Plenty of people suffer from some kind of food allergy or food sensitivity, with symptoms ranging from minor to life threatening. Dogs are no different. In fact, dogs have actually been used as an animal model for studying human food allergies. They can get food allergies similar to the allergies that humans get.
In most cases, a dog’s food allergy is caused by a particular food ingredient, usually either a type of meat or a type of grain. In some cases, dogs are even allergic to eggs.
One of the biggest problems with canine food allergies is that the reaction they experience can get worse over time. Although the food allergy can start with symptoms that are irritating but not dangerous, their allergic reaction could eventually become life-threatening.
For this reason, it’s important to take your dog to the vet if you suspect that they might be allergic to something in their food. They can do some tests and find out what exactly your dog is allergic to. Both wet and dry dog foods can contain various combinations of red meat, poultry meat, meat byproducts, grains, soybeans, egg, and other ingredients. If you determine exactly what’s causing the allergic reaction, you can make sure you avoid letting your dog consume food that contains that ingredient.
A Quick Word about Food Allergies Versus Food Intolerance
A food allergy isn’t the exact same thing as a food intolerance. Food allergies are characterized by a genuine allergic reaction, which happens because your dog’s immune system is hypersensitive to a protein contained in a particular food. The body’s immune cells produce immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies when they encounter that protein, even though it’s actually harmless. These IgE antibodies bind to a receptor on the protein’s surface, essentially treating it as if it were a virus or a parasitic microbe.
This sets off a series of immune system events that involve the release of histamine and other inflammatory compounds, causing itchiness, rashes, runny noses, and in severe cases, difficulty breathing and even anaphylaxis.
A food intolerance is a separate condition, and like food allergies, it can occur in dogs as well as in humans. Unlike allergies, food intolerances are not an immune reaction. They are usually caused by malabsorption of certain nutrients, or by the lack of certain enzymes needed to break down certain chemicals in food.
Food intolerances are far less acute and obvious than food allergies, and they’re also less dangerous. They can cause hives, respiratory symptoms, or gastrointestinal problems. Usually, the onset of the symptoms will be around half an hour to an hour after your dog eats the food, but in some cases, the onset can be delayed by as much as 48 hours.
What Are The Signs of Food Allergies in Dogs?
If your dog suffers from a food allergy or a food intolerance, they’ll show certain symptoms after ingesting any food that contains the offending substance.
With canine food allergies, there are a variety of possible symptoms that they can show, including:
- Skin infections that respond to treatment with antibiotics, but come back after the antibiotics are discontinued.
- Excessive scratching
- Hot spots on their skin
- Hair loss
- Dry or rough skin
- Flaky skin
- Chronic or recurrent ear infections
- Unusual lethargy and low energy levels
- More bowel movements per day than usual
The itchy areas of skin can be near their anus, around their face and ears, or around their feet, forelegs, or armpits. Foods aren’t the only thing that dogs can be allergic too, and it can initially be difficult to figure out if it’s a food allergy, or if they’re allergic to something else entirely.
Some of the clues that it’s a food allergy, not another kind of allergy, can include:
Recurring ear problems, especially yeast infections in the ears.
Moderate to severe skin problems in a very young dog.
Suffering from allergy symptoms year round, or an onset of the symptoms during the winter.
Itchy skin that doesn’t respond to treatment with steroids.
Your vet will need to rule out other possible causes of the allergic reaction, like fleas or internal parasites.
Are Some Breeds More Prone to Food Allergies?
Some dog breeds are, in fact, more prone to having food allergies than others. Normally, selective breeding of purebred dogs is done in a way that helps minimize these kinds of predispositions. Unfortunately, there are irresponsible breeders out there who breed these dogs anyway. Although food allergies are “learned” by a dog’s immune system, there are epigenetic factors at play that can cause them to be inherited by the dog’s descendents.
Some of the breeds that are the most likely to have food allergies, as well as allergies to things like pollen, include:
- American Hairless Terriers
- American Pit Bull Terriers
- Bichon Frises
- Bohemian Terriers
- Brussels Griffons
- Bull Terriers
- Chinese Crested Dogs
- English Bulldogs
- English Cocker Spaniels
- German Shepherds
- Irish Setters
- Lhasa Apsos
- Maltese Dogs
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Pekingese Dogs
- Shih Tzus
- Wire-Haired Fox Terriers
What Kinds of Foods Can Dogs Be Allergic To?
Dogs can be allergic to a wide variety of ingredients that may be present in store-bought dog food. Some of the foods that are most likely to cause allergic reactions in dogs include:
In many dogs, more than one food allergy is present. They could very well be allergic to more than one ingredient that’s present in dog food.
How Can I Find Out Exactly What’s Triggering My Dog’s Allergy?
If your veterinarian has ruled out non-food causes of your dog’s allergies, they’ll do an elimination test to pinpoint which food or foods your dog is actually allergic to. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that blood tests are effective for diagnosing food allergies, so this is the best way to figure out what’s causing the problem.
Your vet will use an elimination diet, followed by food challenges. First, your dog will be put on a diet consisting of one protein source and one source of carbohydrates. An example would be ground turkey and sweet potatoes, or chicken and potatoes. Usually, you’ll need to prepare the food for them yourself at home. During this period, you’ll need to avoid giving them treats, rawhides, flavored medications, and even plastic toys that are flavored.
Once it’s been established that your dog is not allergic to either of these two foods, more foods will be added in one by one. Eventually, something will trigger an allergic reaction, revealing what your dog is allergic to.
Once you know what the allergen is, you can make sure you feed your dog food that doesn’t contain it.
Can I Find Hypoallergenic Dog Food for My Dog?
If your dog has a food allergy or food intolerance, it doesn’t mean you need to painstakingly prepare all of their food from scratch. There are dog food brands who provide hypoallergenic dog food, designed for dogs with certain food allergies. Your veterinarian may even prescribe your dog a special type of hypoallergenic food. Some of the available brands include Hill’s Prescription Diet, Purina Pro Veterinary Diets, and Royal Canin Veterinary Diets Selected Protein.
If You Think Your Dog Might Have a Food Allergy, Talk To Your Vet
If you suspect your dog might have a food allergy, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. Using an elimination diet, they can help you pinpoint exactly what your dog is allergic to, so that you can avoid that ingredient and keep your dog happy, healthy, and allergy-free.