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Food Allergies in Dogs

01/06/2016 by Colleen Williams
January 6th, 2016 by Colleen Williams

With all the mysterious ingredients in pet foods nowadays, allergic reactions and intolerances are very common. Intolerances to food are different than allergies; the ingredient may not agree with the animal’s digestive system, but doesn’t invoke an immune response. Additives like wheat, corn, coloring, and dairy products aren’t what you’d normally consider to be dog food, but they’re all in there. While the symptoms can be similar, here’s how the two conditions are very different.

Causes: Just like environmental allergies, food allergies are caused by antibodies in the dog’s intestines overreacting to a particular allergen, leading to a histamine response – this reaction is what causes the visible symptoms. Dogs can be lactose, wheat, and soy intolerant just like humans. Food allergies and intolerances aren’t influenced by gender, breed, size, or even age; dogs can develop them at any point in their lives.

A particular ingredient in their food causes the immune reaction. The following are the most common problem foods, in order:

  • Beef
  • Dairy products
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Chicken eggs
  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Soy

Symptoms: Allergies and intolerances have many of the same symptoms, but very different internal responses.

  • Food Intolerances: Diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, abdominal pain, excessive flatulence, and anorexia due to food intolerance occur because of the inability to digest the food.
  • Food Allergies: Caused by the immune system, allergic reactions cause vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive flatulence. Skin conditions are also a large part of allergies as well; histamines can prompt your dog’s skin to erupt in painful, itchy hives, plaques, pustules, scales, sores, and wheals, as well as cause hyperpigmentation and a leathery, bark-like texture. As an effect of the itchiness, the dog will scratch and irritate the skin, sometimes to the point of baldness and bleeding. Bacterial and fungal infections can arise from the open sores, so it’s extremely important to seek veterinary attention if your pet has any uncovered wounds.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical exam will be performed by the vet, as well as blood and urine tests to rule out any underlying diseases. A thorough history of the symptoms and any changes in your dog’s diet will also be needed in order to diagnose your pet. Dogs with extreme vomiting and diarrhea may need hospitalization to replenish fluids, and antibiotics may be given if your cat has open wounds with the potential for infection.

A food elimination diet for four to thirteen weeks is the only effective way to treat food allergies and intolerances. Your vet will choose a generic food that your dog has not had access to before. It’s extremely important to stick to only this food – no treats or table scraps.


If the elimination diet was successful, stick to a vet-recommended food that doesn’t contain the trigger. Make sure you carefully read the ingredients on treats, vitamins, chewable toys, and medications, checking that they are clean. Inform all family members of the new diet to ensure there are no slip-ups. Don’t feed your dog table scraps unless you are absolutely sure they do not contain the allergen.

Food allergies and intolerances are very common among dogs; they account for roughly 20% of all excessive scratching! See a vet if your dog’s itching becomes so severe that it causes bleeding, rawness, or baldness. Any diarrhea or vomiting warrants a vet appointment as well, as these can be symptoms of other diseases. If your vet recommends a specific diet, it’s extremely important to stick to it; allergies are often progressive, and symptoms can worsen with each feeding of the allergen.

Want to know more about conditions that can affect your dog? Check out the Healthy Paws Cost of Pet Health Care report for 2017.