Mixed protein dog foods are common, with various meat meals and products mingling as you read farther and farther down the ingredient list.
And for the vast majority of canines, multiple proteins in dog food aren’t an issue. In fact, a variety of proteins can improve taste and pack extra nutrients, like chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega-3s that help your dog look and feel his best.
But unfortunately, multi-protein foods spell trouble for some four-legged friends, leading to digestive upset or triggering food allergies. These poor pooches require something called a single-protein dog food — a food featuring meat (and sometimes meat meals) derived from a single animal.
We’ll discuss which dogs might need to stick to single-protein picks and identify a few of the best single-protein dog foods below.
Why Do Some Dogs Need Single-Protein Food?
Food allergies are the primary reason some dogs need a single-protein food.
This is the case because normally harmless proteins can trigger immune responses in dogs with allergies. In other words, the dog’s immune system freaks out at the presence of a typical protein and acts as though it is a dangerous substance.
Just about any protein can cause problems, but chicken and beef are two of the most common offenders for dogs.
And because both of these ingredients are frequently used as secondary ingredients to bolster the flavor and nutritional value of dog foods (indeed, they’re two of the best meats for dogs), owners with allergic pups often have trouble finding suitable foods.
Other dogs don’t have food allergies but instead have something called food intolerances. Food intolerances do not trigger immune responses like allergies do; they simply occur when a dog’s system can’t properly deal with a (usually) harmless protein.
This means that dogs with food intolerances don’t typically experience immune responses, such as itchy skin. However, dogs with protein intolerances can still suffer from uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas and diarrhea.
Another potential reason a dog may require a single-protein food versus a mixed one is his individual nutritional needs.
A working Malinois, for example, may need more energy from his diet than a couch-surfing bulldog. Other dogs may need diets with less protein content to help address health conditions or shed a few extra pounds.
Lastly, some dogs just prefer the taste of one protein over another. Most dogs love the taste of chicken, which is why the protein is so often used in dog food, while others turn their noses up to blander options, like lamb.
You may see some single-protein dog foods labelled as “hypoallergenic” dog foods.
However, while related, these terms aren’t exactly interchangeable. Hypoallergenic dog foods are specifically designed to avoid triggering allergies, but they can accomplish this in a few ways.
Some — usually known as limited-ingredient dog foods — are made with few (often one) protein. On the other hand, some hypoallergenic dog foods are made with hydrolyzed proteins.
These proteins have been chemically altered, thereby preventing your dog’s immune system from recognizing them — and therefore overreacting.
It is worth noting that hydrolyzed proteins are pricey, and many foods containing them are among the most expensive dog foods around.
The 9 Best Single-Protein Dog Foods
There are a lot of options out there for pups with sensitive systems, but we’ve narrowed it down to our favorite single-protein dog foods for your fur friend. Let’s check out the best single-protein dog foods together.
About: Ollie offers fresh, single-protein recipes made with real meat and vegetables. Gently cooked to preserve nutrients and custom-crafted for your canine, this meaty mixture is shipped right to your door for maximum convenience.
- Offer customized, prepackaged foods catered to your dog’s age, weight, breed, and allergies
- Contain no corn, soy, wheat, or artificial flavors
- Meets AAFCO standards for all life stages
- Made of human-grade ingredients in the USA
Options: Available in beef, chicken, turkey, and lamb recipes.
Lamb, Butternut squash, Lamb liver, Kale, Rice...,
Chickpeas, Chickpea flour, Cranberries, Green beans, Potatoes, Dicalcium phosphate, Chia seeds, Cod liver oil, Iodized salt, Calcium carbonate, Zinc gluconate, Taurine, Vitamin E supplement, Iron sulfate, Pantothenic acid, Manganese gluconate, Thiamin hydrochloride, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Potassium iodate, Folic acid.
Protein: 10% min
- You just can’t beat Ollie’s overall quality
- Even picky pooches seem to love the taste and texture
- The limited ingredient list makes avoiding problem proteins easy
- Ollie is significantly more expensive than the average kibble
- This food requires refrigeration, which will take up fridge space
2. Spot & Tango UnKibble
About: Spot & Tango UnKibble is a revolutionary take on traditional kibble, using an innovative low-temperature drying method to preserve food without sacrificing nutrients. Shipped right to your door, there’s no need to run to the store to give your dog this top-notch food.
