Food allergies in dogs

katy towle 06 May 2021

Finding a diet that agrees with your dog can sometimes seem like an arduous task. While there are some ‘dustbin dogs’ who eat everything in sight with seemingly little consequence, many dogs are not like this.

Perhaps your furry friend develops flatulence or diarrhoea when you start a new diet. Or, maybe their skin becomes itchy and red every time you offer fish. Could they have a food allergy? If so, what can be done?

What exactly is a food allergy?

While it is common for an owner to say that their dog is ‘allergic’ to grain or chicken, it is more likely that they have a sensitivity. True IGE-mediated food allergies (as experienced by an egg allergic child who can go into anaphylaxis from eating food containing eggs) are rare in dogs.

What isn’t a food allergy?

It’s important to emphasize that food allergies and sensitivities are sometimes over diagnosed by owners and vets alike. The only real way to know if a dog reacts to a food is to remove it completely from their diet. Even if all symptoms resolve, this alone does not prove an allergy. We have to challenge the immune system and reintroduce the food. If symptoms recur, we can be confident the food causes trouble and should be removed from the diet.

In reality, this is not always done. This is mainly because it is hard to convince an owner to feed a suspected allergen when their dog is finally symptom free.

Keep in mind that certain rich or inappropriate foods (like bacon or butter) are likely to cause digestive upset in all dogs.

Adverse Food Reactions

We use the term ‘adverse food reaction’ in the veterinary community. This refers to symptoms (such as loose stool) that are brought on by eating a certain food. Truthfully, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to food reactions and many dogs are though to be allergic or sensitive to a food when something else may be the culprit.

Symptoms can include itchy skin, diarrhoea, vomiting and chronic ear infections. Of course, these symptoms can have many other causes so we should not always presume an adverse food reaction is occurring.

Are some dogs more prone to adverse food reactions?

While any dog can technically be sensitive and/or allergic to foods, some breeds are more predisposed. These tend to be the ‘atopic’ individuals such as Frenchies, Pugs, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. For many, it is a genetic condition passed on from their parents or grandparents.

What foods do dogs tend to react to?

Foods less tolerated by our canine companions include:

  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Grain
  • Peas
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Soya
  • Eggs

 As you can see, it is generally proteins that aren’t tolerated. Some may be surprised by this list as these are very common ingredients in most commercial diets.

Are there food allergy tests available?

While there are tests available, these are expensive and not 100% reliable. Skin prick testing and bloods can be carried out to a panel of foods. We should use this data in combination with the dog’s clinical history and food trials to establish if they are reacting to a food or not. False negatives are very common. This means a dog may test positive to a food that they actually eat with no consequences.

In some instances, trialling a hydrolysed hypoallergenic diet for 6-8 weeks can be very useful in determining if a dog has a food sensitivity or not.

Feeding sensitive dogs

If your vet is happy for you to feed a non-hydrolysed diet, Pooch & Mutt’s range is likely a great option for your furry companion. With no grain and a restricted number of protein sources, our wet and dry foods are well tolerated by many of those with sensitivities.

Our Health & Digestion kibble is a particularly good choice for those prone to upset stomachs. This is thanks to the gut supportive ingredients including prebiotics, probiotics and psyllium (a fibre source to harden loose stool).

Remember that ingredients like grain and dairy can be present in treats, chews and dental sticks, so always be sure to read the packaging. Similarly, there is little point in offering a grain free diet but giving your pooch a bite of your toast each morning!

The Bottom Line

While adverse food reactions are a common source of skin and digestive issues, they can be well managed with diet. Determining what a dog is reacting to is not always easy. Offering a high quality, limited ingredient food can go a long way towards helping out those affected.