Common food allergies in dogs, explained by a vet (2022)

canine health problems

Diagnosing food allergies in dogs can be tricky. Learn about common culprits, plus allergy treatment options.

Written by Will Hank

— Medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Diener

Updated November 4, 2021

Common food allergies in dogs, explained by a vet (1)

Table of Contents

  • 11 common dog food allergens
  • Diagnosing food allergies
  • Treating your dog's allergy
  • Frequently asked questions
(Video) Food Allergies In Dogs: Holistic Answers

As many of us can confirm, allergies are super unpleasant. In basic terms, allergies are caused by the body mistaking a foreign substance as harmful, even if it isn’t. The immune system responds by creating antibodies to attack the antigen. This reaction leads to symptoms like sneezing and runny eyes, itching, swelling, and rashes, and/or gastrointestinal distress.

Unfortunately, allergies are among the common conditions affecting both humans and dogs alike. While human allergies affect up to 50 million Americans each year, the estimates for dog allergies are harder to calculate. One reason is that they’re often mistaken for food sensitivities, which may involve similar symptoms, but don’t cause immune responses.

Dogs with environmental allergies can also show the same symptoms as those with food or flea allergies (like skin infections). It can be challenging to determine the cause of the allergy, especially since environmental allergies are far more common than food allergies. However, true food allergies do exist in dogs, and they can be dangerous if left untreated.

Understanding how to recognize and treat your dog’s food allergies is important for any pet owner, and the knowledge may just end up saving your dog’s life.

11 common dog food allergens

While true dog food allergies may only affect less than 5% of the canine population, it remains an important issue to monitor. Naturally, dogs can’t communicate their feelings, so it’s up to owners to keep an eye out for potential allergies. This is especially important if you suspect an allergen may be an ingredient in your dog’s daily food or treats. Below are some of the frequently reported culprits for food allergies in dogs:

Allergen % of Dogs Affected*
Beef 34%
Chicken 15%
Lamb 5%
Pork 2%
Fish 2%
Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, whey protein) 17%
Wheat 13%
Soy 6%
Corn 4%
Eggs 4%
Rice 2%
(Video) Food Allergy in Dogs: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

*numbers based on 2017 study from BMC Veterinary Research

This data does reveal some trends about dog food allergens. For example, dogs with food allergies are usually allergic to a type of protein in their diet. Beef and chicken are the most common allergen among dogs with food allergies. However, up-to-date research remains scarce, and there’s still much scientists wish to learn about the causes of food allergies in dogs.

While more research is needed, there’s also some evidence that certain breeds may be more prone to food allergies than others. These include:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • West Highland white terriers
  • Cocker spaniels

Signs your dog is having an allergic reaction to food

Diagnosis of food allergies in dogs begins first with recognizing symptoms. Since some symptoms may signify other health issues or conditions, besides allergies, it’s important to closely monitor the extent and severity. As always, owners should plan to visit a veterinarian or specialist if symptoms persist.

  • Itchy skin (also known as pruritus). Itching is the most common symptom of allergies in dogs, and food allergies are often to blame.
  • Itchy paws. Itchy paws may be caused by environmental irritants like pollen and dust mites, but allergies to foods can also lead to itchy paws in some dogs.
  • Ear infections. Fifty percent of dogs with food allergies have recurring ear infections, and this may be the only symptom they have.
  • Hot spots. Hot spots are often seasonal and affect breeds like German shepherds and golden retrievers more than others. Food allergies are among several potential causes of hot spots.
  • Sneezing. While the occasional dog sneeze is normal and even cute, frequent or habitual sneezing may be a sign of a more serious underlying issue like an allergic reaction.
  • Skin rashes, scales discoloration, or hair loss. Food allergies can lead to a number of concerning skin conditions in dogs, such as crusty scabs, red or inflamed skin (atopic dermatitis), or hair loss due to self-trauma.
  • Red eyes (with or without discharge). Humans in pollen season recognize this symptom as a telltale sign of allergies, and the reddening of eyes in dogs can occur due to allergies as well.
  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or gastrointestinal distress. Like our own bodies, dogs’ bodies tend to want to expel unwanted substances, like food allergens. Chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or problems like straining to pass stool may all be signs of a food allergy, and a good reason to visit the vet for answers.

