A dog is said to have food allergies when he develops allergic reactions to one or more ingredients in his food. This page looks at the symptoms of canine food allergies, possible food allergens, elimination diets, and feeding hypoallergenic dog foods to dogs with food allergies.
Contrary to what most people think, a true food allergy in dogs is not as common as it seems. It accounts for less than 10 percent of cases referred to veterinarians.
Canine food allergies are far less common than canine atopic dermatitis and flea allergy dermatitis.
If your dog shows symptoms of dog allergies, suspect canine food allergies only when you have ruled out other causes (e.g. atopy or dog flea allergies).
Canine food allergies can begin at any age, but are most common in dogs over 2 years of age. It has been found that dogs who are fed consistently, day in day out, the same food source (e.g. the same brand of dog food or the same protein source for years) are more prone to develop food allergies. As the dog's immune system has to deal with the same types of allergens for years, it ends up developing a negative reaction towards the food source. As well, many holistic vets suggest that over-stimulating the dog's immune system (e.g. over-vaccination) can make the dog more prone to develop allergies down the road.
Some dog breeds (e.g. Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels) are more predisposed to allergies, so some vets suspect that there is also a genetic factor that may be causing food allergies in such dogs.
It has been found that certain ingredients in common dog foods are more likely to cause canine food allergies than others. These common food allergens are:
Do not confuse food allergies with food intolerances. Food intolerances do not cause allergic reactions such as itching and skin problems. They can result in diarrhea or vomiting - it's the same kind of reaction as when we have eaten something not quite agreeable with us, such as spicy or greasy foods. Canine food allergies, on the other hand, are true allergies, with such hallmark symptoms as itchy skin, hot spots, and other common skin problems seen in canine allergies.
While dogs with other types of allergies (e.g. flea bites or atopy) also show these symptoms, there are several signs that you may identify in case of canine food allergies. The first one is that a dog with food allergies tends to have recurrent ear problems, particularly yeast infections. Also, a dog with food allergies shows symptoms year-round. In addition, the symptoms (in particular itchy skin) do not respond to conventional medication such as antihistamines and corticosteroids.
As you can see from the long list of possible food allergens, it is not easy to find out which food ingredient(s) exactly is a dog allergic to. However, it can be done through the process of elimination - it does take a lot of time and patience though.
Here is how it works:
If your dog has food allergies, try feeding her a novel food source consisting of 1 part protein and 3-4 parts carbohydrate for 12 weeks. It is important that a novel food source (i.e. food that the dog has never eaten before) be used. It could be duck and rice, or venison and millet, and so on.
During these 12 weeks, the dog cannot eat anything except the two novel food items. No treats! No table scraps! Just the special food and clean distilled water.
If your dog's allergy symptoms improve after 12 weeks, put her back on her original food (the one that you suspect is causing her the allergy). If the symptoms return after going back on the original diet, it means that:
If, on the other hand, there has been no change in symptoms during the 12-week trial, then switch to another two different novel food sources and try again.
Once the food ingredients that are causing your dog allergies have been identified, the treatment is rather simple. The bottom line is of course to exclude the food ingredients that are causing allergic reactions in your dog.
You can do so by either cooking home-made dog food for your dog, or you can get a high quality, natural, commercial hypoallergenic dog food.
If you choose to cook for your dog, be sure to use natural, and preferably, organic ingredients. According to Dr. Pitcairn, raw meat does not cause the same allergic reaction that cooked meat does, so a raw diet is preferred. Some dog parents have also observed that dogs prone to food allergies can tolerate organic meat much better than the usual supermarket sources.
As well, once in a while, you may want to introduce a new food source to find out if it causes allergic reactions in your dog. Say your dog is doing fine with a diet of turkey and millet for a while. Then you may want to add chicken to her diet for two weeks. If your dog starts to develop allergy symptoms, then you can assume that chicken is one food source that your dog is allergic to. You can then take away the chicken from the diet, wait for the dog's symptoms to clear up, and introduce a different food source such as beef, and so on. By gradually and slowly introducing food sources (one at a time) to your dog's diet, you can eventually make up a list of foods that are safe to be fed to your dog.
Finally, if you choose to feed your dog homemade hypoallergenic diets, make sure that they are well-balanced, and enriched with vitamins, minerals, and other natural supplements.
Preparing homemade hypoallergenic dog food can be time-consuming. It may also be rather difficult to be a hundred percent sure that the diet is well-balanced. If that is your concern, consider getting a high-quality, commercial hypoallergenic dog food. Now, just because a food is labeled "hypoallergenic" doesn't mean that all dogs with food allergies can eat that food. You still need to determine if the protein and carbohydrate in the food are the ones that YOUR dog is not allergic to.
Here are some examples of high-quality hypoallergenic dog food:
Addiction Grain-Free Dehydrated Dog Food
This hypoallergenic diet uses novel food items such as venison and lamb, and contains no additives. The ingredients (such as raw meat, fruits, and vegetables) are air-dried so they remain fresh and the vitamins and enzymes which are normally destroyed by cooking are retained.
Wellness Simple Food Dry Dog Food
You can get duck and oatmeal, salmon and potato, salmon and peas, and more. The ingredients are of high quality and do not contain any artificial colorings, artificial flavors, or additives.
Natural Balance Allergy Formula Dry Dog Food
You can get different protein and carbohydrate combos such as fish and sweet potato, duck and potato, venison and sweet potato, and so on. All ingredients are natural and human-grade, and of course these foods do not contain any artificial colorings, artificial flavors, or additives.