Common Dog Food Allergies
A guide to common dog food allergies and how you can help your dog
We all love our pets and want to do the very best for them. We also know that nutrition is they key to maintaining good health and with this in mind it can be particularly stressful and upsetting when we discover our beloved dog may be suffering from a food allergy. Naturally we have a lot of questions when anything such as a potential food allergy affects our dog. For this reason I have put together this article to give you an overview of the most common dog food allergies along with the best ways you can help your dog.
What is an allergy and what causes an allergy?
An allergy is an abnormal and heightened immune response to a particular stimulus which is referred to as an ‘allergen’. Allergens can come from many sources but in this article we shall be discussing only food allergens. This allergic reaction is caused by the body releasing various chemicals such as histamine in response to the allergen which it has detected and as a threat. Any food ingredient potentially can be an allergen.
The difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance
Food allergy and food intolerance are two completely different things. Food intolerance will not trigger an allergic reaction from the body and usually your dog would need to consume a larger quantity of a food that he or she is intolerant to in comparison to a food that he or she was allergic to before experiencing any symptoms. Also, the symptoms of food intolerance and food allergy are likely to be different. Symptoms of food intolerance will usually result in bloating, excess gas, runny stools and tummy ache. Symptoms of food allergy can be very varied and range from slight to extreme in their effects. Lets’ take a look at the symptoms associated with common dog food allergies…
Symptoms of common dog food allergies
The symptoms of common dog food allergies can be very varied. The most common symptoms can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Red and inflamed skin
- Frequent scratching
- Poor coat quality
- Excessive licking
- Chronic and recurrent ear infections
- Chewing paws
- Hair loss
- Chronic ear problems
- Poor growth in puppies
As you can see the most common symptoms of dog food allergies are very varied and there are some that you would not necessarily expect to be cause by a food allergy. It is important to remember that these symptoms can also be caused by many other issues including parasites; for this reason it is important to seek advice from your vet if your dog or puppy exhibits any of these symptoms.
Common foods that can trigger a dog food allergy
A human can be allergic to any food ingredient, so too can a dog. In our own human diet there are certain foods that are more commonly seen to trigger allergic reactions; this is also seen among foods fed to dogs. Some of the foods that are often associated with dog food allergies are:
You may be looking at the list and thinking it covers just about every common ingredient fed to dogs and you would be right. This is no coincidence. Although not the only reason we see food allergies in dogs there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many allergic reactions are associated with repeated exposure to ingredients. If your dog has become allergic to a certain food then it is likely that he or she will develop or have already developed allergies to other foods and so you will have to work to establish what ingredient/s your dog is allergic to so that you can remove them from the diet.
Food allergies typically occur in aged dogs from 2 years upwards. Allergic reactions seen prior to this time are usually; though not always, environmental or in response to parasites. Dogs that are presented with food allergies have commonly been on the same food for a considerable amount of time; often their whole life or at least a couple of years in succession. Food allergies are very rarely connected with a sudden diet change.
Diagnosis of common dog food allergies
Diagnosing a food allergy can be a tricky undertaking. The first step is to visit your vet to ensure that the symptoms your dog is displaying are not related to something else. Allergy testing can be performed in the form of blood tests and patch testing. These tests are not 100% reliable; however, do discuss these options with your vet as veterinary medicine is constantly evolving and they will be in the best position to advise you of the latest in diagnosis technology and strategies and the best ones to suit you and your dogs situation. Once it is established by your veterinarian that your dog is likely suffering from a food allergy, they will usually instruct you to begin an ‘elimination diet’ or ‘food trial’ to establish the exact allergen.
Treatment for dogs with allergies
Treatment for dogs with food allergies usually begins with an elimination diet whereby the diet is restricted to try and establish the cause of the allergy. In addition to this your dog may be prescribed some form of antihistamine or treatment for any other symptoms they may be experiencing as a result of their food allergy. Once you have established the allergens that are affecting your dog and your dog is no longer consuming them then symptom will begin to diminish and eventually disappear altogether. The time frame for symptoms to disappear depends on a number of factors such as the type of symptom, how sever those symptoms are and how long it take to identify the allergens and remove them from your dogs diet.
Hypoallergenic food trial/elimination diet
Hypoallergenic food trials usually run anywhere between 8-12 weeks. It will take 8-12 weeks to see any results from a food trial. During this time you will need to feed your dog a specific hypoallergenic diet. I cannot stress enough that if your dog on an elimination diet or food trial then you MUST withhold all treats, flavoured worming tablets, access to human food…everything! It is critical! It is no good putting your dog on an elimination diet and then other people sneaking him other food no matter how innocent it may seem. Their actions will likely cost you extra money and causes your dog unnecessary discomfort and potentially seriously delay his or her progress. Make sure all family members know how important this is and if you feel cruel not giving your dog treats just know that being cruel to be kind. Besides, you can always use some of his hypoallergenic diet as a treat.
