Dog food allergies are among the top three types of allergies that dogs experience. Those top three types of canine allergies are:
- Dog flea allergy
- Canine Atopic Dermatitis (inhalant allergies)
- Canine food allergies
First, it is important to know that there is a difference between dog food allergy and food intolerance. Canine food allergy is a true allergy and shows the typical symptoms that a canine skin allergy will show such as itching and red, irritated skin. Food intolerance in dogs doesn't create a typical dog skin allergic reaction, but instead results in diarrhea or vomiting. Food intolerance in your dog is similar to a person who gets an upset stomach or diarrhea from eating food that doesn't agree with them.
Although dog food allergies account for only about 10% of the causes of uncomfortable itching in dogs, it's important to know about them and treat them if present so that you can keep your dog healthy and comfortable.
Canine food allergies affect both male and female dogs, all breeds, and neutered and intact canines equally. Also, your dog can develop dog food allergies at a very young age, as early as five months, or as late as 12 years of age or more. However, most dogs develop dog allergy symptoms from food allergy somewhere between two and six years of age.
Many dogs that have canine food allergies also have inhalant or contact allergies as well, which can make it even more difficult to treat.
Most studies have shown certain ingredients, such as chicken, lamb, fish, dairy products, chicken eggs, soy, wheat and corn, are more likely to cause allergic reactions in your dog than others, such as venison, duck, potato, and rice.
It is thought that the food additives, colorings, and artificial preservatives may also cause a hypersensitivity. Other possible causes of dog food allergies are food intolerances that develop as a result of exposure to antibodies from the dog's mother, a weakened immune system, gastrointestinal illnesses from vaccinations or secondary to a parasite infection.
The list of possible allergens is only a list of POSSIBLE allergens. Your dog can actually be allergic to pretty much anything. Figuring out if your dog has canine food allergy requires patience and time.
Unfortunately, many commercial dog foods have many of the common ingredients that provoke allergies in some dogs. That is not a coincidence. The incidence of allergic reactions to food in dogs is probably associated with the amount of exposure, how much your dog has eaten those particular ingredients.
While dogs can suffer from allergies just as people do, a major difference is that, while most allergic humans sneeze and wheeze and have their symptoms confined to the respiratory tract, pets show their allergic reactions in their skin with their primary symptom being itchiness accompanied by profound scratching.
Dog allergy symptoms of food allergy are similar to symptoms of any type of allergic response in dogs and cats. The primary symptom is itchy skin, which may create excess redness, bumps, or even hair loss in certain areas. The areas of your dog’s body most commonly affected when it comes to canine food allergy are the face, ears, paws or legs. You may also notice that your dogs fur is moist in patches much of the time due to constant licking and biting.
Other dog allergy symptoms can include hotspots, ear infections and skin infections. A dog that is allergic to food may also have intestinal symptoms, most commonly an increased number of bowel movements.
It's not always so simple to diagnose food allergy in pets. The complexity comes from the fact that symptoms of a dog food allergy can be very similar to flea bite allergy, intestinal parasites, canine yeast or bacterial infections, and even dog mange. Many times, an itchy dog, will respond to a round of antibiotics because many owners and vets assume that skin infection is a recurrent problem. Because the scratching and irritation may respond to antibiotics, often owners and vets stop at that as a diagnosis. But inevitably, the problem will come back as soon as you stop.
That being said, though, it is important to have your dog examined and treated for any possible alternative causes for his allergy symptoms, like parasites, fleas, or mange, before starting a food trial to diagnose canine food allergy.
Although it can be very difficult to distinguish between dog food allergies and other canine skin allergies based upon physical signs, the following can be useful:
- If your dog has recurrent ear problems, especially yeast infections, that is more consistent with dog food allergies than with other types of dog skin allergies.
- If your dog is a very young dog having moderate to severe skin problems, that is more consistent with canine food allergy.
- Dogs who are itchy year-round or whose allergies begin in the winter are obviously less likely to be suffering from seasonal allergies such as canine atopy or canine flea allergy.
- One other sign that dog skin allergy may be food allergy is if your dog is itchy and does not respond to steroids. Canine flea allergy and dog atopy commonly respond well to steroid treatment.
The procedure for diagnosing food allergy in pets involves the process of food trials and elimination diets. This involves taking your dog off all types of food that he has been eating and putting him on a new source of protein and carbohydrate that he has not eaten before This new diet must be continued for at least 12 weeks.
For example, most commercial dog foods do not have rabbit, rice, venison or potato in them. Therefore, it's unlikely that your dog has ever eaten most of the ingredients that you would try if you are doing a food trial. Other proteins that may be used for food trials are buffalo and duck.
There also diets called limited antigen or hydrolyzed protein diets. These are diets that may still have proteins and carbohydrates that your dog has eaten, but in these diets, they are broken down into very small molecules of the size that can no longer trigger an allergic response.
In addition, some people use homemade diets because the ingredients can be so carefully monitored. However, if that doesn’t fit into your schedule, don’t dismay. There are several commercial canine diets, especially veterinary prescription diets, where you can get the limited ingredient or limited antigen formula.
Regardless of what is fed, it's very important to stay on the new diet for at least 12 weeks. That means no treats, no flavored medications, no bones, rawhide chews, nothing! You must not feed anything except your dog’s special diet and water. You also need to make sure your dog is not allowed to roam outdoors where he would have access to food and garbage.
After feeding your dog the new diet for 12 weeks, if the symptoms have gone away or are greatly improved, your veterinarian will probably advise you to resume the old diet and see if the symptoms come back. On the other hand, if there's been no change and the symptoms have not gone away, that does not necessarily mean that it is not food allergy. It simply means you need to try a different protein source for another 12 weeks.
Dog allergy treatment for food allergy is simple once the diagnosis has been made. The treatment is to simply feed your dog a diet that she can tolerate. You can cook food for your dog, switch to a canine raw food diet, or search for a commercial diet that has just the ingredients that are tolerable for your dog.
The other thing you can do once you've found a single protein and carbohydrate diet that your dog tolerates is introduce one other ingredient into the mix to see if her skin problems stay away. Over time, you can try different ingredients and come up with a list of things that can be tolerated so you can offer your best friend a bit of variety.
Despite the rarity of occurrences of dog food allergies, and the time that needs to be invested in diagnosing dog allergy symptoms, the treatment and prognosis are very good. Rest assured, there is hope for your best friend to eat a diet he enjoys AND agrees with him!