Let’s Talk About Food Allergies in Dogs

Pet Health

Dr. Claire Stevens

It can be really tough watching your poor pooch scratch away in discomfort, without knowing what's causing it. As a pet owner, knowledge is everything when it comes to ensuring your dog has a healthy and happy life. So today I want to talk about food allergies in dogs - what causes them, what to look out for and how to treat them. They could just be the cause of all that itching!  

What Causes Food Allergies in Dogs? 

A food allergy is when a dog’s immune system has a response to one or more of the ingredients in their diet. What’s happening is the immune system mistakenly starts to regard an ingredient as harmful, and produces antibodies to combat it. This results in the symptoms developing to indicate the allergy. (More on the symptoms below!) 

The offending ingredients are normally proteins or complex carbohydrates, which obviously are found in different forms in all pet foods. The allergy can develop over time, especially if your doggo is eating the same brand or type of food for prolonged periods. An allergy can kick in at any time during a dog’s life, but generally most appear before they turn one. So if you’ve made it through the first year, you’re in the clear… almost!  

What are the Symptoms of Food Allergies? 

The symptoms of a food allergy can manifest in different ways, from itchy skin on one end of the scale to full on anaphylactic shock at the other end. Obviously neither of these is ideal in your pet, so you want to keep an eye on anything out of the ordinary and discuss it with your vet at the earliest opportunity.  

Things to look out for include: 

- Itchy Skin: Intense itching on their skin, paws, ears, and other body parts can lead to excessive scratching, licking, and chewing.  

- Rashes or red, sore skin can appear.  

- Itchy or running eyes.  

- Swelling around the face. 

- Itchy and infected ears. 

- Digestive issues such as diarrhea and flatulence.  

- Hyperactivity. 

- Weight Loss. 

- Out-of-character aggression.  

How to Diagnose a Food Allergy 

The above symptoms could also relate to a number of other conditions, so it's important you chat to your vet about them so you can nail down a treatment plan as soon as possible. Your vet is likely to rule out any other likely causes for the stomach and skin issues first, as well as getting rid of parasites like fleas.  

Then, it’s down to allergy testing to try and determine the ingredient causing the reaction. This normally takes the shape of a food trial, which is a special diet your vet will design. Also called an ‘elimination trial,’ it’s a hypoallergenic diet made up of ingredients not present in your dog's usual food.  

If the symptoms go away during the 8-12 weeks of the trial, then an allergy is most likely present… and if the symptoms return after returning to the old diet, the allergy is confirmed! To identify the exact ingredient causing the allergy, suspected food ingredients are gradually reintroduced to identify which ones are causing the allergic response. 

Treating the Food Allergy 

Ok, so you’ve identified the culprit causing the allergic reactions. How do you treat it? It’s all about permanently changing your dog's diet so they’re not ingesting the allergen anymore. Your vet can prescribe a hypoallergenic diet, similar to the elimination trial, for their future.  

Over time, you can try reintroducing foodstuffs gradually and gauge any reactions that occur. No reactions means the ingredients are safe to include in their diet. This can help with giving your pet some variety in what they eat!  

What’s the Outlook for Food Allergies?  

With your vet's help, they’ll get as much happiness out of life as they would without any allergies, and they’ll bring you just as much happiness too!  

While there isn’t any cure for food allergies, your dog can still live a normal life on a hypoallergenic diet that doesn’t contain the allergen. You will still want to be on the lookout for other allergy symptoms rearing their heads, as dogs can go on to develop other allergies. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about your pooch’s health, head on down to your local vet and have a chat. They’ll definitely be able to guide you in the right direction!  


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