Many dog owners don’t realize that it is just as possible for a dog to develop a food allergy as for a human to do the same. In reality, dogs can develop an allergy to any ingredient in dog food, especially with frequent exposure.
Dog food allergies are not always easy to identify because they don’t always present with obvious digestive symptoms – sometimes they manifest in more subtle ways.
As a responsible dog owner, it is a good idea to learn the basics about food allergies in dogs so you know what to look for and how to deal with the problem, should it arise.
In This Article...
- How Common Are Food Allergies in Dogs?
- What exactly is a food allergy?
- Which dog breeds are most susceptible to food allergies?
- What are the most common food allergies in dogs?
- What are the signs of a dog food allergy?
- How to Identify and Treat Dog Food Allergies
- Tips for Choosing a Limited Ingredient Diet
- So, how do you identify a good Limited Ingredient Diet?
- In Conclusion
How Common Are Food Allergies in Dogs?
Dogs can develop an allergy to anything from dust, mold, and cigarette smoke to feathers, fleas, and food. Flea bite allergies and inhalant allergies are the top two causes for allergic reactions in dog – food allergies are in third place, accounting for about 10% of all allergies in dogs.
In terms of allergy-related symptoms, food allergies are responsible for about 35% of cases involving itching and scratching. Dogs can also develop and intolerance or sensitivity to a particularly ingredient without it progressing to a full-blown allergy.
Though you may already know a little bit about allergies, many dog owners don’t truly understand what is happening in a dog’s body when he develops an allergic reaction.
What exactly is a food allergy?
An allergic reaction is an immune response in which the body recognizes the allergen as a foreign invader and starts producing antibodies to attack it. Unfortunately, that immune response sometimes gets out of hand and can cause damage to the dog’s digestive tract in the process.
Exactly how this response occurs in dogs is still not completely understood but veterinarians and pet experts have come to understand the signs of food allergies in dogs and the best ways to treat them.
Which dog breeds are most susceptible to food allergies?
Any dog can develop a food allergy, but certain breeds tend to be more prone to food allergies – these may include the following:
- Cocker Spaniels
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Shar Pei
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers
- Springer Spaniels
- West Highland White Terriers
What are the most common food allergies in dogs?
Not only can any dog develop a food allergy, but dogs can develop allergies to any food ingredient.
Some of the most common ingredients that cause allergic reactions in dogs include wheat, dairy and beef while some of the least common ingredients are fish, rabbit, and less common meats.
Other food allergies that tend to be seen regularly include common proteins like chicken, lamb, and eggs as well as other ingredients like soy, corn, and other grains.
What are the signs of a dog food allergy?
The symptoms of allergies in dogs tend to overlap, to some degree, for contact and inhalant allergies as well as food allergies. Some general symptoms of allergies in dogs include the following:
- Red and itchy skin
- Moist or scabbed skin
- Frequent scratching
- Runny, itchy eyes
- Itchy skin at the base of the tail
- Red, itchy ears
- Chewing or licking the paws
- Patches of hair loss
- Crusty areas of skin
In some cases, a dog will develop gastrointestinal symptoms related to food allergies such as diarrhea or vomiting. More often, however, food allergies in dogs present with skin-related symptoms.
Many dogs with food allergies will develop red, itchy, and inflamed skin. In response to the itching, dogs will sometimes constantly scratch or lick their skin and paws. Over time, this can lead to hot spots or patches of hair loss.
Any allergy can cause skin-related symptoms, but one of the tell-tale signs that the allergy is food-related is if the dog develops recurrent ear infections or yeast infections.
It may also be evidence of a food allergy if your dog is treated for infection with antibiotics but the infection recurs after you stop the antibiotic treatment.
How to Identify and Treat Dog Food Allergies
Though it can sometimes be tricky to isolate an allergy in dogs, the process of diagnosing a food allergy is pretty straightforward. In most cases, it is simply a matter of elimination.
Flea allergies, intestinal parasite infections, yeast infections, bacterial infections, and sarcoptic mange can all present with symptoms similar to food allergies. Once your veterinarian is able to rule out any of these causes for your dog’s symptoms, it should be fairly clear that a food allergy is to blame.
Blood tests are generally not helpful in diagnosing food allergies, nor are any other laboratory tests. The primary method for identifying a food allergy for dogs is a food trial that involves using an elimination diet.
A food trial usually involves feeding your dog a food that is made with a novel source of protein and carbohydrate for a period of at least 12 weeks or until all signs of the food allergy disappear.
A novel food is simply something your dog has never eaten before. During the 12-week feeding trial, you should avoid feeding your dog the following foods:
- Pig ears
- Cow hooves
- Flavored plastic toys
- Flavored medications
These products can contain food allergens, even if they aren’t listed on the label, so you need to be careful. If you want to give your dog a treat, find one that is made with same ingredients as your dog’s elimination diet. You should also avoid giving your dog table scraps during the 12-week food trial.
At the end of the 12 weeks you can choose to keep feeding your dog the elimination diet if you are happy with the results or you can try to identify the specific allergen by re-introducing common allergens one at a time to see how your dog responds.
Once you’ve identified the allergen, all you have to do is feed your dog a pet food that is free from that ingredient.
Tips for Choosing a Limited Ingredient Diet
When it comes time to choose an elimination diet for your dog, your best bet is to find a high-quality Limited Ingredient Diet (LID) dog food.
A Limited Ingredient Diet is exactly what it sounds like – a product made with a limited number of main ingredients. By limiting the number of primary ingredients in any given pet food product you can reduce the risk for triggering food allergies.
These products also tend to be made with novel proteins and carbohydrates, another important quality for your dog’s elimination diet. As is true for any pet food product, however, there are examples of both high-quality and poor-quality products on pet store shelves so you need to take the time to evaluate the quality of any specific product before you buy it.
So, how do you identify a good Limited Ingredient Diet?
The same way you would determine the quality of any other pet food product.
Start by checking for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy – this will tell you whether or not the product is considered “complete and balanced” in terms of your dog’s minimum nutritional needs.
Next, take a look at the guaranteed analysis to see how much protein, fat, and fiber is in the product. You want to protein content to be as high as possible (minimum 18%) and the fat to be moderate (minimum 5%) with no more than 5% crude fiber.
Finally, check the ingredients list to ensure that a high-quality source of animal protein is listed first and complemented by digestible carbohydrates, healthy fats, and other beneficial ingredients.
Whether you are trying to help your dog recover from a food allergy or you are looking for a product that doesn’t contain his allergen, a limited ingredient diet might be the way to go.
Keep in mind that you still need to take the time to evaluate the quality of any pet food product you purchase, even if it is marketed as an LID.