A watercolor painting of a dog with food allergies at breakfast.

What are Food Allergies in Dogs?

What is it?

Food allergies in dogs refer to an abnormal immune response to certain ingredients in the dog’s diet. This can lead to a range of symptoms and health problems, including digestive issues, skin problems, and respiratory problems. Food allergies can affect dogs of any breed or age and can be caused by a variety of factors.

How is it Treated?

The treatment of food allergies in dogs involves identifying and eliminating the allergenic ingredient from the dog’s diet. This may involve a trial and error process to determine the specific ingredient causing the allergic reaction. In cases where the dog is unable to tolerate a traditional diet, specialized diets or supplements may be recommended to meet the dog’s nutritional needs. 

Breed Predispositions

Boxers Bulldogs Cocker Spaniels Dalmatians German Shepherds Golden Retrievers Labrador Retrievers Lhasa Apsos Miniature Schnauzers Shar Peis


Every evening, like clockwork, Paul would prepare a wholesome meal for his cherished Boxer, Rocky. They had established a comforting routine, and Paul took pride in providing high-quality nutrition for his canine companion. However, he began to notice that Rocky was experiencing bouts of itching, digestive issues, and general discomfort after mealtimes. Concerned for his pet’s well-being, Paul booked an appointment with his trusted veterinarian to investigate the cause. After several tests, the vet informed Paul that Rocky was suffering from food allergies, something Paul had never considered as a possibility.

Food allergies in dogs are immune responses to specific ingredients or substances in their diet. This phenomenon occurs when the immune system erroneously recognizes certain proteins in food as harmful, leading to an inflammatory response. Unlike food intolerances or sensitivities that involve digestive issues, food allergies in dogs, much like allergies in humans, involve an immune response.

When a dog suffers from a food allergy, exposure to an allergenic food initiates various symptoms that cause discomfort. These symptoms can influence the skin, respiratory, or gastrointestinal systems, resulting in gastrointestinal issues in dogs. Dogs with food allergies may exhibit itching, redness, swelling, and gastrointestinal upset like vomiting, diarrhea, or respiratory distress.

However, it’s crucial to understand that dog food allergies are rare, impacting only a small fraction of the canine population. But pinpointing and managing food allergies necessitates a thorough evaluation and expert advice from a veterinarian to discern the specific allergens and devise a suitable dietary plan for the dog. This process may involve identifying which food your dog can tolerate and which causes a reaction, indicating the result of a food allergy.

Common Dog Food Allergens and Intolerances

Common food allergens and intolerances in dogs can vary, but some ingredients are more likely to cause adverse reactions. Here are some common dog food allergens and intolerances:

  • Protein sources: Beef, chicken, lamb, and fish are common protein sources that can trigger allergies or intolerances in some dogs.
  • Grains: Wheat, corn, soy, and other grains are often associated with food allergies or sensitivities in dogs. However, it’s important to note that true grain allergies are rare, and most grain-related issues are due to sensitivities or intolerances.
  • Dairy products: Milk, cheese, and other dairy products can cause allergic reactions or gastrointestinal issues in some dogs, as they may be lactose intolerant.
  • Eggs: Eggs can be a common dog allergen, causing skin reactions or digestive problems.
  • Certain fruits and vegetables: Some dogs may have sensitivities or allergies to specific fruits or vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, or citrus fruits.

It’s important to remember that each dog is unique, and individual sensitivities can vary. Therefore, identifying specific food allergens or intolerances requires a thorough evaluation by a veterinarian, including dietary trials and elimination diets, to pinpoint the problematic ingredients.

a woman giving food to her doga dog eating beef

Causes of Food Allergies in Dogs

Food allergies in dogs transpire when their immune system reacts excessively to particular ingredients in their pet food. The exact factors leading to food allergies are only partially comprehended, but they are thought to be a blend of genetic predisposition and exposure to specific allergens. However, here are some contributors that may facilitate the onset of food allergies in dogs:

  • Genetic factors: Certain breeds, such as Boxers, Bulldogs, and Retrievers, are more susceptible to developing food allergies, implying a genetic element to the condition.
  • Allergen exposure: Dogs can develop adverse food reactions to ingredients they’ve been repeatedly exposed to in their diet. Common food allergies can be triggered by typical protein sources like beef, chicken, fish, and grains, among other food components.
  • Compromised gastrointestinal barrier: When the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract is weakened, it may permit larger protein molecules to permeate, inciting an immune response and leading to food allergies.
  • Prior sensitization: In certain instances, dogs may develop allergies due to recurrent exposure to specific allergens, such as those from environmental allergy sources or flea bites. This exposure can sensitize their immune system, making them more susceptible to food allergies and even contributing to skin problems like infections.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to distinguish that food allergies differ from food sensitivities or food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, which do not involve the immune system. Food intolerances typically arise from an inability to digest or metabolize certain ingredients appropriately. Moreover, it’s also worth noting that food allergy triggers are not the common causes of food intolerances or sensitivities. Seasonal or chicken allergies can also overlap with food sensitivity, further complicating the picture.