Diagnosing food allergies in dogs

A suspected food allergy is a serious matter for dogs that can adversely affect quality of life. It can be tricky even for professionals to diagnose food allergies, so knowing the proper steps to take is important. Here are steps to follow if you suspect a food allergy in your dog.

1. Identify the allergen

The first step to identifying a food allergy in dogs is to determine if food is in fact the offending allergen. Environmental or seasonal allergies caused by things like mold or dust mites may be the issue instead. Therefore, if your dog has skin issues during a certain season, it’s likely caused by an allergen in the environment. Environmental allergy testing can be done using blood tests, however, there are currently no reliable tests to determine food allergies in dogs.

2. Place your pup on an elimination diet

An elimination food trial is the gold standard test for determining if your dog has a food allergy. In this instance, dogs are placed on a prescription diet, either with a novel protein (one that a pet has never eaten before) or a hydrolyzed protein diet, which means that the protein is so small that your dog’s body cannot recognize it and mount an immune response.

In order to perform a proper elimination trial, your dog must be on this new diet for at least 6-8 weeks. It takes a while for a dog’s body to adjust to a new diet so you must be patient. Also, your dog can’t eat any other dog food, dog treats (except hypoallergenic), or people food during this time period as these can interfere with the trial. Some flavored heartworm and flea/tick medicines can interfere with a food trial as well, so it’s important to talk to your vet about alternative options if your dog is placed on a food elimination trial.

If your dog’s allergy symptoms resolve during the trial, this suggests that your dog has a food allergy and should remain on the prescription diet long term. If no improvement is seen after a 6-8 week food trial, your dog likely doesn’t have a food allergy and can be transitioned back over to an over-the-counter food again.

Elimination diets must be followed strictly in order to accurately get results. Ideally, diets should consist of a single protein and a single carbohydrate source (e.g. fish and potatoes or rabbit and peas).

👉 Commitment is key, as simply cycling through different foods to find which leads to a reaction is likely to be ineffective or lead to inconclusive results.

(Video) Does your dog have a food Allergy? If so, do a food trial! Dr. Dan explains.

Treating food allergies in dogs

Once you and your vet have determined the cause of your dog’s food allergy without any reasonable doubt, the obvious first step is to eliminate the offending food. If you’ve completed an elimination trial, it’s best to keep your pet on that food, especially if the symptoms have subsided. If you try to switch back to an over-the-counter diet, it may trigger your dog’s food allergy symptoms to return.

Unfortunately, diagnosing food allergies in dogs can be a difficult and drawn-out process, and you don’t want to see your dog suffering in the meantime. Thankfully, there are a number of effective ways to treat allergy symptoms in dogs, even from your own home.

(Video) Best Dog Food Allergy Test

  • Hypoallergenic dog foods. There are an increasing number of high-quality hypoallergenic dog foods on the market nowadays. These formulas are usually made from novel proteins and simple ingredients, to better cater to canines with food intolerance issues.
  • Topical treatments. Certain ingredients like apple cider vinegar, aloe, and colloidal oatmeal have proven soothing properties for canines. You can even make a DIY anti-itch spray at home. You can also find these ingredients in ear wipes and paw balms to target specific areas of the body.
  • Skin and coat supplements. In the ever-expanding industry of pet healthcare, many OTC skin and coat supplements now exist, with ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids to address itching and skin conditions in the long term.
  • Vet-prescribed medication. In extreme cases of allergy symptoms in dogs, a veterinarian may prescribe a number of safe and effective anti-itch medications. Examples of these include the oral tablet Apoquel or the injectable medicine Cytopoint.

Frequently asked questions on dog food allergies

How can you tell if your dog is allergic to food?

Food allergies cause a host of symptoms like itching and gastrointestinal distress. A visit to the vet, and a potential elimination diet, can help pinpoint the culprit and if it’s in fact a food allergen.

Can a dog suddenly become allergic to food?

Virtually any ingredient in dog food can lead to an allergy, and they can develop quickly. Dogs may also develop a food allergy at any age, so it’s important to monitor changes in behavior or health.

