Having a dog with allergies can be incredibly frustrating for a dog owner, especially since the cause of the allergic reaction can often be very difficult to properly diagnose.
But if you notice common dog allergy symptoms such as constant itching and scratching on top of a poor coat quality and chronic canine ear infections, it may point to a food allergy. Having a dog allergic to food means you have to be extra cautious with what you feed him. Sometimes, the food you are feeding him can be causing these uncomfortable side effects. While this doesn’t make you the bad guy, it does mean you should pay close attention and switch your dog’s food if you suspect that allergies to his current diet may be the cause.
When Do Food Allergies Occur
So how is your dog allergic to dog food anyway? A food allergy in dogs is an over-response in your pup’s immune system to an invading protein. When your dog has a food allergy, he is allergic to the specific protein found in certain and sometimes many foods.
Normally, when your dog eats a meal, he digests the food in the stomach. Large pieces of food are broken down in the stomach and then move into the small intestine where it is further digested until the proteins are broken down into amino acids. These amino acids are then absorbed into the dog’s body. When a dog has an allergy to a protein, it is absorbed in the intestines instead of first being broken down. The dog’s immune system will then react, which is when your dog shows signs of a food allergy.
What are the Common Signs & Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs?
The signs and symptoms of food allergies in dogs can vary widely from dog to dog, but most often can be identified first by non-seasonal itching. This itching is often focused on the dog’s ears and feet, however, this does not necessarily indicate a food allergy and can still be triggered by another allergy or health condition.
The symptoms of a food allergy in dogs may seem to appear out of nowhere. These symptoms may include:
- Chronic ear inflammation and infection
- Excessive itching
- Paw biting
- Reduced quality to your dog’s coat
- Obsessive licking
- Skin rash or infection
- Chronic diarrhea and gas
If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, you should bring him in to see your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine if these symptoms are because of a food allergy. If your dog does indeed have a food allergy, continuing to feed him the food can cause further harm, and even be life-threatening if he continues to eat this problem food. That’s because the more a dog is exposed to the protein he is allergic to, the more severe the reaction he will have.
What Causes Food Allergies in Dogs?
Dog allergies are most often triggered by proteins found in foods. These proteins can be found in both animal or plant-based foods that are common to dog diets. When a dog has an allergy, these proteins are misidentified as a threat by the dog’s body. The development of an allergy will take some time, meaning the dog may eat the problem food for quite a while before any symptoms become noticeable.
Identifying your dog’s problem foods can be a difficult endeavor, especially since a dog can be allergic to pretty much any food ingredient. However, there are certain foods that are known to be more likely to cause an allergic reaction than others. These more common problem foods include:
When a dog is allergic to one ingredient, it is likely that he is allergic to other proteins as well. To find out which foods are the problem, your veterinarian will likely have to put your dog on an elimination diet, which will be followed by a food challenge. During this elimination diet, you will feed your dog only one or two foods at a time, and see whether or not your dog has a reaction to the foods.
You will gradually add more items and ingredients until your dog has an allergic reaction. In this way, you will identify which foods your dog is allergic to and then be able to eliminate them from your dog’s diet.
Sometimes, your dog will have an allergic reaction no matter what combination of food you give. In these cases, your dog is likely allergic to something else in the environment, such as pollen, a specific fabric, dander, or even a medication.
While having a dog with a food allergy can be frustrating, there are much more food options available than there were just a few years ago. Once you identify the problem food or foods, you can remove them from your dog’s diet and start him on new foods that will keep him healthy and happy. However, make sure you have made a proper diagnosis in order to get there.
How are Food Allergies in Dogs Diagnosed?
The only way to reliably diagnose a food allergy in your dog is through a food trial using a hypoallergenic dog food. You can do this by using a novel protein source or a hydrolyzed protein.
Novel protein sources are those that will be completely new to the dog, which has a lower chance of triggering an immune response. Since plants also contain protein, this diet should also contain a single, novel source of carbohydrates. These hypoallergenic dog foods may include combinations like venison and potato, salmon and potato, duck and pea, or even a protein like kangaroo. One note here: lamb is in so many dog foods that it is no longer considered to be a novel protein.
A hydrolyzed diet is made when these animal proteins are not recognized in the body as allergens. A starch, such as potatoes, or rice will typically be used as the carbohydrate since they are very infrequently associated with an allergic reaction.
During this testing period, the food combo should be given to your dog for a minimum of eight to 10 weeks. This gives proper time to adequately t