Hypoallergenic diets can be purchased in the form of a commercial product or made at home.
Commercially available hypoallergenic dog foods
Hypoallergenic dog food is a huge market with many products available. It is difficult to know which one to choose. Obviously part of your choice will be based on what your dog is known to be allergic to and also what your vet has recommended as a course of action. There are two main categories in which these foods can be divided. They are hydrolyzed protein food and novel protein food.
Hydrolyzed protein food
Hydrolyzed protein hypoallergenic dog foods are those foods in which the protein is broken down into its component amino acids. The theory is that the proteins are broken down to be so small and fragmented that the body won’t entirely recognize it and react to it as a threat and therefore will not produce an allergic response. Hydrolyzed protein is most commonly achieved by boiling in acid-HVP for prolonged periods or using enzymes as would be the case within the natural body.
Hills Prescription Diet Z/D is a trusted hydrolyzed protein hypoallergenic dog food and is available in both dry and wet forms.
Novel protein hypoallergenic dog food
Novel protein hypoallergenic dog foods are produced using limited and novel protein sources. They will often have novel carbohydrates such as sweet potato. A novel protein is usually any protein from a source that is not commonly found in regular dog food and is one that your dog has never been exposed to before. Examples of these would be venison, bison, kangaroo, duck and rabbit or maybe turkey. If your dog has regularly consumed bison then bison would not be considered a novel protein for your individual dog despite it not being found in most dog foods. If on the other hand your dog has never had chicken then chicken would be considered a novel protein to your individual dog. A novel protein does not have to be limited to unusual and obscure meats or indeed plant based protein sources though since most dogs will have had chicken, beef or lamb as part of their regular diet these meats wouldn’t be considered novel for many dogs.
Check the labels…
Producers of both novel protein and hydrolyzed hypoallergenic dog food also usually limit the number of sources of protein in the food and like any higher quality dog food will have each ingredient listed separately instead of listing things that are just generalizations such as ‘cereals’ or ‘meat and animal derivatives’. Both of these terms could clearly be made up of any individual or combination of cereal or animal matter. If your dog became allergic to this food you would never be able to distinguish which ingredient your dog was allergic to since you wouldn’t know exactly what is in the food. It is obvious that this does not provide a suitable or reliable solution for those with dogs who are known allergy sufferers.
Some of the breeds that are more prone to food allergies
Certain breeds are said to be more prone to food allergies. Weather or not this is because of a particular breed or rather a particular line remains to be seen.
Some of the breeds said to be more prone to food allergies are:
- West highland White
- Irish Setter
- Cocker Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Bichon Frise
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- Jack Russel Terriers
- Bichone Frise
You should bear in mind that this is a list of dog breeds ‘said’ to be more prone to dog food allergies and not that ‘are’ more prone to food allergies. There are many more of these popular breeds about than some of the less popular breeds such as Bedlington Terriers or Besenji and we must take into consideration that it could simply be that we see more of these breeds of dogs with food allergies because there are more of them. While it is likely that some breeds genuinely may be more prone to developing allergies due to their genetic makeup, the reality is that ANY dog can develop a food allergy regardless of breed.
Common Dog food allergy Q&A
Q: How common are food allergies in dogs?
A:Food allergies are fairly common occurring in roughly 15% of dogs.
Q: Will changing my dog’s diet trigger a food allergy?
A:Changing your dog’s diet is not typically associated with food allergies. Most dogs presented with common dog food allergies have usually been fed the same food for more than a couple of years which is likely to be why we typically see dogs who are middle aged and been on the same diet for most of their early life being diagnosed with common dog food allergies. That said, if you do not know your dog’s history and you introduce a new diet that contains an ingredient that your dog is already allergic to then your dog will show an allergic response which you may associate with the new diet. My advice in this situation would be to compare the ingredients on the packets of both foods and discuss them with your veterinarian so that you can conclude that the symptoms are not related to any other underlying cause and that you come up with an elimination diet/food trial for your dog to try and establish the culprit ingredient/s.
Q: Can my dog suddenly develop a food allergy to something that he’s eaten for years?
A:Yes, absolutely. Most common dog food allergies occur in dogs that have had prolonged exposure to the same ingredient for a number of years. It is not unusual to see a dog fed the same food for a good length of time to develop an allergy to one or more of the ingredients. That said this is not the only reason for a dog to begin suffering from allergies, though it is common.
Q: How do I treat a dog with food allergies?