Food Allergy Symptoms in Dogs

Food allergies affect people just like they do pets. They cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. However, only 10 to 30% of dogs with verified food allergies have gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, according to Shmalberg.

Like humans, food allergies can afflict dogs, presenting various symptoms. However, only 10 to 30% of dogs with verified food allergies have gastrointestinal symptoms. Here are the prevalent signs of food allergy in dogs:

facts about food allergies in dogs
  • Excessive itching and scratching (pruritus)
  • Skin manifestations such as rashes, redness, or hives
  • Swelling visible on the face, ears, or paws
  • Frequent ear problems or ear infections
  • Gastrointestinal issues evidenced by vomiting or diarrhea
  • Deterioration in coat condition or increased shedding
  • Chronic or recurrent skin infection or ear infections
  • Persistent licking or chewing of paws or other body parts
  • Symptoms similar to respiratory problems, such as sneezing, coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing
  • Behavioral changes like irritability or restlessness indicative of discomfort

Recognize that food allergies do not exclusively cause these dogs’ symptoms. Other conditions could exhibit similar signs. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis if a food allergy is suspected in your dog. An in-depth examination, comprehensive review of the dog’s medical history, and potential diagnostic tests can assist in determining the source of the symptoms, subsequently guiding an appropriate course of treatment.

Diagnosis of Food Intolerance in Dogs

The diagnosis of food allergies in dogs typically involves a variety of methods that veterinarians utilize. These could comprise:

  • Food Trial or Elimination Diet Trial: This process entails feeding your dog a unique protein or hydrolyzed diet, avoiding certain common allergenic foods your dog has never encountered. Should the symptoms lessen during the trial phase and reappear when reintroducing the old diet, this implies the existence of a true food allergy.
  • Food Provocation Test: In this particular test, your dog is provided with their standard diet before being gradually exposed to potential allergens. During this procedure, the veterinarian closely observes for any adverse reactions.
a vet checking at a dog
  • Blood Tests: Specific blood examinations, such as serologic or allergen-specific immunoglobulin (IgE) tests, may detect certain antibodies to potential allergens in your dog’s blood. However, these tests may not always be definitive and can have limitations in diagnosing a food allergy.
  • Intradermal or Intracutaneous Testing: These tests involve the injection of potential allergens into the skin, followed by observation for reactions. While they are more commonly employed for atopic dermatitis or environmental allergies, they may also be used in certain scenarios to investigate food allergies.

In the final analysis, diagnosing dog food allergies often requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing a combination of these methods, a comprehensive clinical evaluation, and excluding other potential causes of symptoms. Consulting with a veterinarian is essential to formulating a suitable diagnostic plan for your dog.

Ways to Treat Food Allergies in Dogs

There are several treatments available to treat canine food allergies. Some of these treatments are used alone, while others are combined. There are two types of treatments: preventative and curative. Preventive therapies are meant to stop symptoms from occurring in the future. Curative treatments are intended to reverse existing signs.

Preventative Treatments

Various treatments are available for dealing with a dog’s allergy to food. These include:

  • Allergy Shots: These are oral medications containing antihistamines, substances that mitigate allergic reactions. They can effectively handle milder cases of dog allergies stemming from food.
  • Probiotics: These are beneficial microbes naturally present in the digestive tract. When delivered orally, probiotics can assist in stabilizing gut flora and averting further inflammation.
  • Antibiotics: These are prescribed to eliminate any detrimental bacteria contributing to the dog’s allergy.
  • Gluten-free Diet: Many dogs suffer from an intolerance to gluten. A gluten-free diet removes wheat, barley, rye, oats, and other gluten grains from the dog’s diet, offering a solution to this common allergen.
  • Food Elimination Diets: This approach involves purging certain foods from a dog’s diet as a food elimination strategy. This method facilitates the dog’s body in identifying which foods act as allergy triggers. Once potential allergens are excised, the dog can return to its normal eating habits.

