breed puppies who were fed bones and raw food (BARF) diet from about 3 weeks of age experienced malformation in their bones – a detrimental condition for large breed dogs.
Another study specifically looked at German Shepherd puppies fed raw meat and rice that subsequently developed hyperparathyroidism, a condition that causes osteoporosis, weakness, and bone and joint pain.
Unfortunately, raw food diets for German Shepherd puppies are difficult to manage.
Homemade diets are another way for you to control the ingredients in your dog’s food.
Keep in mind that these diets are time-consuming to make, difficult to balance, and may not provide the right level of nutrients for long-term nutrition.
For this reason, using a homemade diet is often a temporary measure until the best dog food diet is identified.
Alternative Holistic Treatments
Some owners would prefer to forgo long-term use of prescription medication for their dogs when treating allergies.
In this case, holistic allergy treatments are useful for treating skin problems. Look for a holistic practitioner who uses classical homeopathic treatments for allergies in pets for natural alternatives to clinical drugs.
In some cases, the holistic pet practitioner might be able to rebalance the immune system and provide relief to unresolved skin issues.
Rotating Your German Shepherd’s Diet to Reduce Food Allergies: The Facts
A familiar misconception that continues to circulate is that rotating between several different diets will prevent food allergies in your German Shepherd from occurring. There is no evidence to support the practice of feeding different diets and switching up your dog’s diet to prevent allergies.
In fact, this technique can backfire if a food allergy is suspected and the pet has been fed a large number of diets with a large variety of different ingredients.
Think I’m exaggerating?
As part of treatment for food allergies, your veterinarian may ask you to place your dog on a diet with ingredients your GSD has never eaten.
If you’ve frequently changed your dog’s diet, it can make food elimination diets overly difficult. And finding a suitable novel (untried) diet to use for a diet trial will not only take longer and cause you and your dog more stress but cost more money to sort out.
Symptoms of Allergies in German Shepherds
The most common symptom of a skin allergy is incessant itching. But, skin allergies can cause a range of symptoms in a German Shepherd.
These may include:
Excessive licking (this may be a specific part of the body, or all over)
Red, irritated or flakey skin
Biting or chewing the skin
Shaking their head (particularly with ear itchiness and discomfort)
Rubbing of ears or face
Rubbing or scooting on surfaces
With severe skin allergies in German Shepherds, you’re not only managing the discomfort and distress of the allergic reaction but also the more severe risk of secondary infection.
Besides food, have you considered your dog might have other allergies to manage?
Other Allergies in German Shepherds
One or more different things can cause an allergy in your German Shepherd.
Allergens are categorized into three main groups. Within each group, your GSD might have an allergy to something very specific but, generally, the groups overlap. This means your dog might have an allergy to things from one or all of the three main groups.
The main groups are:
and atopic dermatitis
Some pets are allergic to the saliva of fleas which gets injected into the skin when they bite.
This is the most common type of allergy for dogs and can cause scratching, chewing, and nibbling.
You might notice little red spots, called papules, that your GSD itches and bites, making the skin look more inflamed and irritated.
A food allergy is a reaction to a particular protein or food chemical a dog ingests. Food allergies may arise even when your dog has been eating the same food for months or years.
Food allergies manifest in the skin, causing owners much concern as the dog experiences daily discomfort and pain.
Any dog that is considered to be itchier than normal could have a food allergy.
Atopic dermatitis is essentially a reaction to an allergen in the environment.
It’s comparable to asthma or hay fever in people.
Environmental allergens might present seasonally, for example, reactions to pollen, or could stay present all year round, for example, dust mites in the house.
For seasonal atopic dermatitis, German Shepherds might only itch when the allergen is in abundance in large enough quantities to trigger a reaction. Dogs might rub their eyes, sneeze, or cough when experiencing the trigger.
Common Areas of Allergies
German Shepherds show allergies in many common areas on their bodies.
For example, the ears, eyes, and belly.
Changing their diet can help these allergies, but it’s good to know the possibility of additional allergens and their effects on your German Shepherd.
Just think about it.
If you change your German Shepherd’s food and they don’t show skin improvements, there may be other allergies involved for you to watch out for.
Here are other areas of concern that your German Shepherd might experience when having an allergic reaction.
Does your German Shepherd have itchy, red, irritated skin or other allergy symptoms in any of these areas?
What You Need to Know About German Shepherds with Skin Allergies and Their Dog Food
True medically diagnosed food allergy in German Shepherds is quite rare.
But, food intolerances and sensitivities might be the culprit to your dog’s itchy, red skin.
And that’s why buying the best dog food for German Shepherds with skin allergies is so important.
5 Steps to Buying Dog Food for a German Shepherd with Sensitive Skin
Commercial hypoallergenic dog foods with novel proteins may help manage and even treat skin problems and discomfort.
It’s not as easy or simple as finding the food that’s causing the allergy, and a veterinarian monitored elimination food trial might be necessary.
Grains have a lower rate of causing a dog’s skin allergies, but many dog foods with novel proteins include grain-free options as a consumer preference.
German Shepherds can develop food allergies at any age and have a genetically higher rate of occurrence, but other factors may also contribute to their skin issues like fleas, environmental factors, or seasonal allergies — remember that food is not the only culprit.
Ensure your dog is taking omega fatty acid supplements to increase their healthy skin layer and provide an extra layer of support and care.
With the right game plan, the best dog food for German Shepherds with skin allergies can give your dog the relief they so desperately need.
More importantly, you’re helping them feel comfortable in their own skin.
Axelsson E, et al. The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet. Nature 2013;495:360-364
DeLay J, Laing J. Nutritional osteodystrophy in puppies fed a BARF diet. AHL Newsletter. 2002;6:23.
Kawaguchi K, Braga IS, III, Takahashi A, Ochiai K, Itakura C. Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism occurring in a strain of German shepherd puppies. Jpn J Vet Res. 1993;41:89–96.
Lloyd, D. Diagnosis and management of adverse food reactions in the dog. Proc World Small Animal Vet Assoc World Congr 2006.
Mueller RS, et al. Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC Vet Res. 2016; 12:9,
Muller, et al. Food Hypersensitivity. Small Animal Dermatology. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company (1989), pages 470–474
Roudebush, P. Ingredients associated with adverse food reactions in cats and dogs. Adr Small Anim Med Surg 2002; 15(9):1.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
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