- Customizable to your dog’s unique nutrition needs
- Contains no artificial colors or flavors
- Veterinarian-formulated recipes for proper nutrition
- Made in the USA
- Get 50% off your first Spot & Tango order when you use code K9OFMINE50
Options: UnKibble options include Beef & Barley, Chicken & Brown Rice, and Cod & Salmon (note that the Cod & Salmon recipe is obviously not a single-protein dog food, but we list it to be comprehensive).
Ingredients (Beef & Barley):
Beef, Barley, Flax, Carrots, Green beans, Beef liver...,
Beef heart, Beets, Cranberries, Rosemary, Kelp, Salt, Cellulose powder, Fish oil, L-tryptophan, Choline chloride, Organic zinc proteinate, Potassium chloride, Rosemary extract, Mixed tocopherols, Iron amino acid chelate, Vitamin E supplement, Organic selenium yeast, Calcium carbonate, Beet, Tomato, Broccoli, Carrot, Spinach, Orange, Cherry, Cranberry, Strawberry, Apple, Blueberry, Pumpkin, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Folic acid.
Protein Content (Beef & Barley): 26.58%
- The short ingredient list makes avoiding triggering ingredients easy
- These meals are customized for your dog’s weight, breed, and activity level
- Eco-friendly packaging is always a plus
- It’s one of the few customized, shelf-stable options
- UnKibble is more expensive than most traditional dry foods
- You have to enroll in a subscription to purchase these foods
3. Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet
About: Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Diet is a kibble that has both grain-inclusive and grain-free options for your fur kid. All recipes feature probiotics for digestive health and Blue Buffalo’s trademark LifeSource Bits for an immune boost.
- A single, high-quality protein is always the first ingredient
- Includes chondroitin and glucosamine in the dog food for joint health
- Does not contain common trigger ingredients like chicken, corn, soy, or dairy
- Contains oatmeal, brown rice, and potatoes as the primary carbohydrate sources
- Made in the USA
Options: Available in six grain-inclusive options, including Turkey & Potato, Salmon & Potato, and Healthy Weight Turkey & Potato, Duck & Potato, Large Breed Lamb & Potato, and Small Breed Lamb & Potato.
Ingredients (Turkey & Potato):
Deboned turkey, Oatmeal, Brown rice, Potatoes, Peas...,
Turkey meal, Pea fiber, Natural flavor, Pea protein, Canola oil, Fish oil, Calcium carbonate, Dicalcium phosphate, Potassium chloride, Choline chloride, Pumpkin, Dried chicory root, Dehydrated alfalfa meal, Flaxseed, Alfalfa nutrient concentrate, Salt, Taurine, Vitamin E supplement, Mixed tocopherols, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, DL-methionine, Glucosamine hydrochloride, Zinc amino acid chelate, Zinc sulfate, Vegetable juice, Ferrous sulfate, Iron amino acid chelate, Blueberries, Cranberries, Barley grass, Parsley, Turmeric, Dried kelp, Yucca schidigera extract, Niacin, Calcium pantothenate, Copper sulfate, L-lysine, Biotin, Vitamin A supplement, Copper amino acid chelate, Manganese sulfate, Manganese amino acid chelate, Thiamine mononitrate, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 supplement, Vitamin B12 supplement, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Calcium iodate, Dried yeast, Dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, Dried Aspergillus niger fermentation extract, Dried Trichoderma longibrachiatum fermentation extract, Dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation extract, Folic acid, Sodium selenite, Rosemary oil.
Protein Content (Turkey & potato): 20%
- It’s easy to find matching Blue Basics canned foods and treats — a rare opportunity among limited-ingredient dog foods
- Reasonably priced for the quality
- Available in recipes suited for a variety of dogs, including small breeds, large breeds, and more
- Some dogs pick around Blue Buffalo’s LifeSource Bits
- Not all recipes in Blue Buffalo’s Basics formula line are grain-inclusive
4. Taste of the Wild Prey
A conventional, grain-free kibble featuring only a single protein source.
About: Taste of the Wild Prey is an excellent grain-free kibble option for dogs with sensitivities. With an easy-to-read, limited ingredient list, it takes the guesswork out of spotting problem items.