The appropriate course of action for treating a food allergy will depend on individual circumstances and should be guided by a veterinarian’s advice. However, it’s important to choose the best dog food for allergies and carefully monitor any changes in your pet’s health.

Curative Treatments

  • Immunotherapy – This treatment uses injections to gradually introduce small amounts of the offending substance into the bloodstream over weeks. Over time, the immune system learns to tolerate the importance.
  • Oral immunotherapy – This method involves feeding the small patient doses of the offending substance. As the dose increases, the reaction becomes less severe.
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy – IVIG is a blood plasma-derived protein solution that contains antibodies against specific antigens. It is used to treat autoimmune diseases and certain forms of cancer. IVIG is typically administered intravenously every two weeks for three months. It is usually recommended after the initial oral immunotherapy phase.
  • Anti-IgE monoclonal antibody therapy is designed to block IgE receptors on mast cells. Mast cells release histamine during anaphylaxis. Blocking the receptor prevents the release of histamine.
  • Corticosteroids – These drugs are potent anti-inflammatory agents. They are commonly used to treat inflammatory conditions, including arthritis and asthma.
  • Diet modification – Certain dietary changes can help alleviate symptoms associated with food allergies. For example, reducing the number of milk products in the diet helps lessen gastrointestinal problems severity. In addition, ergonomic diets used in food allergy studies have a 100% guarantee.
  • Medications – Other medications may help manage symptoms associated with food allergies, including antihistamines, steroids, and epinephrine autoinjectors.
  • Prevention of Dog Allergies

The best way to prevent pet allergies is to eliminate the source of the allergen from your pup’s diet. If you can identify the cause of the allergy (which often requires trial and error supervised by a veterinarian), simply not feeding that ingredient will usually resolve the issue. Keeping your dog on a hypoallergenic diet is one of the best ways to manage his allergies proactively. Additionally, controlling your pup’s exposure to other sources of allergens, such as fleas, grasses and airborne particulates, can help keep flare-ups at bay.

Prevention of Food Allergies in Dogs

Dog owners can employ various strategies to mitigate the risk of food allergies in their pets, which are relatively common. Here are some methods:

  • Maintain a Consistent and Nutritious Diet: Providing your dog with a regular, balanced diet that incorporates high-quality commercial dog food is crucial. Opt for credible brands that supply complete and balanced nourishment. In addition, avoiding frequently altering their dietary regimen or introducing too many new ingredients simultaneously is essential, as this may augment the likelihood of allergies emerging.
  • Introduce New Foods Gradually: Do it gradually when integrating new foods or treats into your dog’s dietary regimen. Begin with smaller quantities and observe for any adverse reactions. If you suspect your dog is demonstrating allergies or intolerance, discontinue the food immediately.
  • Consider Limited Ingredient Diets: Contemplate introducing your dog to a limited ingredient diet featuring a single unique protein source and a restricted assortment of easily digestible carbohydrates. This approach can help reduce exposure to potential allergens, reducing the risk of your dog developing food allergies.
  • Steer Clear of Common Allergens: Familiarize yourself with common dog allergens, such as beef, chicken, dairy, wheat, and soy. If your dog has a known sensitivity or allergy to these ingredients, avoid feeding them to your dog and seek alternative options.
  • Keep Regular Veterinary Appointments: Arranging regular veterinary appointments for your dog is crucial. Your vet can monitor your dog’s overall health and detect potential allergies early on, helping your dog stay in the best possible health. They can also guide suitable diets and potential allergens to avoid.

Remember, each dog is unique, and a strategy that works for one might not be effective for another. If you suspect your dog has food allergies or intolerances, it’s always best to consult a veterinarian. If your dog has improved after a certain course of treatment, or if you believe your dog has a food intolerance, a vet can provide specific advice tailored to your dog’s requirements and help you formulate a suitable preventive plan. This is one of the most common ways to ensure your dog stays off all the foods that may trigger an allergic reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Avoiding certain foods that commonly trigger allergic reactions is important if your dog has food allergies. Here are some common allergenic foods that you should avoid giving to dogs with allergies:

  1. Beef: Beef is a common dog allergen and can trigger allergic reactions. Avoid feeding your dog beef-based products, including beef meat, bones, or by-products.
  2. Chicken: Chicken is another common allergen in dogs. Avoid feeding your dog chicken-based products, including chicken meat, organs, or by-products.
  3. Dairy Products: Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt can cause allergic reactions in dogs. These products contain lactose, which many dogs are intolerant to. Avoid giving your dog any dairy products.
  4. Wheat: Wheat and other grains containing gluten can be allergenic for some dogs. Avoid feeding your dog any products that contain wheat or wheat-based ingredients, including wheat flour, bread, or treats.
  5. Soy: Soy is another potential allergen for dogs. Avoid feeding your dog any soy-based products or foods that contain soy ingredients.
  6. Artificial Additives: Some dogs may be sensitive to artificial additives such as food coloring, preservatives, or flavor enhancers. Read the ingredient labels carefully and avoid foods that contain these additives.

