As a pet owner, it can be difficult to assess whether your dog’s allergic reaction is food related or not. Environmental allergies and flea bites are much more common in dogs than food allergies. In fact, food allergies only account for 10-15 percent of all reactions. Unfortunately, most of these allergies present similar symptoms, which makes it tricky to determine what’s upsetting your pup.
When it comes to getting sick, dogs are a lot like people. Everyone has different reactions after contracting an infection or being exposed to a similar setting. With so many possible symptoms, it’s important to know the difference between a reaction to your pet’s environment, and symptoms of a dog food allergy.
Visit a veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms. If your vet rules out environmental allergies, infections and insect bites, a dog food allergy is the next option to investigate.
Dog food allergy symptoms include:
- Chewing at feet
- Obsessive scratching
- Constantly licking flank or groin area
- Frequently rubbing face
- Inflamed ears or recurrent ear concerns
- Recurrent hot spots
- Asthma-like wheezing and respiratory concerns
- Hair loss
- Rash on sparsely-haired areas of skin
- Dull, brittle, or greasy hair and skin
How Do Dogs Get Food Allergies?
Food allergies happen when your dog’s immune system misidentifies a food-borne protein as a hostile invader and attacks it accordingly. Meats like beef, fish, poultry and pork are common sources of protein in dog food. Most dog foods and treats also contain proteins present in grains and vegetables. Proteins from any of these sources can cause a food allergy.
These allergies are different from food intolerance. Food intolerance is the result of poor digestion, whereas food allergies are an immune system response to certain ingredients and proteins. This distinction, alongside common symptoms for most allergic reactions, means finding the food allergy can be time-consuming and frustrating
Assessing Food Allergies in Dogs
Knowing what food your dog is allergic to boils down to trial and error, because there is no easy option. Your dog’s veterinarian may perform several tests using blood, saliva, and hair, but there is limited evidence that these exams provide accurate, useful feedback, as noted in a Feb. 2017 study in The Veterinary Journal.
“Research results presented at a veterinary dermatology conference even showed that some tests ‘diagnosed’ plain water and stuffed animal ‘fur’ as having food allergies,” according to a report by the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center. “The ‘gold standard’ or best method that we currently have for assessing food allergies is the dietary elimination trial.”
In a dietary elimination trial, you feed your dog a diet purchased through a veterinarian, or a carefully made recipe at home, that contains only a few vet-approved ingredients. The elimination diet will only include food your pet has never been fed before, or meals that are hydrolyzed. This allows proteins to hide from the immune system and purifies your dog’s diet by removing ingredients that are likely to cause allergies.
Your furry family member eats this strict diet for at least a month, depending on your dog’s dietary history and allergy symptoms. If health significantly improves during the trial, your dog will then return to their previous diet to confirm the allergy. If a relapse occurs and his/her symptoms flare up, it’s time to revisit your diet plan.
You can test ingredients from the old diet one at a time, or try a new food altogether that your vet recommends. This process also eliminates coincidental allergens, like seasonal pollen, and will help you find a diet that your dog can thrive on. If your dog is lucky doesn’t experience food allergies, you can still prevent any future allergies from happening.
Preventing Food Allergies in Dogs
Preventing food allergies from developing is tricky. Start by researching possible conditions or diseases, especially if your breed is more susceptible to food allergies. You can help by developing a strong mucosal barrier, the thick gel layer that coats your dog’s stomach and promotes healthy digestive patterns. It’s best to start doing so when your dog is a puppy.
You should also be able to recognize the signs of gastroenteritis, an upset stomach that leads to diarrhea and vomiting. This may occur from multiple ailments, so consult your vet about the best preventive methods depending on your dog’s size. Some researchers argue that gastroenteritis in young dogs can cause food allergies when the dog reaches adulthood.
One way to be sure your dog has a healthy stomach lining is to carefully monitor what your pooch eats, ensuring they only eat dog food and dog treats. In the moment it can be tough to say no to a cute, begging face, but think of your dog’s future.
One last trick is to choose a protein-heavy dog food with few ingredients. If you’re feeding them food with only one or two protein sources, like chicken or duck, it can give you more options down the road in case an allergy develops.
If your dog is known to be affected by household or seasonal allergies, flare ups and sudden swelling can make you question whether the dog is experiencing an allergy attack, or if it’s a bad reaction to food. Recognizing the different symptoms and knowing what they usually indicate is a good start. With a vet’s guidance and some patience, your lovable dog will be back to him or herself in no time.
To learn more about how AvoDerm can help treat your dog’s food sensitivity, browse a list of our super-food ingredients here.