- Meat is always the first ingredient
- Contains an assortment of probiotics for optimal gut health
- Each kibblet is flavored with a tasty coating to entice pickier pups
- Made in the USA with globally sourced ingredients
Options: Available with your choice of primary proteins, including beef, trout, and turkey.
Trout, Lentils, Tomato pomace, Sunflower oil, Natural flavor...,
Dicalcium phosphate, Calcium carbonate, Salmon oil, Salt, Dl-methionine, Choline chloride, Taurine, L-carnitine, Dried Lactobacillus plantarum fermentation product, Dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, Dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, Dried Bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, Vitamin E supplement, Iron proteinate, Zinc proteinate, Copper proteinate, Ferrous sulfate, Zinc sulfate, Copper sulfate, Potassium iodide, Thiamine mononitrate, Manganese proteinate, Manganous oxide, Ascorbic acid, Vitamin A supplement, Biotin, Niacin, Calcium pantothenate, Manganese sulfate, Sodium selenite, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B12 supplement, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 supplement, Folic acid, Live naturally occurring microorganisms.
Protein Content (Trout): 27%
- Most pups seem to love the taste
- The small, rounded kibble shape works for dogs both large and small
- The assortment of probiotics can help promote proper digestion
- This kibble is on the pricier side
- Unfortunately, the largest bag size is only 25 pounds
- More protein options would be nice
5. Hill’s Prescription Diet Z/D
A prescription dog food made with hydrolyzed proteins to avoid triggering allergies.
About: Dogs suffering from serious allergies need serious protection with a sensitive-system food like Hill’s Prescription Diet z/D. Made specifically for dogs with allergies by vets and nutritionists, this kibble has undergone testing to ensure safety and proper digestion in sensitive systems.
- Includes hydrolyzed protein to avoid immune responses
- Contains fatty acids for skin and coat health
- Uses a single carbohydrate source
- Made in the USA with globally sourced ingredients
Options: Only offered in a single flavor.
Corn starch, Hydrolyzed chicken liver, Powdered cellulose, Soybean oil, Calcium carbonate...,
Dicalcium phosphate, Lactic acid, Potassium chloride, Glyceryl monostearate, Choline chloride, Iodized salt, Vitamin E supplement, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, Niacin supplement, Thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin A supplement, Calcium pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 supplement, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Riboflavin supplement, Folic acid, Vitamin D3 supplement, DL-methionine, Ferrous sulfate, Zinc oxide, Copper sulfate, Manganous oxide, Calcium iodate, Sodium selenite, Taurine, Mixed tocopherols, Natural flavors, Beta-carotene.
Protein Content: 19.1%
- Hydrolyzed proteins won’t trigger your dog’s allergies
- Backed by a 100-percent money-back guarantee
- Studies have shown improved skin and coat health in 30 days after switching to this food
- Hydrolyzed proteins make this food expensive
- A prescription is required for this food
- Corn starch isn’t the most impressive leading ingredient
6. Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet
About: Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet is a single-protein solution to your dog’s meat-based sensitivities. Made in facilities practicing vigorous batch-testing for safety, you can also feed your dog with peace of mind.
- Real meat is always the first ingredient
- Contains no corn, soy, or wheat
- Grain-free and grain-inclusive options available
- Made in the USA
Options: Available with your choice of five proteins: lamb, salmon, beef, chicken, and duck.
Lamb, Brown rice, Lamb meal, Brewers rice, Rice bran, Brewers dried yeast...,
Sunflower oil, Natural flavor, Potassium chloride, Salt, Choline chloride, DL-methionine, Taurine, Vitamin E supplement, Niacin supplement, D-calcium pantothenate, Vitamin A supplement, Riboflavin supplement, Thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D3 supplement, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Folic acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 supplement, Zinc proteinate, Zinc sulfate, Ferrous sulfate, Iron proteinate, Copper sulfate, Copper proteinate, Manganese sulfate, Manganese proteinate, Sodium selenite, Calcium iodate, Rosemary extract, Green tea extract, Spearmint extract.
