Food Allergies in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, and Solutions

Key Points

  • Food allergies in dogs are common and occur at any age.

  • Food allergies create a variety of symptoms such as itchy skin, hives, stomach issues, watery eyes, and coughing.

  • There are many methods for combating food allergies in dogs, including an elimination diet or buying hypoallergenic food.

Discovering the cause of an allergy is often as challenging as catching a killer on a TV detective show, especially when it comes to your furry friend. Food allergies in dogs are one of the most common allergic reactions. Some dogs enjoy foods containing wheat, corn, and beef while others are allergic to them.

Symptoms of food allergies in dogs include digestive and respiratory issues as well as uncomfortable skin conditions. Address them as soon as you notice the onset of symptoms.

With good information, a lot of patience, and a little luck you'll narrow down that list of suspects and find the culprit. Identifying the cause of the allergic reaction may be a lengthy trial-and-error process, but is necessary to avoid those unpleasant and even potentially fatal symptoms.

When Do Food Allergies Develop?

Food allergies or sensitivities most commonly occur in puppies, when their immune system is not strong enough to handle consuming a lot of new food. As their bodies transition from only drinking mother's milk or special puppy food, they may experience allergic reactions to one or more of their new foods. This is natural and often disappears as they age.

Some symptoms may be mild. Others include vomiting, loose stools, hives, and breathing difficulty. Some allergic reactions are life-threatening.

When your puppy first has a symptom of a possible food allergy, think about anything new you have introduced into their diet. Since they likely haven't been eating a large variety of foods, it should be easy to narrow it down. 

Food allergies sometimes develop in later years but are not as common in older dogs as they are in puppies.

The same food your pet eats every day may suddenly make them sick. Allergies happen at random and aren't always life-long conditions.

If your older dog exhibits symptoms of a food allergy, allow a week for the symptoms to abate. Temporary food allergies or intolerance for a certain food or ingredient often occurs as dogs age.

Dog's Health

Your dog's overall health plays a role in their food allergies. If your dog has a compromised immune system, reactions may be easily triggered by low-level allergens.

When the immune system is in overdrive, it reacts too strongly to a threat and attacks anything it doesn't recognize. The target of that attack then becomes an allergen for your dog.

After a while, your dog's body will be able to tolerate these triggers and the physical symptoms will subside.

One way to address this issue is to give your dog medication to suppress the immune system. While this effectively combats allergic reactions, long-term use reduces the body's ability to fight off other threats.

If your dog is on allergy medication, watch them closely throughout the day for improvements and any adverse effects.

One of the best health indicators in dogs is how much they sleep. When your dog isn't sleeping enough, they are probably sick even if they are not exhibiting any physical symptoms.

There are dog tracking devices that allow you to monitor your dog's daily or weekly sleep activity so you know they are getting enough sleep to remain healthy or get an early clue that they may be ill.

Quality Ingredients

Review your dog food's ingredients to be sure your dog receives adequate nutrition.

Some dog foods contain filler ingredients such as corn or wheat. These don't improve your dog's health and are also common allergens for dogs.

If the dog food contains mostly filler ingredients, change to a brand that uses whole foods that are nutritious and essential for your dog's health. 

Buy dog food specialized for your dog's age and breed. Dog food for puppies isn't as beneficial for older dogs as foods containing ingredients to support bone, joint, and skin health. Introducing adult food to puppies too soon may cause reactions due to sensitivities to the ingredients. 

Long Island veterinarian Dr. Michael Selmer, known as the "Caring Vet" in his YouTube videos, shares his opinion on low-quality dog foods.

"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 avoid grain," Selmer says.

"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. " Selmer continued. "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 part of commercial foods to keep them less expensive.

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

Common Food Allergens

Dog food contains many ingredients to support your dog's health and longevity. There are a few common ingredients, though, known to cause allergic symptoms in sensitive dogs. If your dog has any sensitivities, it's best to avoid these foods. 


