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Food Allergy and Food Intolerance in Dogs

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What are food allergies or intolerance?

Allergies aren't fun for anyone, but especially not for your dog who can't tell you what's making him so sick. Food allergies or food intolerance are caused by a reaction to a particular ingredient. Sometimes referred to as an ‘adverse reaction to food,’ it is defined as an abnormal response to a food or food additive. There are two classes of adverse reactions: those in which the immune system is involved (generally called food allergies); and those that occur without an immune component (generally called food intolerances).

What causes food allergies / intolerance?

It may take months or years before your dog develops an allergic response to a particular food. However, once he's allergic, he will almost always have a negative reaction to that food. Allergic reactions are most commonly associated with protein sources - usually the meat in your dog's food.

Food: The most common causes of food allergies / intolerance in dogs are beef, milk products and wheat.

Damage: Inflammation, infection, surgery and some medications can damage the digestive system and may lead to food allergies / intolerance.

Age: Food allergies / intolerance can occur at any age.

Breed: Some dog breeds appear more likely to develop food allergies / intolerance, including West Highland White terriers, cocker spaniels and Irish setters.

Is my dog sensitive to foods?

Specific diagnosis of food allergies in your dog is difficult. The most common symptoms of a food allergy / intolerance are digestive upsets or skin irritation. They are frequently characterized by itching and less commonly by gastrointestinal signs. Skin lesions on dogs are frequently located on the face, feet and ears.

Food allergies often mimic other skin diseases, and many dogs have other allergies such as flea-bite dermatitis and atopy. Dogs with chronic or recurring external ear infections should be evaluated for food allergies.

If your dog vomits frequently, has diarrhea, irritated skin, a poor coat condition or hair loss, then he may have a food allergy. You may notice some of the following signs:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Frequent scratching or hair loss
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Chronic ear problems
  • Poor growth in young dogs
  • Coughing, wheezing and sneezing
Common signs of food allergies

IMPORTANT: Some symptoms of food allergies / intolerance are similar to those of other serious conditions so consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.

Treatment: The importance of nutrition

Food allergies or food intolerance may last a lifetime. The main goal in managing allergies or adverse reactions to food is to find and avoid the food ingredient responsible for causing the skin and/or gastrointestinal signs. If your dog suffers from food allergies, it’s even more important to feed the right dog food.

Dietary elimination trials --- removing the ingredient from the food your dog eats --- are the most practical and accurate methods of diagnosing food allergies in dogs. The food your dog eats should be balanced and contain as few ingredients and additives as possible. Be mindful to remove access to all other dog food, table food, treats, snacks and chew toys while you are isolating the allergen.

If your dog has an allergic reaction to a certain meat, you may want to try a food with a new protein source - new to your dog, that is - such as egg, duck, salmon, lamb, venison or whitefish. If none of this helps, your dog may be allergic to all of these proteins and will need a food with specially broken-down proteins. For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your dog’s food allergies

Food Allergy Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian:

  1. Are there any foods I should avoid giving my dog for his allergies?
    • Ask how human food can affect your dog’s health.
  2. Would you recommend a Hill’s® Prescription Diet® or Science Diet® dog food for my dog’s allergies?
    • Ask about special nutritional concerns for your dog
    • How much / how often you should feed the recommended food to your dog
    • Discuss which treats you can feed your dog with the recommended dog food
  3. How quickly should I expect to see signs of improvement in my dog’s condition?
  4. Can you provide me with written instructions or a handout on food allergies / food intolerance for my dog?
  5. What is the best way (email/phone) to reach you or your hospital if I have questions?
    • Ask if you need a follow-up appointment.
    • Ask if a reminder email or notice will be sent.