When selecting a dog food to help alleviate itching, it is important to look for options that support skin health and address any underlying allergies or sensitivities. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Limited ingredient diet: Choose dog food with limited high-quality ingredients to minimize the potential for triggering allergies or sensitivities.
  2. Novel protein source: Opt for dog food with novel protein sources, such as duck, venison, or fish, as these are less likely to be allergenic for dogs with food sensitivities.
  3. Grain-free or grain-inclusive: Some dogs with grain allergies or sensitivities may benefit from a grain-free diet, while others may do well with a grain-inclusive diet. Observe your dog’s response and consult your veterinarian to determine the best option.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids: Look for a dog food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil or flaxseed, which can help promote healthy skin and reduce inflammation.
  5. Limited additives: Avoid dog foods with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, as these may contribute to skin irritation.

It’s important to note that identifying and addressing the underlying cause of itching is crucial. If your dog’s itching persists or worsens despite dietary changes, consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and personalized recommendations.

While there is no cure for food allergies in dogs, managing the condition can help alleviate symptoms and improve your dog’s quality of life. The primary approach is to identify and avoid the specific food allergens that trigger an allergic reaction in your dog. This usually involves conducting an elimination diet trial under the guidance of a veterinarian to determine the offending ingredients. Once identified, a long-term diet plan can be developed that excludes those allergens. While the allergy cannot be eliminated, strict adherence to an appropriate diet can help prevent symptoms and relieve your dog. Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring may be necessary to ensure the continued success of dietary management.

The answer depends on the allergy’s severity before switching to a new diet. If it is mild, you may notice the symptoms resolve within two weeks. However, if it is more serious, you may need to wait up to six months for symptoms to clear up completely. Studies show that most dogs will start showing signs of improvement after four to six weeks on a diet, but if they continue for eight weeks, 90 percent will be responding.

The timing of a dog’s reaction to a food allergy can vary. Some dogs may show immediate symptoms, such as itching or gastrointestinal upset, shortly after consuming the allergenic food. Others may have a delayed response, with symptoms appearing hours or days after exposure. It’s important to note that food allergies are often associated with chronic or recurring symptoms rather than acute reactions. If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, working with a veterinarian to conduct diagnostic tests and determine the specific allergens causing the reaction is best.

Working with a veterinarian to determine what your dog is allergic to would be best. The vet will likely perform various diagnostic tests to identify the allergens causing the allergic reaction. These tests may include blood, skin, or elimination diet trials.

Blood tests, such as serum allergy or allergen-specific IgE testing, can provide information about your dog’s allergens. Skin tests, such as intradermal or patch testing, involve exposing the skin to potential allergens and observing reactions.

Another approach is an elimination diet trial, where your dog is placed on a hypoallergenic diet that contains novel protein and carbohydrate sources. If your dog’s symptoms improve during the trial period and reappear upon reintroducing certain foods, it can help identify the specific allergens.

The most common food allergens for dogs include beef, dairy products (such as milk and cheese), chicken, lamb, fish, eggs, wheat, soy, and corn. However, it’s important to note that dogs can have different sensitivities and allergies, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Some dogs may be allergic to multiple ingredients or have less common food items. The best way to identify the specific allergens for your dog is through diagnostic testing and elimination diet trials conducted under the guidance of a veterinarian.

While there are some at-home allergy testing kits available, it’s important to note that their accuracy and reliability can vary. These kits often rely on blood or saliva samples to detect specific antibodies or allergens. However, the results may only sometimes be conclusive or accurate, and they may need to understand your dog’s allergies comprehensively. Therefore, it’s generally recommended to consult a veterinarian for proper allergy testing and diagnosis. They can perform intradermal skin testing or recommend laboratory tests that are more reliable in identifying specific allergens and developing an appropriate treatment plan for your dog.

When it comes to dogs with allergies, selecting a protein source for their diet depends on the specific allergens they are sensitive to. In general, novel protein sources your dog has yet to be exposed to are often recommended. These can include proteins like venison, rabbit, duck, or fish. Additionally, hydrolyzed protein diets may be used, where the protein molecules are broken down into smaller sizes to reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction.