Beef allergies create itching, stomach issues, and diarrhea. Avoid these ingredients if your dog struggles with food sensitivities. The same is true for similar meats, like lamb. Hopefully, your dog is not allergic to all of them.

Opt for salmon or chicken-based foods instead. 


Dairy upsets some dogs' stomachs, especially puppy stomachs. The symptoms caused by milk proteins only resolve once milk is no longer in the dog's diet.

Dairy isn't nutritionally beneficial for dogs, so it doesn't need to be a part of their main food source. A little dairy every once in a while is fine. 


Chicken allergies in dogs produce symptoms such as watery eyes and itchy skin. If your dog is allergic to chicken, alternative sources of proteins include salmon, venison, pork, lamb, and duck.

Dog food brands based on these proteins also include other dog-safe ingredients.


Corn is one of the main filler ingredients in low-quality dog food. It has no nutritional value for dogs, so feeding them corn regularly could potentially cause allergic symptoms.

If your dog exhibits symptoms and they have corn-based food in their diet, that is your "prime suspect" in this mystery.


Wheat is another common allergen that wreaks havoc on some dogs' bodies. Wheat causes an immune response in sensitive dogs that creates a laundry list of uncomfortable symptoms.

Instead of wheat, feed your dog foods containing healthier options like sweet potatoes, peas, and quinoa.  

Dog Food Allergy Symptoms

Dog allergy symptoms range from itchy skin, digestive issues, breathing problems, and hair loss.

Knowing what to look for is the first step to a quick response that not only provides fast relief but prevents the condition from worsening.

Itchy Skin

One of the most common allergy symptoms is itchy skin. Not all itching indicates allergies, but increased scratching is a potential sign.

Allergic itching is more constant than scratching due to a pest bite or dry skin. A dog with an allergic itch continues to scratch themselves silly, sometimes to the point of scraping their skin until it bleeds.

As the body causes an inflammatory response to the allergen, itchiness develops and only subsides when the allergen is no longer in the body. 


Unsightly hives that spread all over a dog's body are another symptom of a food allergy.

Hives are an inflammatory skin condition that causes your dog discomfort and itching. Rubbing coconut oil on your pet's skin relieves this condition.

Another home remedy is applying diluted apple cider vinegar to the affected areas to slow or reduce inflammation.

Trouble Breathing

Breathing issues develop quickly when a dog eats an allergen. Inflammation blocks airways, causing a potentially life-threatening condition if left unresolved.

As soon as you notice your pet having difficulty breathing, assist their breathing and take them to an emergency vet right away. 

Hair Loss

In extreme cases, a dog suffering an allergic reaction loses their hair in small patches. This usually occurs when an allergy has been left unattended for an extended period. Once the culprit allergen is no longer in their diet, the hair slowly grows in these bald spots.

Dogs who experience hair loss may also have dryness in their skin and coat. Moisturizing their skin alleviates these symptoms. 

Refusing to Eat

Dogs are ravenous animals that eat just about anything. When a dog refuses to eat, there is usually cause for concern. The reason could be an underlying health issue — hopefully nothing serious but notify your vet anyway.

Long-term food allergies cause many symptoms that inhibit your dog's desire to eat.

Try changing their food immediately and watch them for a few days to see if their appetite returns. In most cases, your dog will resume eating once they've been given enough time to recover from the allergens. 

Stomach Issues

It is easy to spot stomach issues due to allergies. The dog has accidents in the home with loose or soft stools or you find these stools in the yard when you are cleaning up. The dog's stomach gurgles and makes unusual noises as it tries to digest food allergens.

One way to deal with stomach problems is to feed your dog oatmeal for one of their meals for a few days. Oatmeal is nutritious, high-fiber, and a great aid in digestion.

Treating Food Allergies at Home

Treat your dog's food allergies from the comfort of your home. If your dog has mild allergic reactions, try these allergy-busting methods to alleviate those symptoms. 

Life-threatening symptoms require immediate veterinary attention.

Elimination Diet

Whether your dog is a puppy or an older canine, chances are they eat the same foods regularly. This is especially true if their main diet consists of kibble.

