Diet Is King: Dogs Get Food Allergies Too

cute small dog waiting for meal or dinner the dog food. he is lying on the floor and looking at the camera. white background and pets indoors.

Is your dog coughing, breaking out in hives, or vomiting? This is not only alarming but also heartbreaking.

If they're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to rule out whether your dog is having an allergic reaction to their food or if there's something else going on. Food allergies can develop at any point in your dog's life — even from food they previously enjoyed without consequence.

What Is a Canine Food Allergy?

A canine food allergy is an adverse reaction to an ingredient your dog has consumed. Since these can allergies occur at any time, many pet owners may not be aware that their dog is developing a food allergy until they exhibit obvious symptoms. It's important to monitor your dog's eating habits, especially when they're young, and watch out for signs that they may not be handling their food well. 

The most common reason your dog may develop food allergies is that their food contains grain-based proteins, like corn or wheat. Dairy products, certain meats, and even eggs can also become a cause for your companion's unpleasant symptoms. 

Scoop and bowl of dog food

Look out for the following, as they are some of the first signs of a food allergy:

  • Constant stretching

  • Nonstop licking

  • Watering eyes

  • Sneezing

These symptoms may seem mild, but if they occur frequently, there's likely a reason for their occurrence.

There are a few other symptoms that are more unpleasant–vomiting and diarrhea–and require you to break out the cleaning supplies. Usually, these symptoms will appear soon after your pup eats.

Difficulty breathing, such as wheezing, is another more serious symptom that your dog may have. Wheezing develops from certain ingredients causing inflammation in the body and making it difficult for them to breathe adequately. 

If you notice a quick onset of these symptoms and they don't seem to get better, it's best to take them to the emergency vet. 

How Do You Diagnosis Food Allergies in Dogs?

Diagnosing food allergies in dogs isn't always easy.

The symptoms associated with food allergies can mimic other conditions, such as flea allergies, dermatitis, or other environmental irritants. Diagnosing your dog's allergies at home without the proper equipment can be difficult and isn't a reliable way to care for your canine. 

The first step in diagnosing food allergies is to carefully review your dog's medical history with a veterinarian. Look back at any medications, supplements, and dietary changes that may have occurred recently. These changes may be to blame for your furry friend's sudden symptoms, and your vet may consider them for your dog's diagnosis. 

If there are no obvious causes for your dog's allergy symptoms, the vet may establish an elimination diet. The elimination diet consists of removing certain foods from your dog's diet and slowly introducing them back in.

Since you are introducing one food ingredient at a time, you'll then determine whether or not it harms your dog's system. Elimination diets usually consist of a few months of close monitoring until you're able to determine what foods to indefinitely remove from their diet. 

Top-down shot of dog and food bowl

RAST Testing

A radioallergosorbent test (RAST) requires a blood sample from your dog. Your vet uses the sample to determine whether or not there is a reaction to specific antigens. The RAST is one the most effective ways to determine dog allergies, as you can test multiple antigens quickly, allowing you to remove the foods or other allergens promptly.

In both the United States and Canada, expect to pay between $80 and $200 for the blood test, and around $100 to $300 for the skin test.

This is often the first method your vet will use and can be requested at any time. If you still have issues with your dog's symptoms after removing specific allergens, then an elimination diet will pinpoint the exact cause of their symptoms. 

Is There a Cure for Dog Food Allergies?

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic wand that erases your dog's food allergies forever. After these allergies develop, they may last for the duration of their life, but not always. Many allergies last for extended periods, and the best method for combating these symptoms is removing the irritants. 

Your vet may recommend giving your dog an antihistamine to combat any uncomfortable symptoms. Antihistamines shouldn't become a crutch to allow your dog to eat allergenic foods. They are for relieving symptoms that occur suddenly and not for frequent use.

Hypoallergenic Diet

The food your dog consumes is the most essential component for promoting health. A hypoallergenic diet is made up of dog food that doesn't contain common allergens.

These dog food blends are beneficial for dogs who suffer from allergies or intolerances to ingredients in traditional food. Hypoallergenic dog food contains fewer allergens, making it a great choice for any dog that needs a more subtle food choice. 

Hypoallergenic foods are often absent of wheat, dairy products, and corn. Without these ingredients, the chances of your dog having an upset stomach or spending the rest of the day in misery decrease significantly.

Once your dog goes through the elimination diet, you'll be able to find a hypoallergenic dog food that fits their need. Some varieties don't exclude every food allergen, so if you only need to remove corn or wheat, there's an option that still contains nutritious ingredients to support your dog's health. 

New York's Integrative Veterinarian, Dr. Michel Selmer, discusses the importance of a dog's diet and how modern dog foods aren't necessarily adequately designed to promote proper health:

"We see so many things because it's such an independent item per each dog. But if you want to look at the big picture, you should stay away from grain. Dogs are not designed to eat grain. 

"If you think back to when dogs were wolves, and they would hunt for their meals, they would kill a prey animal and eat that animal. And that would be mostly skeletal muscle, which is protein. And then, they would get their carbohydrates and fats from the body fat of the animal and the stomach contents. They weren't eating corn, and they weren't eating wheat and barley — and all these things are added to commercial foods to keep them less expensive.

