Yes, dogs can have food allergies just like people can. And just like for us, food allergies in dogs are fairly rare while food sensitivities are more common.
However, there are some breeds that, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, may be at an increased risk for food allergies. These breeds are Labrador Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels.
Food sensitivities (or intolerances) in dogs are typically caused by foreign contaminants in ultra-processed commercial dog food. Additionally, feeding your beloved Bassett Hound the same food day in and day out isn’t just boring, it can exacerbate her propensity to develop food sensitivities.
For your canine companion to have a true food allergy, ingesting the food or foods will cause an adverse immune response. In other words, the immune system in his gut sees the food or foods as an invader and reacts to eliminate the unwanted substance(s) from his body.
The result of his immune system’s reaction is what you observe as symptoms.
Dog food allergy symptoms vary across a wide range. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Facial swelling
- Skin and Ear Infections
- Anaphylaxis (a rare, severe, and potentially life-threatening symptom)
However, the first symptoms that can indicate a food allergy are typically skin related and appear year-round. (This year-round caveat is important because seasonal airborne allergies, which can also cause skin-related reactions, are typically seasonal.) As your dog’s primary human companion, you need to know that dogs with food allergies can have a combination of the symptoms listed above.
The challenge with dog food allergy symptoms is that many of them can also be the result of something other than food allergies. And it’s because of the overlap of these symptoms with other illnesses and conditions that working with your veterinarian is important when you’re trying to determine if your dog has food allergies.
If your veterinarian does determine that Duchess has food allergies, then your next question is probably “What’s she allergic to?”
According to BMC Veterinary Research, the most common food allergies are listed below. (The most likely food for your dog to be allergic to is first and the least likely is listed last.)
- Beef (can also cause acute pancreatitis)
- Dairy Products
- Pork (can also cause acute pancreatitis)
Please keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive and your sweet Shih Tzu may be allergic to something else. However, knowing the foods most likely to cause food allergies for her can narrow down which should be tested for.
There are two main ways veterinarians use to determine which food(s) a dog may be allergic to:
- Elimination Diet: This is a fairly common method to determine food allergies in dogs. For a period of 12 weeks, your canine companion will eat a single protein and a single carbohydrate. The idea is that you can begin to get an idea of what your dog can eat by not feeding her a protein or carbohydrate she may be allergic to.
The elimination diet doesn’t just apply at meal time. It also includes treat time. The goal is to eliminate any source of food that may be suspected as an allergen.
Keep in mind that sometimes the elimination diet will need to be repeated until you find foods your canine can eat without adverse reactions.
- Dog Allergy Testing: There are different dog food allergy tests available. For example, NutriScan offers a food intolerance test that tests saliva for 24 different substances and EasyDNA’s dog allergy test uses a cheek swab to test for more than 120 allergens including foods.
According to Dr. Karen Becker, allergy panels can yield very different results when conducted over several months. So, you may need more than one test to determine which food(s) your dog is allergic to.
Unfortunately, there’s not a pill or prescription your pup can take to manage their food allergies. The current recommendation for dog allergy treatment is a hypoallergenic diet. This may mean a specially formulated diet or, if your dog has severe allergies, then a homemade diet may be the only option.
If your dog requires a homemade diet, the aid of a veterinarian, veterinary dermatologist, and/or veterinary nutritionist will be invaluable in making sure your pet receives the nutrition they need while avoiding the foods they’re allergic to or foods harmful to dogs.
Since many store-bought dog treats contain additives, fillers, or additional ingredients that could exacerbate your dog’s allergies, your vet may recommend making treats at home, like this homemade gluten-free dog treat recipe, and you may even decide to make your dog’s food at home, like one of these homemade dog food recipes.
Although food allergies in dogs are fairly rare, if you suspect your pet has dietary allergies, please contact your veterinarian to craft a plan to help your pet feel better.