A:Your first port of call should be a consultation with your veterinarian to establish that there are no underlying causes for the symptoms your dog is displaying that are completely unrelated to a food allergy. Following this it is typical to begin an 8-12 week elimination diet/ food trial using a hypoallergenic diet such as Royal Canin Veterinary Hypoallergenic Dry Dog Foodor Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Ha Hypoallergenic Dry dog food to establish which ingredient your dog is allergic to. He or she will also need to be treated for any symptoms displayed. If for example your dog has developed and ear infection related to food allergy the ear infection must be treated as well as making serious effort to establish the source of the allergic reaction.
Q: Should I cook for my dog rather than buy her food?
A:This is totally up to you. There are benefits to both cooking dog food and buying in dog food. Buying food in is convenient but cooking for your dog puts you in control of exactly what your dog is consuming. Do be sure that if you are cooking for your dog that you make sure that meals are balanced and meet the correct nutritional requirements your dog.
Q: Will raw diet help protect against dog food allergies?
A:Potentially; it cannot be denied that raw diet is far more biologically appropriate and species specific for dogs than most of the commercial diets available. That said; it is also true that if your dog is allergic to something then he or she is allergic to it and so it is doubtful that if your dog has an allergy to lets say beef, that they wouldn’t be allergic to beef if fed raw. We do have to consider; however, that there may be chemicals and other elements that are produced through the process of cooking and it could be that some of these factors affect your dog’s ability to consume a particular food and not have their body see it as a threat. It is after all not natural for dogs to have cooked food…dogs do not have ovens and never would.
Q: Is there anything I can do to keep my puppy from developing food allergies?
A:Preventing common dog food allergies is not an exact science but you can give your puppy the best chance by feeding a balanced and varied diet and ensure your puppy has excellent gut health as well as keeping your pet free from parasitic infection.
Q: Can my dog die from a food allergy?
A:Yes. Dogs can die from food allergies just as people can. If a dog becomes allergic to a particular food and is left untreated it can die from a number of effects. Anaphylactic shock can and does kill, and dogs can go into anaphylactic shock if suffering from a sever food allergy. Dogs that develop infections as a result of having a food allergy are also at risk if left untreated, Infections can spread or become deep rooted and even become deadly if no care is given. For this reason always address the allergy and treat the symptoms and stay in touch with your veterinarian to ensure your dog has the best care.
Q: Is a dog food allergy genetic and should I breed from my dog that has a food allergy?
A:While food allergies are most commonly seen following repeated exposure to a particular ingredient there is an element of genetics involved and there is evidence that predispositions to allergies can be passed on from one generation to another. For this reason if considering a breeding a dog with allergies then it is important to judge weather or not the benefits of breeding would outweigh the negatives. If it is decided that the dog in question has a lot to give the breed then it would be very wise to ensure that the mate is free of history of allergies and it is my recommendation that you avoid breeding from dogs with allergies where possible. While in an ideal world we would want to breed away from any negative things such as this it is; however, often impossible to completely remove allergic dogs from breeding programs since many may have been bred long before they ever develop allergies.
Q: Where can I get hypoallergenic dog food?
A:Hypoallergenic dog food can be purchased from a variety of places. You can get it from your vet or from some of the larger pet shops. As with most things nowadays, the biggest variety is available online from large retailers such as Amazon and enables a larger selection of products, pack sizes, brands and delivery options to choose from and even sometimes discount on individual or repeat order options. For a list of links to some good reputable Hypo-allergenic dog foods click here.
Q: What should I look out for when buying a hypoallergenic dog food?
A:This depends largely on your situation. Steer clear from products which claim to be hypo-allergenic yet contain vague and generalised ingredients lists. If going down the novel protein route then try to choose products which have as many ingredients as possible that your dog hasn’t been exposed to. You may wish to consider trying the hydrolyzed hypo-allergenic dog foods and in this case, as is the case of novel protein foods it would be better to stick to one of the well known brands that again have a detailed and specific ingredients list.
Q: What is the best dog food for dogs with allergies?
A:It really depends on what your dog is allergic to and what you feel comfortable with feeding your dog in general. Royal Canin Veterinary Hypoallergenic Dry Dog Food, Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Ha Hypoallergenic Dry dog food and Hill’s Dog Food Z/D Allergen Free Prescription Diet are all reputable products and often recommended by vets. Both wet and dry hypo-allergenic foods are available from some of these brands giving you plenty of choice.
Also we must not forget that suitable food for both elimination diet and allergy management does not have to be from a commercially produced food but you can create a diet for your dog by preparing home cooked meals or feeding raw. In short there is no right or wrong answer but to this question but it is a case of going with what you are comfortable with and sticking to well known reliable and quality brands which have clear labeling.
Many dogs can develop a food allergy and it is our job as a responsible pet owner to establish the allergen and remove it from the diet as well as treat the symptoms displayed by our dogs. We owe it to them to get the best care possible and so always advocate you visiting your vet if you think your dog has an allergy.
I hope you found this article helpful and informative. If you have any thoughts or comments please write the box below. We’d love to hear from you and your pets!