Food Allergies Can Dog Canines Too

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Food Allergies Can Dog Canines Too

The expression “eat like a dog” comes from the canines’ reputation for gulping down meals of all sorts in a matter of seconds. Their indiscriminate palate, however, isn’t helping their health, and veterinarians are noticing a rise in the number of dogs with food allergies.

“It certainly seems like we’re seeing more dogs with food allergies, similarly to humans,” says Mona Boord, DVM, co-owner of the Animal Dermatology Clinic in San Diego.

Signs of a Food Allergy
Veterinarians caution that there are two types of issues your dog may have with foods.

  • Food intolerance The most common problem is food intolerance, or food sensitivity, which means your dog isn’t digesting a particular type of food well. Food intolerance is a non-immunologic response that can trigger such symptoms as gassiness, vomiting, diarrhea and borborygmus -- also known as stomach growling -- according to Korrin Saker, DMV, associate professor of clinical nutrition at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Food allergy More immediate reactions from a dog’s immune system to an offending food are food allergies. Symptoms may include intestinal distress but typically will also involve itching around the muzzle, ears, paws and sometimes around the anus. The reason itchiness occurs in these places is probably because canines have more mast cells -- which contain histamines and play a key role in the inflammatory process -- in these locations.


Dog Food Allergy Culprits

A host of ingredients go into many commercial dog foods today. Most pets are fine and thrive on those foods, but a small percentage may be allergic to certain ingredients. Figuring out which ingredient is important to treating an allergic condition.

“It is often a protein source, such as chicken or beef, but it can include a carbohydrate, such as wheat, and in very rare cases corn,” Dr Saker says. 

Dogs can also be allergic to other ingredients, such as preservatives or additives. “I’ve seen dogs that were allergic to peanut butter and tomatoes,” Dr. Boord says. Peanut butter is sometimes an ingredient in dog biscuits, while tomato paste may be an ingredient in dry foods.

Veterinarians used to prescribe a diet based on lamb and rice for dogs with allergic reactions, but even those ingredients have become more common today and might be the source of an allergen. It’s less likely with rice but more so with lamb, experts say.

Treatments for Food Allergies
There are several treatment options for dogs taken to a veterinarian with symptoms of a food allergy:

  • Rule out other ailments The first cause of attack is to make sure that the problems aren’t being caused by something else. An intestinal parasite, for example, can cause similar symptoms. Dogs may also scratch themselves so much that they develop secondary infections. Itchiness can additionally develop as a result of allergies to environmental factors, including mold spores, pollens and cleaners, says Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Elimination diet Once other ailments are ruled out, veterinarians will ask you to chronicle your dog’s food history. Since common proteins like chicken and beef are frequent sources of food allergies, veterinarians will often advise that you look for foods with a “novel protein source” -- something they don’t normally eat.
  • Hypoallergenic foods An assortment of commercial foods is now made for dogs with food allergies. Veterinarians advise that you look for foods with one source of protein and one source of carbohydrates -- both of which should be “novel” for your pet. Kangaroo meat is one such “novel” protein, while potatoes or oats are examples of “novel” carbohydrates. In addition, a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and itching.
  • Medicines Lastly, there is a series of medicines that can help your dog deal with food allergies. Dogs can be given allergy shots to help build up tolerance to a food, Dr. Wakshlag says. In addition, small doses of steroids can be used to make the itchiness more tolerable for your dog. There are also immune suppressive therapies, such as cyclosporine, that can help in treatment.


If your dog shows signs of food allergies, don’t delay. The best recipe for success in treating your pet is to take it to your veterinarian to find the cause of the distress. With quality commercial foods now available that specifically address such problems, your dog will likely be eating its way back to good health in no time.

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on September 6, 2009

susan says: I am looking up more info on allergies today. So far, what has worked for my dog is a change over to a raw diet. Her coat changed from cream to snow white, she lost most of her "dog" smell and her stomach is no longer crazy. I was hoping to find something to supplement her with when treating or when she is extra hungry. For those of you with really suffering dogs, try the raw diet. Worked wonders!

Posted on May 8, 2009

Rachel B. says: My dog scratches himself all the time and bites himself. My vet told us it was allergies but now he has a black spot becoming bigger on the top of his right leg. He is six years old and it is getting worse. I got hypo allergic food for him nothing seems to work. Any suggestions?

Posted on April 24, 2009

CAROL says: JENNI BE CAREFUL OF DOG SHAMPOOS. I ALSO HAVE A DOG WITH ALLGERIES AND SHAMPOOS WITH EXTRA DYES AND OTHER CEMICALS ADD TO THE DOGS ITCH PROBLEMS.

Posted on April 23, 2009

jenni says: i have been trying to get my dog well for 1/12yr now with tripsto the vet plus numerous meds.she was takingcaphalaxin plushydroxyzine this she takes daily she has a tyhriod problem and takes meds for that,now the vet has given hergriseofulvin sus125/5ml 3mgs twice a day. the itching and scratching is terrible she has lost some of her hair and has terrible flakes.she eats regular dog food cheap stuff also lettuce+tomatoe every night and a hot dog to take her pills she also eats peas,frozen fries and cooked fries,raw potaoes and fried ones she gets a bone maybe 3-4 times a day and a oatmeal cookie after dinner. i know she is hurting and we are doing what we can we give her baths in a medicated shampoo and also oatmeal shampoo, we don't know what else to do could you please help us.this is costing alot of money which we don't have but we love her like a baby and want her to get well. thank you jenni

Posted on April 10, 2009

Laurel says: I have a kitty that is ADORABLE, but this is a cute dog website so can't put a picture oh him :(

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