Part of being a good dog parent is being hyper aware of changes in your dog’s behaviour and mood; if they’re lethargic or down in the dumps, it could be a sign of something beneath the surface. When it comes to food allergies in dogs, this is definitely the case - as an allergic reaction can present in a number of ways and could indicate your pooch has a hard time digesting one or more ingredients.
The question is, how do you make sure your dog is eating food that isn’t only nutritious and tasty, but sits right with their delicate tum? Read on as we unpack the main food allergies in dogs, what symptoms to look out for and how to identify and eliminate the offending food.
If your dog is allergic to an edible substance, it basically means their body doesn’t accept it as regular food and has a defensive reaction to its presence. The immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to try and fight the substance, resulting in uncomfortable symptoms in your pooch.
A food intolerance has a slightly different meaning - it quite literally means that your dog’s body may not tolerate a certain food. Rather than defend itself with antibodies, as in an allergic reaction, the dog’s body has a chemical reaction to the ingredient. This could apply, for instance if your dog doesn’t tolerate dairy products well, as they cause bloating and digestive issues in his gut (1).
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 or intolerance. True IGE-mediated food allergies (e.g. as experienced by an egg-allergic person who can go into anaphylaxis from eating food containing eggs) are rare in dogs.
Keep in mind that certain rich or inappropriate foods (like bacon or butter) are likely to cause digestive upset in all dogs.
In some cases, symptoms to food allergies in your pup could be brushed off as an everyday behaviour, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for an increase in any of the following:
Skin issues are one of the main symptoms that will differentiate a food allergy from an intolerance - so pay special attention if your dog is super itchy, has inflamed, sore skin or a nasty rash has appeared. In severe cases, your dog may develop skin lesions.
If your dog gets sick more than once, it could be down to something they’re regularly eating. If vomiting is accompanied by itchy skin or a rash, it’s highly likely your dog has a food allergy (2).
As always, dodgy dog poops are a prime indicator of trouble in the gut - and could be a symptom of an allergy or intolerance.
This presents as pink or brown staining on your dog’s coat. Lots of breeds are more prone to stained fur around the eyes and muzzle, but it could be indicative of a food allergy.
Be aware if your dog’s eyes aren’t as bright as usual but are dull, red or streaming.
Dogs fart, we know - but not all day! Know that continual or extra stinky farts aren’t normal and should be taken note of.
Pay attention if your pup jolts or whines when touched in the abdominal area, as this could be down to an allergic reaction causing tummy pain.
Your poor dog may show signs of stress or be more aggressive than usual when it’s actually discomfort down to a food allergy.
There’s a bunch of foods and food groups that are known to trigger allergic reactions in some dogs, but there’s also a few things to remember.
Firstly, it makes sense that foods that dogs are most exposed to (such as beef and chicken) will appear highly in a list of common dog allergies - there’s simply more evidence of it. There are many other less commonly used dog food ingredients that could also trigger an allergic or intolerant reaction. Secondly, the research around food allergies in dogs is constantly changing - so be aware of each time you introduce brand new foods to your dog’s diet.
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.
Now that you’ve seen your dog is displaying some unusual symptoms after his meals (well done for noticing), time for the tricky part - honing in on what food is causing the drama.
It’s a good idea to speak to your vet at this point about suspected allergies - they may be able to conduct some blood tests to source the problem right away.
It’s worth noting that 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. Vets 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.
The next step is to investigate the foods you feed your dog.
In most cases, your vet will recommend a special ‘exclusion diet’ for your dog, stripped back of all the ingredients they usually eat, for 8-12 weeks. This means all-natural, hypoallergenic foods, sometimes as simple as potatoes and fish - with no table scraps and no treats. The idea is to eliminate all the foods your dog is used to and basically cleanse their body of what could be causing the allergic reaction (3).
After the 8-12 weeks are up, the next step is to reintroduce foods you used to feed them, in what is essentially a ‘food challenge’ to identify the perpetrating ingredient. You may be hesitant to do this to your dog, especially if his harsh symptoms have stopped since you changed his diet, but it’s the only way to be entirely sure of identifying the ‘bad’ food and avoiding the allergy symptoms in future.
Extra Note: If the symptoms in your dog seem minor, such as increased wind or itchiness, you may be tempted to just let it go - especially if your dog enjoys eating whatever they want. Consider, though, that your poor pooch may be suffering more than they let on, and that living with a food allergy will impact their quality of life. Best to identify that pesky problem food before symptoms get worse.
You’ve found the offending allergen! It could be eggs, it could be cheese, it could be your dog’s favourite lamb cuts (boo). In any case, now it’s time to manage this allergy, protecting your dog from the unwanted symptoms by eliminating it from their diet… forever!
Sometimes this might be as easy as simplifying their diet down to nutritious whole foods instead of cheap, mass-produced pet food. Some dog owners even start a homemade food diet for their pooch to ensure they know exactly what they’re eating. However this isn’t always the best solution, as it can be tricky and time-consuming to include the right nutrients, vitamins and minerals your dog needs every day.
If your dog is allergic to a specific food, there has to be a way to manage their diet so that they won’t end up slurping any of the offending foods accidentally, and suffering yet another bout of allergy symptoms.
Dog foods are available on the market that are perfect for dogs with food allergies.
When it comes to the ‘elimination diet’, opt for hypoallergenic wet dog foods that are specially formulated to be easy on a sensitive stomach (hypoallergenic dry dog foods are also good), containing gently digestible ingredients such as fish, peas, parsley and sweet potato.
Why not add a supplement to ensure the process is bolstered with much-needed vitamins, minerals and nutrients? A digestive supplement for dogs will contain nutritional boosters while being easy on the stomach; while an omega-dense skin and coat supplement will ensure your pooch is getting the essential fatty acids they need, while easing the itchy or sore skin brought on by their food allergy.
What about your dog’s future diet? As we’ve explained further up the article, some dog parents choose to ditch commercial, big-name dog food brands (which are often packed with iffy additives and filler), and instead choose specialist food that focuses on nutritious, natural ingredients - and nothing else. With clear, simply listed ingredients, you can trust your hungry pooch is getting everything they need for a healthy body and mind, without the ingredient(s) that gives them a hard time.
Our Pooch & Mutt Vet Food for Sensitivity, for example, has been made with the above criteria in mind, and is a premium-quality, vet-recommended food for dogs with food allergies, sensitive stomachs or intolerances.
As well as being grain-free (so it’s perfect for dogs with a grain allergy or intolerance), it’s also hypoallergenic and includes hydrolysed protein. The hydrolysed salmon, peas and buckwheat make for a delicious, digestible combination for a pooch with a picky palette and tummy. For healthy fats there’s coconut oil, apple pulp for improved poops, and added prebiotics and probiotics to promote a harmonious environment in your dog’s gut.
If you’re still uncertain about why the above elements are so perfect for a dog with food allergies or sensitivity, read our easy-to-digest article on what to feed a dog with allergies.
If you have queries over potential food allergies in your dog, or you’d like to chat about food options for your dog’s ‘elimination diet’, get in touch with us today. Alternatively, browse our range of all-natural, hypoallergenic wet and dry food and supplements for dogs.
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