Protein Content (Lamb): 22%
- This is one of the most affordable limited-ingredient options available
- There are a several matching product lines to pair with this food, including treats, canned foods, and more
- Available in versions for puppies, large breed puppies, seniors, and more — a rarity among single-protein kibbles
- It doesn’t appear to be the tastiest option around
- We’d love if this line included exotic protein options
7. Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Canned Dog Food
One of the few high-quality, single-protein, grain-inclusive wet foods on the market.
About: Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Canned Dog Food has the energizing grains your dog needs without corn, dairy, and soy. With a relatively compact ingredient list rich with real meat (including organs), vitamins, and minerals, it’s a well-rounded addition to your four-footer’s bowl.
- Real deboned poultry is always the first ingredient
- Features a single source of protein
- Grain-inclusive and grain-free options available
- Made in the USA at a Safe Quality Food Level 3 kitchen
Options: Grain-inclusive options include Chicken & Brown Rice and Turkey & Brown Rice.
Ingredients (Chicken & Brown Rice):
Deboned chicken, Chicken broth, Chicken liver, Brown rice, Oatmeal...,
Natural flavor, Potassium chloride, Tricalcium phosphate, Salt, Locust bean gum, Guar gum, Sodium tripolyphosphate, Choline chloride, Zinc sulfate, Ferrous sulfate, Copper sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Potassium iodide, Sodium selenite, Calcium carbonate, Vitamin E supplement, Niacin, Thiamine mononitrate, Calcium pantothenate, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, Riboflavin supplement, Vitamin A supplement, Folic acid, Vitamin D-3 supplement, Biotin
Protein Content (Chicken & Brown Rice): 8% min
- A very limited ingredient list makes avoiding problem ingredients easy
- Merrick works with a number of canine charities, including local shelters, PAWS Chicago, and K9s for Warriors
- Most dogs appear to love the taste, despite the limited ingredient list
- The protein content of this food is rather low
- This is a more expensive option than some other single-protein foods
8. Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet Canned Dog Food
About: Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diet Canned Dog Food is a grain-free option offering tasty pate-style grub that’s loaded with skin-nourishing fatty acids. Containing a single carbohydrate source in each recipe, it’s easier to digest than hodgepodge options.
- Meat is always the first ingredient in Wellness foods
- Does not contain any meat by-products, corn, soy, or wheat
- Formulated by veterinarians and nutritionists
- Made in the USA
Options: Grain-free options include Turkey & Potato and Whitefish & Potato.
Ingredients (Whitefish & Potato):
Whitefish, Fish broth, Potatoes, Canola oil, Ground flaxseed...,
Carrageenan, Guar gum, Salt, Potassium chloride, Choline chloride, Inulin, Zinc proteinate, Iron proteinate, Thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin E supplement, Copper proteinate, Manganese proteinate, Sodium selenite, Cobalt proteinate, Niacin supplement, d-Calcium pantothenate, Vitamin A supplement, Riboflavin supplement, Biotin, Vitamin B12 supplement, Potassium iodide, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 supplement, Folic acid
Protein Content (Whitefish & Potato): 7% min
- Flavor gets a wag of approval from most dogs
- Several owners reported drastic improvements in skin and coat health
- Foods in this formula line feature very simple ingredient lists
- The smell was off-putting to some owners
- A few owners complained that these cans are hard to open
9. Zignature Limited Ingredient Formula
About: Find exotic proteins for your pup with Zignature Limited Ingredient Formula, a top-shelf kibble featuring less common meats like venison and goat. These high-quality meats are always the top ingredient and harvested from trustworthy sources.
- Crafted by food scientists and animal nutritionists for full-body canine wellness
- Made with no chicken, potatoes, wheat, or dairy
- Feature complex carbohydrates for energy and fiber
- A made in the USA dog food with globally-sourced ingredients
Options: Available with your choice of 13(!) proteins, including the exotic guinea fowl, catfish, and kangaroo, and typical offerings, like lamb, turkey, and salmon.
Catfish, Catfish meal, Peas, Pea flour, Chickpeas...,
Sunflower oil, Flaxseed, Natural flavors, Salt, Taurine, Vitamin A acetate, Vitamin D3 supplement, Vitamin E supplement, Niacin supplement, D‐calcium pantothenate, Thiamine mononitrate, Pyridoxine hydrochloride, Riboflavin supplement, Folic acid, Vitamin B12 supplement, Calcium carbonate, Choline chloride, Tricalcium phosphate, Zinc proteinate, Iron proteinate, Copper proteinate, Manganese proteinate, Sodium selenite Calcium iodate, Potassium chloride, Mixed preserved tocopherols, L-carnitine
Protein Content (Catfish): 32%
- In addition to featuring a single protein, these foods leave out common triggers (such as eggs)
- There are plenty of protein options available, including exotic meats
- Most dogs appear to love these recipes
- The lack of grain-inclusive recipes is unfortunate
- These are relatively expensive kibbles
You may have noticed that many single-ingredient dog foods are grain-free.
This can be great for dogs who have bona fide grain intolerances, but those are pretty rare. Most dogs digest grains perfectly well.
Additionally, the FDA has found a correlation between grain-free dog foods and a health condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). Causation has not yet been established, so we really don’t know much about this connection yet, but it’s worth factoring this info into your dog-food purchasing decisions.
In the meantime, we encourage you to discuss your pet’s diet with your vet and stick to grain-inclusive foods whenever possible.
Dog Food Allergy & Single-Protein Dog Food FAQ
Food allergies can be a bit of a complicated issue, and many owners have questions about them and the need for single-protein dog foods. We’ll try to help below by answering some of the most common questions about the best single-protein dog foods and related subjects.
What are some of the symptoms of food allergies in dogs?
Like us humans, dogs can suffer from food allergies — they’re essentially overreactions of the immune system to typically harmless proteins.
However, dogs typically experience different kinds of symptoms than humans. Humans, for example, often experience gastrointestinal issues after eating problematic foods, while dogs usually suffer (though not always) suffer skin and coat problems after consuming allergic triggers.
Signs of food allergies in dogs are:
– Skin rash or redness around the belly, thighs, or feet
– Excessive foot chewing/licking
– Eye discharge
– Red/itchy ears or ear infections
Less commonly reported signs of food allergies in dogs include:
– Breathing difficulty
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, report them to your vet. For severe reactions (such as those involving your dog’s breathing or facial swelling), just head to the pet emergency room.
What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?
Unlike food allergies, food intolerances do not involve an immune response. Instead, they’re just examples of a dog’s individual system being unable to properly digest a given protein(s).
That isn’t to say that food intolerance isn’t a big deal, however. Your dog still isn’t feeling his best when he eats something that doesn’t agree with his tummy.
While a food intolerance doesn’t trigger an immune reaction, it does feature some not-so-fun symptoms like:
Food intolerances may not be as severe as food allergies, but they’re still important to note, especially if you plan on boarding your dog anywhere in the future. It’s a good idea to mention them to your vet as well.
What are some of the most common food allergies in dogs?
In humans, food allergies to things like shellfish and nuts are pretty common. However, dogs are more likely to be allergic to other proteins.
Some of the most common food allergies in dogs are:
Avoiding these ingredients is getting easier thanks to the rise in limited-ingredient diets and single-protein dog foods (like those discussed above).
However, you should always triple-check ingredient lists to be sure no trigger items are used. Remember to stay up-to-date on your chosen manufacturer’s recipes, too, as they can change over time.
Do I need to take my dog to the vet for a food allergy?
Severe reactions involving things like facial swelling or breathing difficulties require an immediate trip to the vet, but minor food allergy symptoms — such as itchy skin — don’t require an immediate visit.
That said, it’s always best to notify your vet of any new sensitivities or allergies. Your vet can confirm if a reaction is allergic in nature or diagnose if it’s something else entirely.
Once an allergic reaction is confirmed, your vet will likely start your pup on an elimination diet to identify the problem ingredient. This can take a while, especially if your dog has several sensitivities.
In the meantime, single-protein food options can help you steer clear of known problem proteins (or try them out one by one to root out the issue.)
Can dogs be allergic to fruits and vegetables?
Proteins are the molecules in a given food that causes an allergic reaction, but that doesn’t mean meats are the only types of foods that can cause problems.
In actuality, produce — including the best fruits and vegetables for dogs — contain proteins, which can cause allergic reactions in some cases.
Nevertheless, these types of food allergies are less common than those caused by animal-based sources.
Have you tried any of the best single-protein dog foods we listed with your floof? Is there another that your dog enjoys? Help a fur friend out and share your picks for the best single-protein dog foods the comments!