The Impact of Food Allergies on Your Dog’s Health: How to Identify and Treat Them

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The Can Dogs Eat It Team

The Impact of Food Allergies on Your Dog’s Health: How to Identify and Treat Them
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joana garridoReviewed By Joana Garrido DVM

Contrary to common belief, true food allergy is a relatively rare health problem in dogs. According to research, it only accounts for 10 to 20% of all skin issues reported by pawparents.

However, it is easily mistaken for other canine ailments such as food sensitivities due to the close similarity of their symptoms. Accurately diagnosing a food allergy and identifying the main culprit of its symptoms can be tricky to do on your own.

In this article, you will learn about the most common food allergens in dogs and the most effective ways to diagnose and treat food allergies.

What Is Food Allergy in Dogs?

Food allergy in dogs is a medical condition that occurs when their immune system mistakenly identifies a certain type of protein in the as a threat.

To protect the body, the immune system then produces antibodies, which attack the substance in the food it deemed dangerous. As a result, an allergic reaction is triggered.

In many cases, the severity of this health issue is often mild and only causes slight to moderate adverse effects. However, on rare occasions, food allergies in dogs can set off serious and life-threatening symptoms.

Food Intolerance vs. Food Allergy

Many dog owners often confuse food intolerance or sensitivity with food allergy. While both conditions are somewhat similar, they are not the same.

To put it simply, food allergy in dogs involves an immune response, and it can be potentially fatal if the allergic reaction is severe.

On the other hand, food sensitivity has nothing to do with the immune system but with the digestive tract. It is caused by the stomach’s inability to properly break down certain compounds in the food.

For instance, dogs with lactose intolerance have a hard time digesting lactose in dairy products. This results in gastrointestinal distress, which is an adverse reaction that is also a symptom of food allergies.

Dog Breeds Prone to Food Allergies

a beagle eating food

According to a study, 33% of dogs involved in the research developed symptoms of food allergy when they were under 1 year old.

Other researchers also found that certain dog breeds are more likely to develop food allergies than others, including:

  • Boxers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Collies
  • Dachshunds
  • Dalmatians
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Miniature schnauzers
  • Poodles
  • Shar-peis
  • Soft-coated Wheaton Terriers
  • Springer Spaniels
  • West Highland White Terriers

Although some dogs are more prone to food allergies, any canines can develop this health condition. So always keep an eye out for allergic reactions linked to food.

Common Food Allergens to Dogs

common food allergens to dogs infographic

In a study, beef, chicken, chicken eggs, corn, cow’s milk, soy, and wheat were used to carry out single-ingredient stimulation trials.

Of the seven foods, beef and soy triggered the most skin reactions in dogs. However, all ingredients were found to incite symptoms of food allergies in at least 1 dog.

In a different research, a compilation of the most commonly reported food allergy triggers in dogs was made, which is stated below:

If you have observed the pattern, proteins are the most common food allergens in dogs.

Experts say that canines develop allergies to certain types of food if they are often exposed to them. Proteins are a common and essential component of dog food, which could be why they are often listed as top allergens for canines.

Take note that additives in pet foods such as preservatives rarely cause food allergies. However, they may incite food intolerance, which might be mistaken for an allergy.

Food Allergy Symptoms in Dogs

mixed proteins

The most common clinical sign of food allergies in canines is skin problems such as:

  • Itchy skin
  • Hives
  • Hot spots
  • Hair loss
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Lesions
  • Facial swelling

In rare cases, gastric issues such as flatulence, vomiting, and diarrhea may also arise along with these dermatological issues.

Other uncommon clinical signs dog owners should watch out for are lethargy, weight loss, seizures, nasal discharge, anaphylaxis, and aggression.

Food allergies in dogs must be addressed immediately to prevent serious health complications from cropping up. These include unwanted behavioral disorders, secondary skin infections, and lower quality of life.

Other Ailments That Cause Similar Symptoms

Aside from food sensitivities or intolerances, several other medical conditions share closely identical clinical signs with food allergies in dogs. Some of the most common are:

  • Environmental allergy
  • Flea allergy
  • Pancreatitis
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Viral infections
  • Parasitic infestations

Getting your dog diagnosed by the vet is the best way to determine if the symptoms he is exhibiting are truly a result of a food allergy.

Diagnosing a Food Allergy in Dogs

a dog resting on the floor

The diagnostic process of food allergies in canines is lengthy process. However, if successful, it significantly helps make the right adjustments to your dog’s diet to reduce the chances of allergic reactions.

Here are the most common options for diagnosing canine food allergies:

Elimination Trial

To date, a food elimination trial is the best method to accurately diagnose a food allergy in dogs. The duration of this diagnostic test can range anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks.

