Dog Food Allergies: The Common Signs and Solutions

Dog Food Allergies: The Common Signs and Solutions


Itching, sneezing, red eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea — does your dog have dog food allergies? How can you find out for sure? And what can you do about it?

Don't worry. This guide has all the answers you need to know about canine food allergies.

We'll teach you the signs of dog food allergies to watch out for and what to do next. Learn all about it right here.

Dog Food Allergies vs Intolerances

First of all, not every food or ingredient that causes symptoms in your dog counts as an allergy. Many times, an adverse reaction can be caused by a dog food intolerance.

What's the difference? It has to do with whether or not there's an immune response to the food.

A dog food intolerance is when a certain food isn't processed or digested correctly or just doesn't agree with your dog's digestive system. This is what is often happening when a dog experiences lactose intolerance.

But with true food allergies, your dog's immune system is actually attacking one or more specific ingredients in the food. This response triggers the release of chemicals such as histamines within your dog's body, resulting in allergic symptoms, including itching.

True food allergies are far less common in dogs than food intolerances. Most of the time, what owners think is a food allergy is actually food intolerance. Based on current research, it's estimated that only 10-20% of all allergies in dogs are from food.

Dog Food Allergy Symptoms

Now, let's take a look at the signs of dog food allergies to watch out for in your furry best friend. But first, know that when it comes to symptoms, no two cases of dog food allergies are exactly the same. Your dog may experience any combination of the symptoms listed below.

Most Common External Symptoms

The most common signs of a dog food allergy are the same as you'd expect from humans with food allergies. However, these symptoms don't rule out the possibility that your dog is allergic to something besides food. We'll go over how to find out for sure further down the list.

Excessive Itching  

First, there's excessive itching. If your dog is itching a lot and doesn't have fleas or other parasites, your dog may have food allergies. Dogs with food allergies also tend to itch year-round, regardless of the season. Dogs with the most common allergy, atopy, typically only itch during seasons when grasses and pollens are highest. 

The most common spots to see your dog itching at an allergic reaction are their ears, paws, stomach, and rump.

Hives

Besides the itching, you may occasionally see the histamine-induced skin irritation causing the itching known as hives. Hives are lots of little, red, itchy bumps spread over your dog's skin.

They show up anywhere from 6 to 24 hours of ingesting or coming into contact with the affecting allergen. Unless your dog is a short hair, you may have to part his fur to see them.

Side-Effects of Allergic Itching and Hives

With either of these symptoms, there are complications you have to watch out for. Namely, your dog can scratch the affected areas so much that they damage the skin, create patches of hair loss, and even cause infections. 

If a dog scratches or chews their skin excessively, they may open up the skin—and then keep scratching some more. The bacteria in their environment, claws, or teeth may get into the open sores and cause an infection. Bacterial skin infections are often treated with antibiotics, so be sure to visit your veterinarian as soon as any severe itching and scratching begin. 

Swelling

The histamines released in your dog's body during an allergic reaction may also cause swelling in certain areas. The most common are your dog's eyelids, earflaps, and lips.

Other Common Symptoms

Other common symptoms of dog food allergies include:

  • Rashes
  • Hot spots
  • Changes in pigmentation
  • Oily skin
  • Dry and/or scaly skin
  • Leathery-appearance of skin areas

Additionally, a dog suffering from food allergies may experience hayfever-like symptoms. These include sneezing, red eyes, and extra mucous discharge from the eyes.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

A smaller percentage of canines experience gastrointestinal symptoms as a result of an allergic reaction. These symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort

If these happen only once in a while, they're most likely not from food allergies. But if these are chronic conditions, food allergies could be the cause.

Emotional or Behavioral Symptoms

More rarely, emotional and/or behavioral changes may also occur due to your dog's food allergies. These include:

  • Frequently scratching or shaking their ears
  • Excessive biting of paws, rump, or tail
  • Frequent rubbing against furniture and other objects to itch
  • General restlessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Loss of interest in food or refusal to eat

These behavioral changes are usually a response to the chronic pain and discomfort food allergies cause secondary to their other symptoms. 

Less Common Symptoms of Food Allergies

Even more rare symptoms include

  • Respiratory problems
  • Nasal mucous discharge
  • Seizures
  • Weight loss

Weight loss can accompany your dog's vomiting, diarrhea, or refusal to eat. If your dog exhibits any of these signs, see your veterinarian immediately.

