We all want the best for our four-legged family members. An important part of keeping them healthy is providing them with a nutritious diet and avoiding any foods that may cause harm, including in the form of food allergies. This post covers common dog food allergies, symptoms and ways to identify these allergens.
Can Dogs Have Allergies?
Yes, like humans, dogs can have allergies, which can manifest with a range of symptoms. During an allergic reaction, a dog’s immune system produces excess antibodies in reaction to a certain food. This results in an allergic reaction, such as itchy skin, rash, vomiting or diarrhea. Although any food can trigger an immune system response, the most common allergens come from proteins or complex carbohydrates.
Food Intolerances or Sensitivities
Intolerances or sensitives may present with similar symptoms to allergies, but there is a major difference between them. With an intolerance or sensitivity, a dog has trouble properly digesting an ingredient. With an allergy, the ingredient triggers an immune response and the dog’s immune system produces antibodies. This is important to understand when introducing your dog to new foods, because gradual introduction and slow transitions may help reduce the risk of intolerances.
Dog Food Allergy Symptoms
Common signs of allergies in dogs include:
- GI distress (vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, nausea)
- Skin issues (itchy, red or dry/flaky skin)
Uncommon/subtle signs include:
- Weight loss
- Unusual aggression
Four of the Most Common Food Allergies in Dogs
For dog owners interested in some extra reading concerning their dog’s health, National Institute of Health (NIH) has a database of academic studies concerning canine health. In a study published in 2016, beef, chicken, dairy products, and wheat were found to be the most common allergens among dogs.
1. Beef – Protein sources are the most common allergens in dog food. Beef is a very common ingredient in dog food, but with so much exposure to this protein source, many dogs have developed an allergic reaction to it over time. An initial exposure to a potential allergen can prime the dog’s immune system to reject it on subsequent exposure.
2. Chicken – As with beef, the widespread inclusion of chicken in dog food has resulted in it becoming a common allergen.
3. Dairy Products – Like humans, dogs can develop adverse reactions to dairy. A reaction involving digestive issues such as gas, diarrhea or vomiting may indicate an intolerance. While a true allergy may have similar symptoms, it may also manifest as itchy, irritated skin.
4. Wheat – Although protein sources are the most common offender, wheat can trigger an immunological response in some dogs.
How to Determine What Foods Your Dog is Allergic to
There are two primary ways to identify a potential food allergen: an elimination diet or an allergy test administered by a veterinarian.
During the elimination diet, remove one ingredient (usually a protein) from the dog’s diet for at least one week. It’s important to remove the ingredient from any treats and supplements as well. Observe your dog’s symptoms. If you don’t see a change, eliminate other ingredients one at a time.
Some commercial allergy tests are available in which a dog’s hair/saliva sample can be submitted by mail and tested; however, studies have found these tests to be inaccurate. These allergy tests are for seasonal and environmental allergies but can be helpful to connect reactions with specific allergens.
How to Treat Dog Food Allergies
The best way to treat food allergies in dogs is to identify and avoid the allergen. This may mean putting your dog on a special diet, like a hypoallergenic or grain-free diet. You may also try a novel protein diet, which is a diet that incorporates a protein that your dog hasn’t had before. Since the protein is less common (like venison or kangaroo), it’s likely that your dog hasn’t tried it and is not allergic. Less common proteins are less likely to trigger reactions.
Another strategy to treat dog food allergies is implementing hydrolyzed foods. This means that the protein has been broken down on a molecular level so there no trace to trigger an immune response. These diets tend to be more expensive because of the hydrolyzed process. A more affordable option is to make your own dog food. This gives dog owners the opportunity to control what’s in their dog’s food and eliminate any allergens.
Having a dog with a food allergy can seem overwhelming, but there are many ways to keep your furry friend healthy. For example, if your dog is allergic to beef, consider switching to a chicken or salmon-based alternative. It’s important to read the nutrition labels to make sure there aren’t hidden additives or preservatives. Search for a dog food that has a balanced nutritional profile with a quality protein, like the delicious options available from RAWZ.