Can food allergies cause ear infections in dogs?

Yes. Allergies cause skin barriers to break down and lead to overproduction of bacteria and yeast in places like the ears, where infections can take hold.

What can I give my dog for food allergies?

There are various hypoallergenic and novel protein diets that work for dogs with food allergies, so finding a diet that works for your dog is key. To help soothe symptoms in the meantime, a veterinarian can provide anti-itch medication in certain cases.

Are food allergies in dogs serious?

Yes, especially if the symptoms persist daily. Even in non-life-threatening cases, allergies provide significant quality of life issues in dogs. For instance, some dogs get so itchy, they create wounds on their skin from scratching and chewing at themselves. These can lead to severe infections that may spread to the bloodstream and become life-threatening.

What food is best for dogs with itchy skin?

Hypoallergenic dog foods with simple ingredient formulas, novel proteins, and/or omega-3 fatty acid supplements skin health supplements are great options for dogs with allergies. Our vets love Royal Canin’s Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein Adult DP Dry Dog Food because it’s packed with easy-to-digest proteins.

Common food allergies in dogs, explained by a vet (2)

(Video) How To Do Proper Food Trials - Rule In/Out Food Allergies | A Veterinarian Explains

Packed with easy-to-digest hydrolyzed proteins, this kibble is considered ideal for adults and pups alike. Reviewers also love the addition of omega fatty acids, as well as prebiotics.

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FAQs

How do you figure out what food my dog is allergic to? ›

The best and most accurate method of diagnosing a food allergy is to feed a hypoallergenic diet for eight to twelve weeks as a food trial called an elimination trial. To be a true elimination trial for your dog, this special diet must not contain any ingredients that it has eaten in the past.

What is the most common source of food allergies in dogs? ›

The most common food allergens in dogs are proteins, especially those from dairy products, beef, lamb, chicken, chicken eggs, soy or gluten (from wheat). Each time a pet eats food containing these substances, the antibodies react with the antigens and symptoms occur.

Can a vet tell what my dog is allergic to? ›

This test is often performed as part of the workup for atopy (a skin manifestation of inhalant allergy) in dogs. Allergy testing allows you and your veterinarian to determine which allergens may be triggering your dog's atopy, allowing you to formulate a plan to address these allergies.

What meat is best for dogs with allergies? ›

Hypoallergenic dog food options include venison and potato, duck and pea, salmon and potato or even kangaroo, as long as the dog hasn't been exposed to these ingredients in the past. Lamb used to be considered hypoallergenic but is now in so many commercial dog foods that it is no longer novel.

What ingredient in dog food makes them itch? ›

Beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken are the most common culprits of food allergies in dogs. The development of food allergies, however, takes time. So the dog may have been eating the offending ingredients for quite a long time before symptoms develop."

How long does it take for a food allergy to clear up in dogs? ›

Managing Allergic Reactions

If you suspect food allergies, it's best to totally switch the type of food and treats your pet is eating, then see if symptoms improve. Typically, it takes around eight weeks for symptoms to clear up.

Can a dog suddenly develop an allergy to its food? ›

A: That's common in food-allergic dogs. They have to be sensitized; they have to have been exposed for some period of time. So, in general, they're not going to react really dramatically the first time they eat it but a dog that has eaten a food for years could suddenly become allergic to that food.

Can a dog be allergic to carrots? ›

Dogs who have confirmed allergies to other types of foods are more likely to develop allergies to new food sources, such as carrots. An allergy to carrots is an over-reaction of your dog's immune system to an unwelcome protein that is present in the carrots themselves.

Are food allergy tests for dogs accurate? ›

Take Home: Saliva and blood tests for food allergies in dogs do not reliably distinguish between healthy and allergic dogs and should not be used for diagnosis of food allergy! The use of these blood and saliva tests could result in the false identification of a lot of common foods as allergens.

Are dog allergy tests worth it? ›

We often need to do both tests to get the most information about a pet's allergic sensitivities. Overall, we are able to pinpoint the allergy in about 75% of dogs and cats. It is important to understand that no allergy test is perfect, and that some pets, even those with severe itchiness, are negative on these tests.

