Diet Restrictions for Food Allergies in Dogs

Key Points

  • Food allergies in dogs manifest in physical symptoms such as itchy skin, red eyes, and nausea.

  • An elimination diet is an excellent way to identify which ingredients are triggering your dog's reactions.

  • When diagnosing food allergies in dogs, try to determine if the symptoms are due to an allergy or are due to sensitivity to an ingredient.

Your dog doesn't discriminate when it comes to food. They will eat just about anything that smells edible – and a few things that don’t! Unfortunately for your pup, food allergies in dogs prevent them from being able to safely eat everything their little hearts desire.

Your dog’s diet must consist of healthy, high-quality food. Every pet’s body is unique and some foods may not cooperate with your dog's system. Food allergies in dogs cause physical symptoms and behaviors requiring a change in diet.

Common canine food allergies include corn, wheat, and soy. There are also ingredients your dog is not allergic to but cannot tolerate well. To treat your dog's allergies you must find the root cause of their symptoms, then reshape their diet to remove that ingredient.

Dog Food Allergy Symptoms

Every dog experiences allergies differently. Certain foods may trigger skin issues, while others may affect their breathing. It’s important to understand the symptoms of dog allergies to realize when your dog is having a reaction. 

Golden retriever waiting for food

Digestive Problems

When your dog eats something they are allergic to, called an allergen, they can have issues with digestion, runny stool, or vomiting.

If they start having random accidents around your home, or you notice a change in their stool in the yard, try adjusting their diet. 

Respiratory Problems

Respiratory issues are one of the most alarming symptoms of dog allergies. When dogs ingest an allergen, their immune system fights against it. This allergic reaction creates inflammation that restricts your dog’s breathing.

Stuffy or runny noses, trouble swallowing, and blocked airways are all respiratory problems you must address the right way. If your pup exhibits these symptoms, examine them to make sure there isn’t anything blocking their airway. If there isn't, they may be having an allergic reaction. 

Itchy Skin

Allergies cause itchy, scaly, and inflamed skin in dogs. Scratching at their paws more frequently is a sign of an allergic reaction.

Examine their paws for swelling or dry skin, which are also signs of allergies. 

Irritated Eyes

Your dog’s eyes become irritated and red when they eat an allergen. Their eyes may also have discharge that makes it hard to fully open them.

Eye issues are serious, so immediately take your dog to the vet for treatment and allergy tests to determine the cause.

Dog with bowl of food

Environmental Problems

Your dog’s diet can include toxic plants they find in the yard. While this isn’t technically “food,” as noted earlier, a dog eats what a dog wants — whether it's good for them or not.

It’s important to know which plants are toxic to your canine. Azaleas, birds of paradise, and hydrangeas are yard plants that should be kept out of your dog’s reach. While eating these plants may not be fatal, it is definitely unpleasant.

House plants are another “food” for your snack-hunting dog. Aloe vera, pathos, elephant ear, and philodendron are common house plants that are toxic to canines.

Make sure these plants are out of reach of any curious — and hungry — pet.

How To Diagnose Food Allergies in Dogs

Dog food allergies are difficult to diagnose unless your dog has a reaction soon after eating new food. Otherwise, it can become a lengthy case of trial and error.

The most common cause of dog allergies is a new kind of kibble in the dog's diet.

When your dog experiences any allergy symptoms listed in this article, the first step in solving the mystery is to read the new food's list of ingredients.

Grain Allergies

Grains are the most common allergens for dogs, and they are also a key ingredient in many dog food formulas. Most dogs have no problems; some do.

Symptoms of a grain allergy include itchy skin, ear infections, and inflammation. These symptoms may not be immediately noticeable but appear later. Hair loss often occurs in dogs with grain allergies, but usually only after lengthy exposure to the allergen.

There are many types of grains in dog food. Some foods may have only one grain while others are multi-grain formulas, giving you several candidates for the cause of your dog's allergy.

Dog waiting to eat food

Protein Allergies

Your dog is a meat eater. Their ancestors were meat eaters. Your dog may not be as meat-only as your cat, but they are still primarily carnivores. For that reason, all well-rounded dog food formulas include a source of meat protein: chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and salmon.

When your dog is allergic to a certain protein, they often develop digestive symptoms.

Every dog food brand sources its protein and other ingredients differently. Some brands are of higher quality than others.

One thing to do when your dog has a protein allergy is to feed them a higher-quality brand. Play around with different protein sources to find one that works well with your dog’s body. 

Elimination Diet

Have you ever followed an elimination diet for your own health? An elimination diet consists of a protocol that completely removes potential allergens from a diet. These diets work wonders for identifying allergies in dogs. This is the first step to take in finding the cause of your dog's discomfort.

There are two routes to take. The first option is putting your dog on hypoallergenic dog food, which is made for canines with food allergies and sensitivities. These products are available online or at the pet store.

When doing an elimination diet, find a brand with as few ingredients as possible. This gives you a better understanding of foods your pet doesn't tolerate by "eliminating" a long list of ingredients to consider. 

Many hypoallergenic brands include ingredients like quinoa, salmon, sweet potato, and venison. While these foods provide pet owners with a quick and easy option to satisfy their dog's dietary needs, these foods may still include ingredients your dog's system can't tolerate.

