Food Allergies in Dogs


As winter rolls around, pet owners can rejoice as their pup’s allergies fade away with the creeping cold. But for some pet owners, this is the time of year when they will discover that what they thought were allergies to environmental factors (such as fleas, pollen, and dust) are actually a much bigger problem. If your pooch has been struggling with itchiness and skin irritation and inflammation, you may need to consider the food your dog is eating.

An allergy in your dog is also referred to as canine atopy, and will typically present itself with your dog rubbing, scratching, or obsessively licking himself. Often, the allergy may only become noticeable when it evolves into a bacterial infection as a result of your dog breaking the skin during his scratching. Typically speaking, atopy becomes noticeable when your pooch is between 1 and 3 years old; it also tends to get worse over time. Certain breeds are more prone to allergies; some are even more likely to develop specific types of allergies as well. If the environment and fleas are eliminated as suspects, a food allergy is highly likely.

So what’s the good news and the bad news, you ask? What’s great is that you can treat this type of food allergy in dogs; what isn’t so great is that it is permanent, and cannot be cured.

If you suspect a food allergy is the problem plaguing your puppy, a food trial can help you determine if you’re correct, and also may help you identify a specific allergen in the food. There are several dog foods on the market that are designed for pets with food allergies; Dr. Kristy Conn says to look for a food with only one protein and one carbohydrate (although you may occasionally find one that also includes one type of vegetable). Chicken and rice, lamb and potato, and turkey and brown rice are typical combinations you may find. If you choose a food that includes a vegetable, stick with something simple like carrots or green beans – corn is a common allergen for dogs with food sensitivities. Some pet parents preferred to make their dog’s food themselves during the food trial to have better control; just check with your vet to make sure that your ratios are correct.

A food trial should continue for at least three months. During this time, you should see an improvement in your dog’s behavior; if he has developed a bacterial infection, treat this at the same time that you are administering the food trial. Make sure that you don’t give your dog any treats or bones during this time (even rawhide), as an ingredient in a treat may be the allergen. If you have more than one dog, they will all need the special diet unless you can feed them separately and be sure that the puppy with the problem won’t have access to any food or treats that aren’t in keeping with his restricted diet.

After the three months of trial, if you have seen a marked improvement in your dog, you have identified a food allergen. From here, you will need to slowly re-introduce your dog to other types of foods to see if you can identify the specific ingredient that presents the problem. If you’re comfortable continuing your dog’s restricted diet on indefinite basis, add in one or two vegetables and talk with your veterinarian about making sure your beloved pup is getting all the nutrition he needs.

Photo:  Courtesy of Victor Bezrukov via Flickr (CC by 2.0)