How can I tell if my dog is allergic to chicken? ›

Symptoms of Chicken Allergy in Dogs

Symptoms could include red or itchy skin (especially on the paws, abdomen, groin, face, and ears), rashes, fur loss, or hives. Skin and ear infections commonly occur. And wounds or “hot spots” may develop due to trauma from a dog repeatedly licking or chewing their skin.

Is yogurt good for dogs with allergies? ›

Plain yogurt helps keep away yeast infections, commonly seen in dogs with allergies. Depending on the size of your dog, a tablespoon or so of yogurt in your dogs food can help keep the itch at bay. Make sure to use an organic, non-fat plain yogurt.

Is salmon dog food good for dogs with allergies? ›

Salmon is the single source of animal protein in this limited ingredient hypoallergenic dog food.

What oil is good for dogs itchy skin? ›

Coconut Oil for Itchy Dogs

For this reason, coconut oil is among the best oils for canine skin, which is why so many products for pups use it as a key ingredient. Many natural beauty products now contain coconut oil because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties.

What grains are dogs most allergic to? ›

Symptoms of Grain Allergies in Dogs

Some of these grains include wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, and certain beans. "Gluten" is a term to describe the protein in some of these grains, but not all of them.

Does Benadryl help dogs with food allergies? ›

Benadryl is a great medication for use in dogs with mild-to-moderate allergies. Seasonal allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies, and allergic reactions to snake and insect bites all respond to Benadryl in most cases.

What home remedy can I give my dog for food allergies? ›

Coconut oil can also be great for any digestion issues caused by an allergic reaction. You can add a tablespoon to your dog's food or freeze it for a fun treat. If you have any questions about adding coconut oil to your pet's diet, always ask your veterinarian.

Is rice good for dogs with allergies? ›

Fully cooked whole grain brown rice is even recommended for dogs with certain environmental allergies, or sensitive stomachs, because of its ability to regulate the digestive tract and reduce overall stress in the dog's system.

Is broccoli good for dogs? ›

Broccoli is high in fiber and vitamin C and low in fat. It is safe for dogs to eat, raw or cooked, as long as no seasonings are added.

Can dogs have broccoli? ›

So, can dogs eat broccoli? Absolutely, so long as it's in moderation. Broccoli should be regarded as a nutritious snack — not a meal. Offer this veggie alongside a well-balanced dog food formulated for your pet's specific nutritional needs.

Can dogs eat sweet potato? ›

When feeding your dog a sweet potato, make sure it's cooked and that the skin is removed; leaving the skin on makes it harder for your dog to digest. You should never feed your dog a raw sweet potato. Not only are they difficult to chew, but they can upset your dog's stomach and potentially cause intestinal blockage.

Can you do an allergy test on dogs? ›

Blood Testing

To perform this test, your vet will take a blood sample. The sample will go to a lab where a technician will examine it for signs of IgE antibodies, which your dog's immune system produces in response to different allergens.

How can you tell if your dog is allergic to chicken? ›

Symptoms of Chicken Allergy in Dogs

Symptoms could include red or itchy skin (especially on the paws, abdomen, groin, face, and ears), rashes, fur loss, or hives. Skin and ear infections commonly occur. And wounds or “hot spots” may develop due to trauma from a dog repeatedly licking or chewing their skin.

How do I know if my dog has a grain allergy? ›

Symptoms that are frequently associated with grain allergies include red, itchy skin, hair loss associated with constant scratching and chewing, ear infections, and inflamed pads on the underside of paws, often combined with obsessive licking.

What is my dog allergic to in my house? ›

Some of the most common causes of allergies include:

Fleas – caused by flea bites, specifically flea saliva (yuck!) Dust mites. Household cleaning products. insect bites.

Videos

1. Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats
(Veterinary Secrets)
2. Food Allergies In Dogs & Cats | How To Perform An Elimination Diet | Your Vet Online
(Your Vet Online)
3. Food Allergies and Your Pet
(MercolaHealthyPets)
4. Food Allergy Signs in Dogs
(ImpulseNotion)
5. 5 Signs Of Food Allergies In Dogs
(Dogs Naturally Magazine)
6. Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats [Part 2]
(Veterinary Secrets)

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