"Your dog should have about 75% protein a day in its diet. If you look at the average dog food bag, it's between 28 and 32%." 

Dog eats dog food out of bowl

Where Can You Find Hypoallergenic Dog Food?

Many pet stores sell hypoallergenic dog food. Since this is a specialty item, be prepared to pay more for a bag of hypoallergenic food than traditional dog food.

Make sure to research each brand and review the ingredient list to ensure they don't contain any ingredients that may set off your dog's allergies. If you can't find an affordable option in person, try looking online. 

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to ensure your dog follows a hypoallergenic diet is by cooking for them. Buy certain ingredients, like rice or quinoa, in bulk and cook large batches at a time. 

If you meal prep regularly, throw on a few extra pots of food for your dog. Divide their meals into containers and store them in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to use.

There are countless foods your dog can enjoy without having an allergic reaction. Cooking your pup's food also gives you better control over the nutrition they receive and is beneficial for boosting their overall health. 

Some dog foods contain fillers with no nutritional value, leaving your dog feeling hungry throughout the day. Providing your dog with home-cooked meals ensures they receive the nutrition they need to maintain their energy levels and stay full for longer periods. 

Puppy sits in front of empty food bowl

Hydrolyzed Diet

Hydrolyzed protein dog food is effective for combating allergies.

Hydrolysis breaks down proteins using water, which allows them to pass through the body easily. When these proteins break down, they become so small that your dog's immune system no longer recognizes them as threats. As a result, your dog won't experience the same allergic reaction they have in the past. 

To see results on the hydrolyzed diet, your canine must maintain a strict regime for at least eight weeks. During this time, allergy symptoms should decrease and quality of life increase.

Novel Protein Diet

A novel protein diet isn't as sophisticated as it sounds. It's simply a diet consisting of proteins that your dog may not currently consume.

These proteins exist in venison or certain types of fish and provide your dog with essential protein without setting off their allergy symptoms. Carbohydrates and fats are essential in a novel diet, which works in balance to form a nutritious and beneficial diet for your companion. 

Dog with collar prances through field of flowers

Are Food Allergies Genetic?

Genetics is one of the causes of food allergies. Certain dog breeds are prone to developing food-related allergies. Your dog may have a predisposition to being unable to digest or process certain food ingredients.

Just because your dog's breed may be prone to certain allergies doesn't mean for certain that your dog will experience them.

What Age Do Food Allergies Show Up in Dogs?

There are many different types of food allergies, and not necessarily a rhyme or reason for when they show up. Although, the symptoms usually appear after eating a specific ingredient.

If your dog doesn't have food allergies as a puppy, that doesn't mean they won't develop them as they grow older. All it takes is introducing one new food into your dog's diet for you to realize they don't have the tools to process it. 

At-Home Allergy Testing

If you're looking for ways to cut back on vet bills, opt for an at-home allergy test for your canine.

These kits are available online and can identify whether or not your dog has a predisposition to certain allergies. This is helpful for food allergies and a variety of other allergies that you may be unaware of. Certain tests let you know if your dog is allergic to white flour or wheat flour and pinpoint the exact variations of certain ingredients to help you steer clear of any potential irritations. 

While at-home allergy tests are a convenient way to find answers for your dog's symptoms, they may not always be completely accurate. Test results vary depending on certain factors, such as the setting and the person initiating the test. All of this can affect the results. It's important to follow the instructions completely, and if you're unsure about the results, follow up with a professional.

Removing certain foods from your dog's diet may not seem concerning, but if you aren't replacing proteins, carbohydrates, or other essential nutrition with other ingredients, you could cause more harm than good. 

How Long Does It Take for Food Allergy Symptoms To Go Away?

There's nothing more painful than watching your dog suffer from allergies and have to wait until the symptoms subside.

There's no definite timeline for when your dog's symptoms will disappear. If your vet recommends an antihistamine, certain symptoms may subside within a few hours. GI symptoms may take longer to resolve and may only get better once the allergens are no longer present in the body.

Your dog's symptoms will persist until you're able to identify which ingredients are the root cause. Once you've removed these ingredients from their diet, these issues will most likely resolve in the next few days to weeks. Unless your dog consumes the specific ingredient again, the symptoms shouldn't return. 

Dog holds empty food bowl in its mouth

Find a Solution Sooner Than Later

Sometimes it's hard to gauge just how much pain your dog is in. If you notice any serious symptoms, such as stomach pains, diarrhea, or vomiting, chances are they are in a lot of pain — even if your dog doesn't seem to be.

Allowing their symptoms to persist for days is dangerous for their health and become unbearable for their overall well-being. Act now rather than later. Being proactive will help you determine the cause of their symptoms. 

If your dog seems to have negative physical symptoms after eating, chances are they have developed a food allergy. Take a look at what you've fed them recently. If their food contains corn, wheat, or other grains, it may be time to change the brand. 

The best first step is to get your canine on hypoallergenic dog food, to quickly remove any potential allergens while continuing to provide them with a nutritious diet. If their symptoms continue, consult a veterinarian to determine further testing and recommendations.

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