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Does your dog suffer from dry, itchy skin that never seems to go away? Does he experience chronic or recurring ear infections that respond to treatment but come back as soon as the treatment ends? Has your dog experienced vomiting, diarrhea or gastrointestinal upset after eating a meal, even if it is the same food you always feed him? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, your dog might be suffering from food allergies. In this article you will learn the basics about what food allergies are, how they can affect your dog, and which foods are the most likely to cause allergies.
Understanding Dog Food Allergies
In humans, food allergies generally result in gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, gas and diarrhea – they can also cause swelling and rashes in some cases. For dogs, food allergies produce slightly different symptoms. Gastrointestinal issues like gas, diarrhea, and vomiting are more likely to be the result of a food intolerance than an allergy. Food allergies generally cause skin-related issues in dogs like inflammation, itching, hair loss, and hot spots. Some dogs with food allergies also develop ear infections that respond to treatment but then redevelop after the treatment has ended.
Diagnosing a food allergy in dogs can be tricky because the symptoms of food allergies overlap with a variety of other conditions. The most obvious signs that your dog is suffering from a food allergy instead of some other kind of allergy is that the symptoms occur year-round – most contact and inhalant allergies crop up during the spring and summer. If your dog’s skin problems begin in the winter or continue year-round, it could be that a food allergy is to blame. It is also a good indication that a food allergy is to blame if your dog is very young and experiences recurrent ear infections. Severe itching and skin infections that don’t respond to steroid treatment also indicate food allergies.
Top Food Allergens for Dogs
Dogs have the potential to develop food allergies at any point in their lives – they can happen as young as 5 months of age or as old as 12 years of age. In order to treat your dog’s allergies you will need to identify the food ingredient that is causing the problem. The best way to do this is to switch your dog to a hypoallergenic dog food – one made with a novel protein and carbohydrate – for a period of 12 weeks until all signs of the food allergy have disappeared. Then you can introduce the common food allergens into your dog’s diet one at a time and monitor his response. When you notice an allergic reaction you will have identified the allergen causing the problem and you can remove it from your dog’s diet entirely.
Food allergies in dogs can be blamed on many different ingredients, though some foods are more likely to cause allergic reactions than others. The top most common food allergens are:
The food ingredients most likely to cause allergies in dogs are beef, dairy and wheat while the ingredients least likely to cause allergic reactions are fish and rabbit. All dogs are prone to developing food allergies throughout their lives, but some breeds are more prone to allergies than others. Some of the breeds most at-risk for developing food allergies include:
- Cocker Spaniel
- Springer Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Golden Retriever
- Shar Pei
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
- West Highland White Terrier
Again, it is possible for any dog to develop a food allergy, regardless his age, sex, and breed. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from a food allergy you should talk to your veterinarian about doing a food trial. Your vet will also be able to perform tests to rule out other medical conditions which might be responsible for your dog’s symptoms.
How do Dog Food Allergies Work?
If your dog has an intolerance for a certain food, eating that food might lead to an upset stomach or it could cause vomiting and diarrhea. This is the same way that a human might react to a food intolerance. Take lactose intolerance, for example – someone with lactose intolerance who eats dairy would likely experience gas, boating, and diarrhea. A food allergy, on the other hand, results from the over-response of the dog’s immune system. The immune system identifies the allergen as a foreign invader and produces an immune response to get rid of it. In attacking the foreign invader, the immune cells may end up damaging healthy cells and tissue as well.
Food allergies in dogs have the potential to become very serious. In addition to causing extreme itching and other skin-related problems, allergies can also result in malnutrition. When the immune system starts attacking the cells in your dog’s digestive tract it impairs the ability of your dog’s body to digest and absorb nutrients. Food allergies tend to worsen with time, causing your dog to become hypersensitive to the ingredient causing the problem. Unfortunately, it is often the case as well that a dog with one food allergy is allergic to other ingredients as well. If you suspect a food allergy for your dog, you should not just brush it off – take the problem seriously and go through the proper steps to identify the allergen and to remove it from your dog’s diet.
Recommended Foods for Dogs with Allergies
In order to diagnose your dog’s food allergy you will need to perform a food trial lasting at least 12 weeks. During this period, feed your dog a diet that is free from all common allergens – it should be made with a source of protein and carbohydrate that your dog has not had before. After 12 weeks, all signs of the food allergy should be gone and you can re-introduce common allergens one at a time to see which one causes the reaction. Below you will find a list of some recommended hypoallergenic dog foods to use during your food trial.
Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Canned Food
This canned food formula is made with fresh duck and duck broth as the top two ingredients so you can rest assured that it will provide your dog with healthy protein. This formula also contains flaxseed oil for healthy fat and peas for digestible carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Another benefit of this Nature’s Variety Instinct Limited Ingredient Canned Food is that it contains chelated minerals which are easy for your dog’s body to absorb.
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hypoallergenic Select Protein Dry Food
This Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hypoallergenic Select Protein formula is made with dried potato, duck by-product meal, and coconut oil as the top three ingredients. This formula must be prescribed by a veterinarian and it is specifically designed to treat food allergies. Though this product is hypoallergenic, there are a few ingredients that could be of higher quality. For example, this product includes several plant-based proteins like potato protein and hydrolyzed soy protein which may serve to increase the protein content of the food without adding extra meat.
Merrick Limited Ingredient Dry Food
Merrick offers several limited ingredient dry food formulas specially designed to be free from grains, corn and soy. These dry foods are made with a single source of animal protein like salmon, turkey, lamb and duck as well as healthy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and peas. This Merrick Limited Ingredient Dry Food may be a good choice to use for a food trial if you suspect food allergies because it is formulated with a limited number of ingredients. As an added bonus, these foods are made without artificial preservatives, flavors, and colors.
Wellness Simple Dry Dog Food
Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diets are specially designed with a limited number of ingredients for dogs with food allergies and sensitivities. This line of dry dog foods includes six different formulas including a healthy weight formula and a small-breed formula. Wellness Simple Limited Ingredient Diets are made with ingredients like duck and oatmeal, salmon and potato, or salmon and peas to ensure a balance of protein and carbohydrate as well as omega-fatty acids to help support healthy skin and coat.
Food allergies in dogs are not something to mess with – they can be various serious, leading to very real symptoms and potential malnutrition. If you think your dog has a food allergy you should take it seriously and talk to your vet about treatment.