Long-Term Symptoms

Your dog may have had food allergies for so long that you never noticed the symptoms or simply became accustomed to them as “normal;” for your pet. Or, perhaps the dog was already in his later years when you adopted him and you didn’t realize the symptoms were abnormal.

Either way, here are some symptoms to look for in a dog that may have had food allergies for many years. These are also many of the long-term symptoms your dog can develop if you don't get their dog food allergies treated promptly.

First of all, any symptoms an allergic dog is already displaying will most likely get worse unless addressed by your veterinarian. 

Obviously, the most prominent and serious symptom will be a severely reduced quality of life. Being uncomfortable and itchy all the time is more likely to cause the emotional symptoms listed above, and definitely reduces your dog’s enjoyment of life. Many dogs suffering from chronic allergies feel terrible and eventually stop playing or interacting with their family or other pets. 

Signs Your Dog Has a Food Allergy and Not an Environmental Allergy

Allergy symptoms can be the same whether it's caused by food or environmental allergens like fleas. Here are some signs that your dog's allergic reaction is more likely to be from food and not from other external factors.

The first factor is the age of the dog. Puppies less than one-year-old are almost never allergic to environmental factors. But they may still experience food allergies.

Also, environmental allergies (atopy) are often seasonal. If the dog's allergies happen all the time or don't follow a seasonal pattern, they are more likely to be a food allergy.

Insect-bite allergies to fleas, ticks, and other biting insects are also worse during warmer weather. You’ll often see evidence of flea or tick bites. All dogs should be on a year-round parasite preventive that protects them from heartworms, fleas, and ticks.  

If the dog is experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms and skin symptoms at the same time, it's more likely a food allergy than an environmental one, although it could be both. Lastly, most environmental allergy flareups subside with corticosteroid treatments while food allergy flareups do not respond as well.

dog laying on the ground from dog food allergies

Common Causes of Dog Food Allergies

You might not know it, but the most common food dogs are allergic to are animal proteins. These include:

  • Beef
  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Pork

Though far less common, there are certain grains and other plant-based dog food ingredients that may cause a reaction in some dogs. These are:

  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Rice

As you can see, it's much more likely that a dog will be allergic to animal proteins than anything else in their food. 

What about "Allergy-free Dog Food?" 

That last point is why it's questionable to see any meat-based dog foods that claim to be "allergy-free." The truth is that animal meats are the main cause of food allergies in dogs. This leads meat-based dog food companies to kill exotic and unusual animals in an attempt to find an animal protein a dog isn’t allergic to. Kangaroos, deer, rabbits, and ducks are commonly killed for these “novel protein diets.”   

Since animal meat ingredients are the number one ingredient category dogs are allergic to, feeding an animal meat-free dog food is the best dietary approach for canine food allergies. The research is clear: A meat-free diet is the most likely way to treat or reduce the risk of food allergies in dogs.

What to Do About Food Allergies in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing severe allergy symptoms like seizures or respiratory issues, you should take them to an emergency veterinary clinic immediately. Otherwise, follow these solutions for food allergies in dogs

Take Your Dog to the Veterinarian

The best way to be sure about whether or not your dog has food allergies is to take him to the vet. There are many ways veterinarians can diagnose food allergies, although be prepared that a thorough and accurate diagnosis may take up to a few weeks. Once you have a definitive diagnosis, you can begin helping relieve your dog’s suffering for the rest of its life. 

Your veterinarian can also help rule out other causes for your dog’s itching, such as food intolerances, seasonal allergies, or insect-bite reactions. Furthermore, the vet will give you additional steps to follow and may prescribe medication for your dog's allergy symptoms.

Elimination Diet

Following an allergy panel test by your vet, you can continue eliminating allergens from your dog's diet at home. For 8 to 12 weeks at a time, you will feed your dog an “exclusion diet” that doesn’t contain the most common animal meats. This is why starting with meat-free dog food for a food elimination trial makes the most sense. 

Beat Canine Food Allergies With These Tips

If you suspect your dog has dog food allergies, try following the advice in this guide. Watch for any signs of food allergies, follow the steps, and you can help your furry best friend live a longer, happier life!



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