Dog Food Allergies: How to spot and treat them
Does your adorable fur baby sometimes drive you mad with bouts of seemingly never-ending scratching, gnawing and licking their coat? Or have you found yourself regularly cleaning up delightful (not!) puddles of doggy diarrhoea or vomit (or both)?
All this is upsetting for you and your pup. So, what's the possible trigger for these problems? And what can you do about it?
One of the more common reasons is a food allergy.
How to tell if your dog has a food allergy
Diarrhoea and vomiting can be the most obvious signs of possible dog food allergies, but the occasional tummy upset* happens for reasons other than an allergy, like changing food, teething in puppies or eating something they picked up in the park.
The most common symptoms of a dog food allergy may not be so obvious initially. These most often show up as skin conditions or fur loss. Hence the constant scratching you experience with your dog. Did you know that up to 40% of dogs present to a vet with skin-based symptoms that include:
- red, flaky skin
- a rash or crusty skin
- greasy, smelly skin
- patchy hair loss, or
- manic itching.
These skin issues may be caused by food, but environmental factors (such as plants) and parasites (like pesky fleas) can also be the reason for these symptoms. When you can rule out the season or environment for skin allergies, a food allergy may be the reason for your dog’s symptoms.
We've already mentioned diarrhoea or vomiting as possible symptoms of dog food allergies. Chronic ear infections or sneezing can also be signs.
Any dog breed can develop food allergies, but some seem to be more prone to them, such as Labrador Retrievers, West Highland White Terriers, and - yes – our Cocker Spaniels.
What to do when you suspect your dog has a food allergy
If you see any ongoing symptoms in your dog, like diarrhoea or constant scratching, it's time to consult your vet. It's difficult for you to figure out by yourself whether your dog has a food allergy. You'll need a vet's help for a proper diagnosis.
If your vet suspects a food allergy, they will ask you to work with them on a solution that will include paying close attention to the foods your dog is eating. This usually means changing your dog’s diet for a few weeks to discover what’s causing the issue so you can avoid the ingredient, or ingredients, responsible for the allergy in the future.
If the symptoms are extreme, your vet may offer temporary relief with medication.
Which foods can cause allergies in dogs?
The term "food allergy" can be confusing because it covers everything from mild food intolerances to immune-related allergies (when the dog's defence system responds too strongly) as well as food poisoning.
Believe it or not, the foods dogs most often develop allergies to are the ones you most commonly feed them. Things like:
- soy, and
Surprising, isn't it? That's why food allergies are so common and why the problem food can be tricky to identify.
How do you identify the food that’s causing your dog’s allergy?
Once your vet has diagnosed a potential food allergy, uncovering what food your dog is allergic to requires some detective work and patience.
For up to 3 months, you’ll have to stop feeding your dog any foods that are suspected of causing the allergy. This process is called an "elimination diet". If the symptoms get better or go away during this time, one of the eliminated foods may be causing the food allergy.
After 3 months, and in consultation with your vet, you start to reintroduce one eliminated food at a time and watch for any returning symptoms. If this reintroduced food causes the allergy, the symptoms will usually return within 1 hour and 14 days. If your dog has no returning symptoms after 14 days, you can repeat this process and reintroduce another eliminated food.
To make things even more challenging, the ideal food elimination diet must still meet all your pup's nutritional needs. Your vet can advise you on the best food for your dog during this phase. Avoid packaged foods unless directed by your vet, as premade foods may contain one or more of the suspected ingredients.
This is a difficult time for you and your dog. If food is the reason for your dog’s discomfort, this elimination process will help your dog regain full health so they can be your happy companion again.
You've identified what causes the food allergy. Now what?
Identifying the food causing your dog's discomfort is a huge win. It means you can now avoid this ingredient in your dog's food, keeping your dog more comfortable and healthier.
So how do you choose the best dog food for a dog with allergies?
- Select a food that doesn't include the allergy-causing ingredient. Ask your vet for a recommendation, as most vets stock nutritious pet food for various medical conditions, including allergies.
- Monitor your pup on this new food to be sure:
- they like it (yep, important!)
- they maintain their natural condition, i.e., shiny coat and eyes
- they maintain a healthy weight, i.e., don't gain or lose too much weight, and of course,
- they don't show any more allergic symptoms.
- Always check the ingredients list when you're changing food or buying a new treat, to make sure it doesn’t contain the food you need to avoid. Many commercial pet foods contain a mix of meat products, corn and wheat. If the packaging doesn’t clearly list the ingredients, move on and select another more suitable food brand.
- For wholesome treats, try the natural and healthy snacks homemade with love by The Doggie Bakery. Ben highly recommends the Doggie Donuts and the Coconut and Sweet Potato
Finding the right food for your pup, especially if they have an allergy, can be a longish process of trial and error. But your patience and care will be rewarded when your dog is healthy again, at a good weight, with a shiny coat and bright, loving eyes.
*If diarrhoea or vomiting persists over 2-3 days or happens regularly, it's time to visit the vet. If you have a very young pup with these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately.