The classical treatments for dogs with atopic dermatitis have traditionally been oral antipruritic drugs, allergen-specific immunotherapy and topical therapy. Fifty dogs with atopic dermatitis were included in this multicentred, double-blinded, randomized study to compare clinical response to an 8-week period of feeding one of three commercial veterinary foods marketed for dogs with atopic dermatitis (diets A–C) or a widely distributed supermarket food (diet D). Atopic dermatitis was diagnosed using Willemse's criteria and through the exclusion of differential diagnoses. Fourteen dogs were assigned to diet A and 12 dogs each to diet B, C or D. Flea and tick control using a monthly fipronil spot-on product was administered for a minimum of 4 weeks prior to inclusion in the study and during the study period. Evaluations were made monthly. These included lesion scores, using an established scoring system (canine atopic dermatitis extent and severity index, CADESI-03) and owner evaluation of pruritus level using a visual analogue scale. After 8 weeks on the new diets, there was a significant improvement in CADESI and pruritus scores with diet B (Wilcoxon test, P = 0.043 and paired t-test, P = 0.012, respectively), in pruritus scores with diet A (paired t-test, P = 0.019) and in CADESI scores with diet D (Wilcoxon test, P = 0.037). No significant changes were detected with diet C. Based on the results of this study, in addition to the conventional therapies, changing the diet of dogs with atopic dermatitis may be a useful adjunctive therapeutic measure.