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Amino Acid Based Diets and The Itchy Dog

amino acid based diets and the itchy dog boulder holistic vet angie krause

Itchy, allergic dogs are everywhere! I encounter these dogs all year ’round with surges in the spring and fall. I, too, am loved by an itchy dog with allergies! It brings me great joy to know I have helped many clients and their itchy dogs. I have even created a course to help pet parents with allergic dogs and dog scratching. Today, I want to share with you a secret weapon that I have been employing for the past year that has given many dogs tremendous relief. An amino acid based diet.

First, let’s start at the beginning.

When I see a dog that has chronic ear infections, hot spots, or is constantly biting, scratching and chewing, there is one key question. What is this dog allergic to? Generally, we can break it down to diet or environment. Finding the answer to this question can be complicated. 

Sometimes it’s both! I start with diet because it is easier to control. Sometimes it is as easy as switching the protein source. Maybe switching from chicken to beef clears it all up! Eliminating grain may be the solution. For those dogs (and people) relief comes easily and quickly. However, some pet parents go through a dozen different diets with mixed results. They are left tired, frustrated and confused. In the end, we still haven’t answered our question of what is causing the allergy. Dun duh duh dah! In comes our trusty amino acid based diet!

How does an amino acid based diet work?

Let’s get a little scientific here. Don’t worry it’s painless! Your dog’s immune system reacts to proteins. Imagine a protein being like a strand of pearls. Each pearl on the strand is an amino acid. The longer the strand of pearls (the bigger the protein), the more allergenic the protein can be. The equates to an itchier dog. So, what if we broke up that strand of pearls into individual amino acids? This would be the least reactive form of protein possible. 

Warning: There are ‘hydrolyzed’ diets on the market. These are similar but the pearl strand has been broken down into units of 5-6 pearls (amino acids). I don’t waste time with these. Go big or go home! These diets are also made of hydrolyzed soy. I don’t love this and I haven’t found them to be all that effective.

Wait, is this a prescription diet?

Sigh. Yes, yes it is. This is a diagnostic tool. I don’t want you to feed this diet forever. It’s a short time, while we give your dog’s gut lining a chance to heal. We can also build an ingredient list of REAL food that we can feed your dog. Think of it as a stepping stone to a more natural diet. 

For what it is worth, I am not a huge fan of prescription diets either. This is one of the few times I think prescription diets can be immensely helpful in achieving our goal. Also, I must add that it is made by Royal Canin. This is a European company and their ingredients are higher in quality compared with American companies. I have no affiliation with this pet food company and they don’t pay me to promote their food.

How do I use this diet?

First, you have to get a prescription from your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may even carry the diet. If they don’t you can order it online at It’s called Royal Canin Ultamino. Depending on your dog’s digestive sensitivity you can switch cold turkey or slowly transition over several days. You know your dog best. When in doubt, go slow. It may take up to 4 weeks to notice a difference. For most, it is within a week. If your dog doesn’t improve, you can return the food for a full refund. Royal Canin has a money back guarantee.

What if the dog scratching doesn’t improve on this diet?

If your dog does not improve on this diet, it means one of two things. First, your dog’s allergies are primarily environmental. It could also mean that there was an ingredient in this diet that your dog was still allergic to. This would be extremely unlikely but in the realm of possibility. When my canine patients continue to have symptoms on this diet, I turn my focus to environmental allergies. Immunotherapy is great option for these dogs. Talk with your veterinarian about this therapy or with a veterinary dermatologist.

My dog got better on this diet, what next?

Well, first of all, enjoy your happy, less itchy dog! I recently had to use this diet for my dog and I was shocked. Not only did it completely eliminate is horrific gas and stop the incessant chewing at his feet, he had more energy than I have ever seen. So here is my plan when Ultamino works for your dog: 

  • Start adding one food per week on top of the food. You are building a safe ingredient list. Be sure to only add one food at a time and keep a journal of your dog’s symptoms. If your dog reacts to a food. Take a week or two off of adding something new.
  • Stay on just the Ultamino for  60 days. This allows the gut to rest and repair. The immune system can calm down.
  • When you have a long enough ingredient list, slowly switch to the diet of your choosing.

Itchy dogs can be tough! Don’t give up. Ask for help and do what works.

I would love to hear about your itchy dog. What has worked? What hasn’t worked? Leave a comment below and let me know. 

With love,
dr. angie signature boulder holistic vet

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7 thoughts on “Amino Acid Based Diets and The Itchy Dog”

  1. I looked at the Royal Canin Ultamino but could not find a list of ingredients. My dog seems highly allergic to “feathered” meat – chicken, turkey, duck. Maybe he’s allergic to other things too, but these meats for sure. Does Ultamino contain protein from any “feathered” sources?

    1. Dr. Angie Krause, DVM

      Hi Marion,

      Thank you for reaching out!

      Here is a list of the Royal Canin Ultamino ingredients.

      I hope that this helps!


      1. Thanks! It does contain hydrolyzed chicken. The Science Diet ZD formula also contains hydrolyzed chicken, and he itched a lot with that formula. I am currently feeding Small Batch frozen raw lamb patties, when I can get them, and he’s doing fairly well with that.

  2. Rio is on high protein diet from Royal Canin thru vet. His skin colour returning here and there in pink patches in underbelly so that’s an improvement since he’s been on this food, he’s been on this food for more than 1 year. He’s still scratching, getting bumps on his skin from scratching. He bites his back, legs and paws. He rubs his snout on mattress and he rubs his face on whatever feels comfy for him. I have tried whatever the vet recommended to no avail as he’s still scratching. We’ve had Rio since he was 8 weeks old he’s now past 10 years. Allergies didn’t start until he was well past 4years of age. I am now researching CBD oil.

    1. Hi Joshua,

      I’m so sorry that Rio is struggling with allergies! I know how frustrating this is for you both!

      We have seen CBD help with allergies! For larger dogs, we recommend the HempRx Forte. Because the bottle is twice as large as the HempRx, and it is twice the concentration, it is more economical in the long run.

      Keep use posted!


    2. Hi Johanna,

      I’m so sorry that Rio is struggling with allergies! I know how frustrating this is for you both!

      We have seen CBD help with allergies! For larger dogs, we recommend the HempRx Forte. Because the bottle is twice as large as the HempRx, and it is twice the concentration, it is more economical in the long run.

      Keep use posted!


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