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Your dog is allergic to their food. Now what?

Approx. 6 minutes read

Whether you’ve noticed your growing puppy is starting to itch or your generally healthy dog is exhibiting some symptoms of allergies, dog food allergies can sneak up on your furry friend at any time during their life. It’s true that some dog breeds are more susceptible to food allergies than others (be on the lookout if you have a Labrador, cocker spaniel, Westie or Irish setter… #justsaying), but usually it’s more about the individual dog than the breed in general.

Dog food allergies are tricky and can cause lifelong issues for your poor pup. However, once you’ve figured out what exactly your dog is allergic to, managing their food allergy is simply a case of sticking to a feeding regimen and giving them extra love and attention… just for being them.

Why do dogs get food allergies?

Allergies in dogs work in the same way that allergies in humans do. An allergen – in this case, a certain protein in beef, chicken, eggs, wheat and other ingredients – triggers your dog’s immune system, which reacts with one or a few ‘emergency’ responses. These reactions may include inflammation of the face, gut, respiratory system, and other parts of the body, watering eyes, swelling and itching, sneezing, and a host of other potential symptoms. These symptoms indicate an over-reaction to an innocuous protein that your dog’s immune defence sees as harmful – meaning that the protein is not problematic in and of itself, but it’s the immune system that’s faulty.

Symptoms of food allergies in dogs

The symptoms of food allergies might disrupt the impawtant growth stage during puppyhood or they may only present during adulthood. Food allergies in dogs may have a genetic component that makes them immediately allergic to certain proteins; or they may result from an intolerance slowly building up over time. (Think of how some people are born with a peanut allergy; or how some people may become lactose intolerant later in life, whereas they enjoyed all dairy during their developmental years.) This is what can make the sudden onset of symptoms in your dog’s adulthood so confusing.

Some allergic dogs will have mild symptoms, while others will have severe symptoms that erode their quality of life and need intense treatment of the symptoms as well as swiftly identifying the underlying cause.

Common food allergy symptoms in dogs can include any or all of the following:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
    • vomiting and diarrhoea
    • chronic flatulence
  • Respiratory symptoms
    • sneezing
    • wheezing
    • coughing
  • Skin issues
    • inflamed skin
    • red welts/hives
    • chronic scratching
    • hair loss
  • Other symptoms
    • poor growth in puppies
    • weight loss in adult dogs
    • chronic ear infections

Looking at these symptoms, it may be easy to assume your dog has one of the common skin allergies – as many pet allergies present with similar symptoms, especially on the skin. However, if they present with skin and gastrointestinal problems, it’s not a short jump to make to think the culprit is lurking in their dog food bowl.

For a general overview of different types of pet allergies, we expand on identifying and managing pet allergies in this article.

How food allergies in dogs are diagnosed

Once you’ve identified that your dog has a food allergy, how do you figure out what your dog is allergic to? It’s crucial that your vet is involved in your dog’s food allergy diagnosis. If the vet suspects that your dog has a food allergy, they will recommend that you perform a food trial with your furry friend. This involves eliminating certain ingredients from your dog’s diet to see whether the symptoms clear up.

A food trial doesn’t simply involve removing one ingredient at a time to try to find the offending protein. Your dog may need to go on a hypoallergenic diet for three months. If their symptoms clear up, it’s recommended that the suspected ingredients be added back into your dog’s diet one by one to see whether they trigger the allergy. This process takes time and careful observation, but if you can isolate the proteins your dog is allergic to, it makes it much simpler to treat the food allergy by avoiding those proteins altogether.

Most common food allergies in dogs

So, what are the ingredients that your dog could be allergic to? As mentioned, your dog’s immune system is over-reacting to certain proteins in the food ingredients they are eating. Dogs are most commonly allergic to things like:

  • beef
  • chicken
  • dairy
  • wheat
  • eggs
  • soy

Since many commercial dog foods contain many of these ingredients, it’s crucial for you to familiarise yourself with the ingredients in your furry friend’s dog food and then to try a hypoallergenic diet that eliminates some or all of these ingredients. However, since dogs cannot survive without protein, you’ll need to find a dog food with a protein source your poor pup can not only tolerate, but thrive on.

Feeding your dog a dog food for allergies

The million-dollar question is: What meat is best for dogs with allergies? There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dogs with food allergies, but there are some meats and proteins that are known for being less triggering in dogs with food allergies. These meats are called novel proteins because they are not typical meats that are included in dog diets. Novel proteins can include venison, fish, pork, turkey and duck.

Fish for allergic dogs

Fish is an uncommon but very healthy protein for dogs. Not only do they reap the benefits of a high-quality source of protein, but fish is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which has skin-healing properties that itchy, allergic dogs can benefit from.

Turkey and duck for allergic dogs

A popular novel protein can be found in turkey dog food for allergies. Duck is also becoming a more popular ingredient in dog foods for allergic or sensitive dogs. Both turkey and duck are nutrient dense and also packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that will surely meet your sensitive dog’s nutritional needs.

Lamb for allergic dogs

Lamb is a very popular alternative meat for sensitive and allergic dogs. It’s tasty and offers dogs a high-quality novel protein. The popularity of lamb means that you can also get a wide range of dog treats for your allergy-prone dog – just check the rest of the treat ingredients to ensure they don’t trigger your dog’s allergies.

Hydrolysed protein for allergic dogs

Some hypoallergenic diets contain hydrolysed protein, which is protein from common sources (like beef, chicken, lamb and soy) that has been broken down to such an extent that the dog’s body absorbs the amino acids without their immune system being triggered by the proteins. Hydrolysed protein diets are recommended for dogs with very sensitive tummies, especially during food trials.  

Can dogs ‘outgrow’ their food allergies?

Unfurtunately there is no magic pill or cure for dog food allergies. If your pup is allergic to an ingredient in their food, you can’t keep feeding them the same food and expect their body to ‘get over it’. Their allergy symptoms are an immune response that, when repeatedly triggered, can cause the symptoms to get worse and also put your dog at risk of other health problems (like secondary infection and malnutrition). Diagnosing and managing your dog’s allergy is the most effective way to ensure they live a long and healthy life.

Managing a dog food allergy means not only feeding your dog a hypoallergenic diet or an exclusion diet. It also means ensuring you restrict all exposure to human snacks – ensuring friends and family members don’t sneak table scraps or treats to your dog when you’re not looking. Have hypoallergenic treats available to give your dog during training or to positively reinforce desirable behaviours.

Dog food for skin allergies

Food allergies and skin allergies present in a very similar manner on dogs. If your dog’s skin allergy is caused by exposure to an environmental allergen, or if your pup is reacting to a food protein his body disagrees with, the symptoms may be the same: red, inflamed skin, hives and itchiness. It’s impawtant to work with your dog’s veterinarian to isolate the cause of the type of allergy your dog has before following a food regimen to help your dog back to good health.

Read more about the different types of skin allergies in dogs and what causes them. When the cause has been isolated, you can also feed your dog a dog food for skin allergies – one that targets the skin symptoms and can soothe dry, itchy, inflamed skin.

It’s not always easy or simple to care for a dog who is prone to allergies, especially when food and skin allergies can so negatively affect their health. Nobody said being a pet hero is easy, but you’re doing great by advocating for your pup and searching for the best solutions for their health issues. We hope your vet gives you a big high five and wish you luck with your dog’s journey back to full health!

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