Food allergies in dogs: causes, symptoms & treatment

Updated 28 February 2024
Read time: 12 mins

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. 

What are dog food allergies & intolerances? 

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.


Dog food allergy symptoms

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:

  • Itchy or sore skin, lesions, or a rash
  • 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.

  • Vomiting
  • 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).

  • Diarrhoea
  • As always, dodgy dog poops are a prime indicator of trouble in the gut - and could be a symptom of an allergy or intolerance.

  • Saliva staining
  • 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. 

  • Streaming eyes
  • Be aware if your dog’s eyes aren’t as bright as usual but are dull, red or streaming.

  • Excessive wind
  • Dogs fart, we know - but not all day! Know that continual or extra stinky farts aren’t normal and should be taken note of.

  • Sore tummy
  • 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.

  • Behavioural issues
  • Your poor dog may show signs of stress or be more aggressive than usual when it’s actually discomfort down to a food allergy.

    Common dog food allergies

    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.

  • Beef - Beef is known as the most common food allergy for dogs - though it is also one of the most used ingredients in dog foods, so this could be the reason (2). 
  • Dairy - Dairy products such as milk, cream and cheese are big culprits of intolerance in dogs due to lactose content, but confusingly, dairy allergies in dogs produce similar symptoms. One big difference is that an allergy often causes your dog to get itchy skin, whereas an intolerance will show more digestion-based symptoms.
  • Wheat - Most commercial foods contain carbohydrates such as wheat and grain - but wheat allergies in dogs do occur. Pay special attention to your dog to be sure they’re tolerant to what they’re eating each day, otherwise it could be better to go grain-free.
  • Eggs - If a dog is allergic to eggs, it’s usually to the proteins in the yolk. Luckily, eggs are relatively easy to avoid if you check labels thoroughly.
  • Chicken - Yep, there is such a thing as a chicken allergy in dogs. Despite its harmlessly plain reputation, some dogs just can’t stomach it.
  • Lamb - Same as above - lamb meat, though a tasty alternative to other meats, just doesn’t sit well with some pooches.
  • Soy - A bit of a controversial ingredient, soy has been known to cause adverse effects in some dogs. 

    Are some dog breeds more prone to food allergies, intolerances & 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.

    Diagnosing food allergies in dogs

    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. 

    Are there food allergy tests for dogs?

    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.

    Exclusion diets for dog food allergies

    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.  

    Dog food allergy treatment & management

    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. 


    How to treat & manage dog allergies 

    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. 


    • Start with the simple step of eliminating cheap, mass-produced pet food. There’s plenty of chances for allergy triggers to sneak into cheap pet food, as well as artificial ingredients such as meat meal - while ‘filler’ ingredients to bulk up the food (often wheat or other grains) are often triggering, too. 
    • Simplify your pooch’s diet by choosing a high-quality dog food that uses whole, nutritious ingredients. Dog food brands that focus on health and nutrition should have clearly listed ingredients, so you can easily assess whether it’s suitable for your pooch.
    • Consider a hypoallergenic dog food. Hypoallergenic foods for dogs are specially made to avoid common triggers such as dairy, grain, soy and red meat, and will be ultra gentle on your dog’s digestion.
    • Look for a specialist pet food with hydrolysed proteins. This is a process that breaks down the food into small pieces while retaining the nutrients, so it cleverly goes through the dog’s digestive system undetected.
    • Some dog owners opt for a homemade diet so they know exactly what their dog is eating. This can be tricky, as it’s time-consuming and difficult to get the right balance of nutrients to ensure your pooch is getting a well-rounded diet. If they have severe allergies though, this may be the best option for you. Perhaps consult a pet nutritionist if you opt for this route.
    • Be sure to tell your friends, family, pet-sitters and home visitors that your dog has food allergies. You don’t want their symptoms flaring up due to a buttery treat sneaked under a table.

    Best dog food for allergies

    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. 


    Dog food allergy diet

    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.





    1. Food allergy in Dogs and Cats: A Review - Taylor Francis Online 
    2. Diagnosis and management of food allergies in dogs and cats - Vetfolio 
    3. Update on food allergy in the dog and cat, 2001 - Veterinary Information Network 


    Comments (4)

    Could you advise on the best wet dog food for a very sensitive tummy please ?My dog is on Hills digestive care wet food at present but I need to change as it’s extremely expensive. He’s a Havaton – he gets an upset tummy with dry food – he wants to be in the garden eating grass through the night and won’t settle. I’ve tried to re-introduce Hills sensitive tummy dry food gradually into his wet but I’ve had another reaction. Any advice would be so helpful. He gets itchy skin but it’s ok at the moment 😊 thank you.

    Janice Aspey - May 16 2023
    Pooch Admin

    Hi Janice! We would recommend feeding our Fish, Potato and Pea wet food for your pooch, as fish is known to be kinder on the stomach and much easier for dogs to digest. :) if you have any questions email our team on [email protected]

    Team Pooch - May 16 2023

    I have a 2yr chocolate Labrador this time last year he lost the fur from around his eyes and the skin on his face and legs became very irritated, the vet treated it with steroids which worked. Then the same thing happened this year but the steroids didn’t work and had to be put on apoquel, which he is still on, the fur around the eyes is better and not chewing his skin as much. Nothing has changed I.E his food or his environment can you give me some advice

    Emma - Sep 26 2023
    Pooch Admin

    Hi Emma, if you haven’t made any changes to your dogs diet or environment, it sounds like they could be experiencing seasonal allergies and might be worth speaking with your vet about this further. Dust mites and tree pollen are some of the things that can cause seasonal allergies and the Apoquel will be helping with the anti-itch, but you could always add in some Salmon Oil to their diet as this can help ease some of the symptoms. :) If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the team on [email protected]

    Team Pooch - Sep 26 2023

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