Yes, dog food allergies can contribute to ear infection development. Allergic reactions to certain ingredients in the dog’s food can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation and irritation in various body parts, including the ears. This can create an environment favorable for the overgrowth of bacteria or yeast, leading to ear infections. Therefore, addressing the underlying food allergy and the resulting ear infection is important to relieve and prevent further complications.

Yes, food allergies in dogs can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea. When a dog consumes a food ingredient to which they are allergic or sensitive, it can trigger an immune response and inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This can result in symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and even changes in appetite.

Yes, dog food allergies can sometimes cause blood in the stool, a condition known as hematochezia. The inflammation and irritation in the gastrointestinal tract caused by a food allergy can lead to sores or ulcers, which may result in bleeding. This can manifest as bright red blood in the stool or mixed with the stool.

Yes, food allergies in dogs can sometimes cause eye problems. When a dog ingests a food allergen that their immune system reacts to, it can trigger an inflammatory response throughout the body, including the eyes. This can lead to various eye symptoms such as redness, itchiness, watery discharge, swelling, and even conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering the eye).

Food allergies are not typically associated with causing aggression in dogs. Aggression in dogs can have various causes, including fear, territoriality, dominance, pain, or underlying medical conditions. While food allergies can cause discomfort and other symptoms, such as gastrointestinal issues or skin problems, they are not directly linked to aggressive behavior.

Food allergy tests for dogs can provide helpful information, but their accuracy can vary. Different types of tests are available, including blood tests and elimination diets. Blood tests may measure specific antibodies or immunoglobulins related to food allergies, but they are not considered reliable for diagnosing dog food allergies. Elimination diets, where potential allergenic ingredients are eliminated from the dog’s diet and reintroduced one by one to observe any adverse reactions, are often considered the most accurate method for diagnosing dog food allergies. However, even elimination diets can be challenging as they require strict adherence and can take time to identify specific allergens.

When transitioning your dog to a healthier diet, it’s important to do it gradually to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Here’s a recommended approach:

  1. Mix a small portion of the new food with your dog’s food. Begin with a ratio of 75% old food and 25% new food.
  2. Monitor your dog’s response to the transition. If there are no adverse effects after a few days, gradually increase the amount of new food while decreasing the old food.
  3. Aim to achieve a 50/50 mix of old and new food after about a week.
  4. Continue increasing the proportion of new food while reducing the old food until you have completely transitioned to the new diet over 1-2 weeks.

Choose a high-quality, balanced diet appropriate for your dog’s age, size, and specific nutritional needs. Finally, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before making significant changes to your dog’s diet to ensure it is appropriate and beneficial for its health.

Allergic and intolerant dogs can have similar symptoms, but the underlying mechanisms and specific symptoms may vary. Here’s a comparison:

Food Allergies:

  • Immune system reaction: Food allergies involve an immune response triggered by certain proteins in the food.
  • Symptoms: Common symptoms of food allergies in dogs include skin itching, redness, rashes, hives, ear infections, gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea), and sometimes respiratory or systemic signs.

Food Intolerances:

  • Digestive system reaction: Food intolerances typically involve difficulty digesting or processing certain food components, such as carbohydrates, proteins, or additives.
  • Symptoms: Symptoms of food intolerances in dogs often affect the digestive system, such as vomiting, diarrhea, gas, bloating, or changes in bowel movements. There may not be significant skin or respiratory symptoms.

There is no guarantee that a dog with one food allergy will develop additional food allergies in the future. However, dogs with a history of food allergies may be more likely to develop allergies to other food ingredients or environmental allergens. This can be due to a predisposition to allergic reactions or an underlying immune system dysfunction. It’s important to note that each dog is unique, and while some may develop additional allergies, others may not.

Aside from food allergies, there are several other reasons for allergies and dry, itchy skin in dogs. These can include:

  1. Environmental Allergens: Dogs can be allergic to various environmental allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and certain types of grass or plants. These allergens can trigger allergic reactions and cause skin itching and irritation.
  2. Flea Allergy Dermatitis: Dogs allergic to flea saliva can develop an allergic reaction when bitten by fleas. This can lead to intense itching, redness, and skin irritation.
  3. Contact Allergies: Some dogs may have allergies to certain substances they come into contact with, such as certain cleaning products, fabrics, or grooming products. These allergens can cause skin irritation and itching when in contact with the dog’s skin.
  4. Inhalant Allergies: Dogs can also develop allergies to inhaled substances such as certain types of pollen or dust. These allergies can result in respiratory symptoms and skin irritation.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

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