When a dog develops a food allergy, it's difficult to identify the specific foods causing it. 

An elimination diet narrows the possibilities until you identify which food is causing the allergy. Conducting an elimination diet for your dog at home is easy.

If your dog eats kibble, find the ingredients list and write down any foods that are potential allergens. Find a brand of dog food that doesn't include these suspect ingredients. Be forewarned, though, it isn't easy to find a kibble that doesn't contain at least some common allergens.

Allow your dog to eat their new food for a few weeks or until their allergy symptoms have completely gone away. Not allowing proper healing skews the elimination diet results. 

Once your dog is symptom-free, introduce kibble with one or two of the ingredients from the original brand and watch for a return of the symptoms. Adding one ingredient at a time is most beneficial.

After introducing each ingredient, give it a few days or weeks to see how your dog reacts. If they don't develop symptoms, it's safe to say these foods aren't a trigger. If they do develop symptoms, you know what their triggers are and what to avoid. 

If no kibble caters to your dog's need for an elimination diet, another option is to make their meals from scratch and slowly introduce each potential trigger. 

Hypoallergenic Dog Foods

Hypoallergenic dog food contains safe ingredients for your dog's consumption. Some ingredients in this type of food may still trigger an allergic reaction, but they are not common allergens.

Hypoallergenic dog food is available at the pet store or online. 

For those who don't know the cause of the allergic reactions, there are hypoallergenic dog foods that omit the most common allergens. If you know the cause, look for foods that specifically omit that ingredient.

This allows you to feed your dog a wider range of ingredients with reduced concern for possible allergies.

Meal Preps for Pups

Meal prepping isn't just for humans; it's for dogs too!

If you meal prep at the beginning of the week, adding your dog's meals into your routine is simple and easy. By meal prepping their meals, you're taking ownership of the ingredients they consume.

Prepping allows you to know they're only eating foods they tolerate well and not consuming any filler ingredients.

Homemade dog food isn't glamorous or time-consuming. Dogs do well with rice, vegetables, and meat. If you have leftovers throughout the week or always have a little extra while you're cooking, set those foods aside for when you prep your dog's meals. 

Buying in bulk is a great way to meal prep for your dog. It saves you time and money because you don't have to run to the pet store to buy kibble.

Why pay premium prices for high-quality kibble when you can make delicious food with the same ingredients at home for a fraction of the price?

Homemade treats are also an excellent way to ensure your canine only eats allergy-safe foods. Make treats like sweet potato bites or oatmeal cookies — and don't be shy about enjoying a few with your canine friend!

How Long Does It Take Food Allergies to Clear Up?

Allergy symptoms usually appear anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours after your dog eats the allergen. They take much longer to resolve. The length of time it takes to clear up a food allergy reaction depends on your dog's overall health and genetic makeup.

Certain dogs respond quickly to changes in their diets. Others heal more slowly. Most food allergy symptoms resolve within days or a few weeks after the allergen is no longer in their diet.

If your dog's symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, there may be an underlying issue preventing them from healing that needs to be addressed. 

Allergy Testing

Allergy testing is available through your pet's veterinarian. This blood test identifies which foods create a reaction in your dog.

Once the allergen is found, your vet creates a detailed treatment plan to maintain your dog's health and nutrition with food not containing those ingredients.

Combat Allergies From the Inside

Fighting dog allergies is a process of elimination to discover the allergens and triggers that create your dog's symptoms.

While treating external symptoms is great for soothing symptoms, it won't resolve the issues completely. 

Your veterinarian may prescribe allergy medicine when your dog has symptoms. Shots are also available for stopping your dog's immune system from overreacting and helping to calm their symptoms.

Getting Back to Normal

Your dog can't tell you how much they are suffering. Changing your pet's diet is the only way to resolve their food allergy problems.

Do your best to identify the triggers, remove them from your dog's diet, and feed them healthy and nourishing food.

The faster their allergy symptoms resolve, the quicker they return to their old fun-loving, you-loving, happy selves.

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