It involves using a novel protein diet, which is composed of a protein source a dog has never eaten before, or a hydrolyzed diet, which comes in the form of dog food containing proteins that are chemically broken down into small particles.

These types of diets can either be commercially available or homecooked depending on your discussion with the vet. Regardless of which option you go for, feeding your dog other foods should be strictly avoided during the trial period, including:

  • Edible dog toys
  • Dog chews
  • Pill pockets
  • Table scraps
  • Flavored medications and supplements
  • Protein-flavored toothpaste

Failure to follow through will render the elimination diet useless since its main purpose is to single out the food causing the allergic reaction.

In multi-pet households, dogs on elimination diets should be fed separately from other pets to avoid cross-contamination. They also require different water bowls for the same reason.

Dog owners need to be wary of medications encased in capsules. Most of the time, these capsules are made of gelatin derived from animal proteins. Make sure to pry open the capsule and pour its contents into your dog’s food.

Dietary Rechallenge

Once the clinical signs of the food allergy subside during the elimination diet, a dietary rechallenge will be carried out. Its main goals are to:

  • Identify the specific food allergen causing the clinical signs.
  • Ensure that the alleviation of symptoms was not caused by other factors, such as environmental allergen changes, but by the elimination diet.

Dietary rechallenge requires reintroducing suspected food allergens that were regularly fed to dogs in the past. Any potential allergens will undergo this process for 1 to 2 weeks at a time.

A recurrence of food allergy symptoms must occur to confirm the presence of a food allergy. Once they do, the food allergen is now confirmed and the elimination diet will be continued until its symptoms abate.

Patch Tests

On their own, patch tests cannot provide an accurate diagnosis. However, they can be used as an initial determinant of foods that are suitable to use for elimination diets.

Patch tests are done by taping a mixture of a protein source and petroleum jelly to the skin for approximately 2 days. Signs of irritation mean a positive result, but they do not immediately correlate to food allergy.

If no symptoms appear, the protein source used in the patch test is considered a safe option for the elimination diet.

How to Treat a Food Allergy in Dogs

a dog in discomfort

There is no cure for food allergies in dogs. The best way to prevent its symptoms from recurring is to exclude the food allergens identified during the elimination diet process from their meals.

Changes in your dog’s diet, especially in homecooked food, should be run through a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. They will make sure that his meals are nutritionally complete and balanced to avoid vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

The vet may prescribe some medications to relieve the symptoms brought on by food allergies. These include corticosteroids for inflammations, antihistamines for itchiness, and antibiotics for secondary infections.

Since this type of treatment may interfere with the elimination diet, vets typically carry it out once all food allergens have been determined.

Omega-3 and probiotic supplementation might be advised by the vet to boost your furry pal’s immune system. By having better immunity, he will be less susceptible to allergies and less prone to severe allergic reactions.

FAQs About Food Allergies in Dogs

a dog eating from a bowl

1. Can Dogs Develop Food Allergies Later in Life?

Yes, it is not uncommon for some dogs to develop food allergies later in life. As their bodies undergo changes due to age, they might develop a negative immune response to certain foods they have been eating for a long time.

So monitor your canine companion closely for possible symptoms of food allergies.

2. What Is the Most Common Food Allergy in Dogs?

According to the list of allergens we have provided above, the most common food allergy in dogs is beef. It accounted for 34% of the reported cases of allergic reactions which is then followed by dairy (17%), chicken (15%), and wheat (13%).

3. Can Food Allergies Cause Ear Infections in Dogs?

Yes, food allergies can cause ear infections in dogs. This symptom is considered a secondary infection because it develops by canines pawing at itchy areas of their ears.

4. How Do You Know If Your Dog Has a Food Allergy?

The only definitive option to know if your dog has a food allergy is to let him take an elimination diet with the vet’s guidance.

It helps in ruling out other potential causes of the clinical signs while narrowing down the possible food allergens that are triggering such adverse reactions.

5. How Long Does It Take for Dog Food Allergies to Clear Up?

It can approximately take up to 6 months for dog food allergies to clear up after all allergens are removed from the diets of dogs.

Although witnessing significant positive results takes plenty of waiting, do not feel discouraged. In the long run, your canine companion will become less likely to face allergic reactions if strict dietary restrictions are maintained.


True food allergies are relatively uncommon in dogs, but they should not be taken lightly. Its symptoms can become a convenient route for more serious behavioral and health issues to develop such as aggression and anaphylaxis.

With proper diagnosis and treatment, the chances of triggering allergic reactions will be greatly reduced, and your dog will have a better quality of life.

Food allergies in dogs commonly cause persistent itching and inflammation on the skin. Our Natural Home Remedies for Dogs Itchy Skin will show you how to treat these symptoms using dog-safe alternative medicine.

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