The second route is preparing your dog’s food at home. Home-prepared meals are best for an elimination diet because you have control over the ingredients you include, making it easier to identify potential allergens.

Meal prepping isn’t just for humans; it’s also great for your dog. 

Dog with plates of food

The first step is to remove all potential allergies from your dog’s diet and only serve hypoallergenic ingredients for a short period to see if their symptoms decline or go away. If they do, it is a good sign the food is indeed the root cause of their allergy symptoms. If not, continue looking at other underlying issues. 

Some hypoallergenic dog food brands are completely plant-based, making it easy to remove common allergies from your dog’s food consumption. 

Ryan Bethencourt, the co-founder of plant-based dog food brand Wild Earth, says plant-based food has many benefits for dogs:

“We’ve seen many improvements in animals, whether it’s reductions in allergies and skin issues or reductions in digestive issues. Plant-based foods are high in anti-inflammatory compounds, and we think that’s what’s helping dogs. It should reduce systemic inflammation if you remove the bad meat with potentially toxic ingredients and add anti-inflammatory compounds from plants and yeast. 

“One of the things that surprised us was that a lot of the pet parents reported they no longer needed to give their dogs steroids for their allergies," Bethencourt continues. "We did a survey of 3,000 of our customers, and 86 percent reported some positive health outcome for their pets."

Once they’ve been on a low-ingredient diet for a little while, introduce new ingredients. Start with the most common allergens, such as protein sources and grains. Only introduce one item at a time, allowing your dog’s body enough time to react. Introduce the next ingredient into their meals when they stop exhibiting allergy symptoms after a short while.

This process of elimination reveals the allergen(s) to be deleted from the diet.

After the elimination diet, continue feeding your dog home-cooked meals if it works for you. This ensures they eat a well-balanced diet. Include necessary ingredients or supplements to support their health. If home-preparation is not a long-term option, find a hypoallergenic brand that doesn’t include the identified allergen.

Food allergies and sensitivities can appear in different phases of your dog’s life. Puppyhood is difficult because their bodies aren’t used to certain foods and they have issues processing them. As you feed them new ingredients, their bodies eventually adapt to them. 

Food allergies can also occur later in life.

How Long Do Food Allergy Symptoms Last

Your dog’s food allergy symptoms can’t heal unless the allergen has been completely removed from their diet and their body has time to remove the allergen from its system. In short, no change in diet means no change in symptoms.

Once the allergen is gone, symptoms last from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the symptom. Skin issues take longer to heal. A runny nose or watery eyes clear up faster.

If symptoms persist, take your dog to the veterinarian for further tests.

Dog with possible food allergy

Purebred Dogs Experience More Allergies

Purebred breeds have a higher risk of health issues than mixed breeds. This includes food allergies. Certain dog breeds have a genetic disposition to not tolerate certain food ingredients.

For example, the American pit bull terrier is commonly allergic to beef. Not every dog in this breed may experience an allergy, but the possibility is very high.

Mixed breeds experience dog food allergies at a much lower rate than their blue-blooded cousins. A mixed-breed dog has a combination of genetics and is less likely to have certain allergy traits.

Are Food Sensitivities and Allergies the Same Thing?

The words “allergies” and “sensitivities” are sometimes used interchangeably but refer to two very different conditions.

Food sensitivity in dogs doesn’t mean they are allergic. Their digestive tract might not process certain ingredients well, but it doesn’t necessarily cause them to have an allergic reaction.

For example, dogs with sensitive stomachs have more difficulty digesting brown rice than white rice because of the higher amount of insoluble fiber. This doesn't mean they're allergic to brown rice, only that their bodies don't tolerate it very well.

Food sensitivity symptoms are much milder and aren't as long-lived as allergies.

Are Grain-Free Diets Always Best?

Don’t remove grain from your dog’s diet just to remove it. Grains are an excellent source of carbohydrates for your canine. Fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals in grains also benefit your pet.

Just because grains cause allergies in some pups doesn’t mean your dog can't eat grains — unless you determine they are allergic.

Trust the Process

As stated earlier, identifying your dog’s food allergies is a journey. Watch their symptoms and food ingredients to monitor their health as you change their diet. 

Taking your dog to the vet allows you to identify which allergies are causing their symptoms. Allergy tests identify foods to avoid and environmental factors affecting their health. 

Your veterinarian may recommend an elimination diet to aid in identifying the allergen. Mild and short-lived symptoms aren’t as urgent and may respond quickly to an elimination diet. Your vet may prescribe medication or supplements for more serious symptoms.

Girl serving food to pup

Dog Food Allergies Are Manageable

Dog food allergies don’t have to be challenging. Understanding how symptoms present themselves and knowing how to combat them is key. 

Using the methods listed above, restricting their diet, and consulting your veterinarian are the best ways to help your dog find relief from allergy symptoms.

Every dog is different. What works for one dog might not work for yours. Experiment with different dog food brands or ingredients until you find something your pet enjoys that doesn’t cause an allergic reaction or sensitivity. 

Your dog is like a child needing nurturing and proper care. Taking these steps to combat your canine’s allergies keeps your pet feeling great and symptom-free.

When your dog's happy, the whole house is happy!

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