Can dogs have food allergies? You may be surprised to know that true food allergies in dogs is rather rare. In fact, according to the 2018 State of Pet Health Report by Banfield Pet Hospital, research showed food allergies only affect 0.02% of dogs.
What many of us think are food allergies may actually be a food intolerance or food sensitivity. What’s the difference? Food intolerance is not an immune response, but the body’s inability to process or digest certain foods upon initial exposure. Food sensitivities, while not life-threatening, are an immune reaction to exposure to a specific food. Food allergies, on the other hand, arelife-threatening overreactions to normal dietary ingredients. Both food sensitivities and allergies typically require multiple exposures for physical signs to appear. Here’s a look at common food allergies in dogs, symptoms, and treatments.
Common Foods That Dogs Are Allergic To
Although not as common as environmental allergies, dogs can experience an allergic reaction to certain foods. Pet parents often assume dogs are allergic to foods like peanut butter, rice, fish (salmon), pumpkin, cheese, and bread, when in actuality these are not typical culprits.
The most common foods that cause allergic reactions in dogs are proteins such as chicken, beef, egg, and dairy. It is important to note that reaction to dairy products may be a food intolerance (especially to lactose) rather than a true food allergy. Pork, lamb, and fish are less likely to cause food allergies.
One misconception advertised by dog food companies is that grain-free foods are best for dogs. Research fails to support this claim. In fact, the occurrences of allergic reactions to wheat or corn is considerably lower in dogs than they lead you to believe; some research indicates about 1 in 10,000 (Source: Researchgate.net). However, exceptions do exist. Irish setters and border terriers, for example, tend to have adverse reactions (poor body condition and involuntary movements, respectively) to wheat gluten.
Food Allergy Symptoms in Dogs
So, how can you tell whether your pet is suffering from food intolerance or a food allergy?
Remember a food intolerance simply means your pet is unable to digest the food item, whereas a food allergy causes the body’s immune system to go into overdrive and release a chemical called histamine in an effort to fight off the allergen.
Symptoms of food intolerance in dogs
Symptoms of a food intolerance typically show up as gastrointestinal symptoms such as gasiness, bloating, belching, vomiting and diarrhea. Food sensitivities and allergies can involve gastrointestinal signs along with itchiness, redness, yeast or bacterial infections.
Symptoms of food allergies in dogs
Life-threatening anaphylactic shock can occur in dogs with food allergies. Signs of severe allergic reaction include hives, swelling of the face, excessive drooling or salvation, difficulty breathing and tongue and gums may appear bluish in color. If you suspect your pet is experiencing anaphylaxis, seek medical emergency veterinary treatment immediately.
Flea and environmental allergies are more common in dogs than food allergies, and they produce similar symptoms. Regular grooming can help you detect allergic reactions of the skin and coat; however, never brush a dog that has a current rash as it could cause an infection or spread the rash if it is contagious.
Treating Food Allergies in Dogs
You must first diagnose your pet’s food allergies before you can focus on dog food allergy treatments. Unlike humans who can go and have allergy tests done, determining a food allergy in a canine isn’t so cut and dry—it’s rather complicated.
None of the current blood, salvia, and hair tests prove reliable in accurately determining specific food allergies. The best method for diagnosing food allergies in dogs is the elimination diet. The key to this diet is avoiding every ingredient your dog has eaten in the past. Instead, the only thing you can feed your pet is one that contains a single protein (that your pet has not had before) and a carbohydrate. You can purchase the foods through your vet or make them yourself at home. A secondary diet option is to offer your pet hydrolyzed protein (they are ground so finely or purified the body doesn’t see them as a threat). Regardless of which diet you go with you cannot give your dog any treats, snacks, or even heartworm preventives during an elimination diet. How long do you have to feed this diet to your dog? For a minimum of a month, however, it may warrant 8-12 weeks.
Once the offending food is identified, the best treatment for food allergies in dogs is avoidance. Don’t feed your dog said ingredient and he should be okay. Some dogs with a food allergy to a specific food may develop allergies to other foods and are more likely to suffer from other types of allergies such as environmental. Medications may help short-term and a “hypoallergenic” diet as recommended by your vet may help. Word of caution, don’t assume the best food for dogs with allergies are the “hypoallergenic” dog foods that litter the market. Before you buy something that may prove useless, and worse case, harmful, speak with your vet.