What is a food allergy?
A food allergy is when the immune system is attacking a food protein, with all the reactions that result. But how do you know if that’s what is wrong with your dog?Dogs can also have a food intolerance, to beef or dairy, for example. These episodes will usually involve vomiting, diarrhea or other digestive issues.
They can be allergic to something in their environment. The result could be watery eyes and maybe itchy skin.If a dog has food allergies, they may have all of these symptoms, plus more. Since the allergy comes from something that they ate, it can effect the whole body.
What does it look like when my dog has a food allergy?
Following are some of the symptoms you might notice involving your dog
- Itching paws, specific areas, or all over. Can develop into hot spots.
- Skin rashes, scaly or leathery skin, skin discoloration
- Eye discharge or red eyes
- Hair loss
- Chronic, frequent ear infections
- Secondary yeast or bacterial infections
- Digestive issues like vomiting, chronic gas or diarrhea
If your dog has food allergies, you’ll probably see a combination of symptoms instead of just one. Change of season usually doesn’t change the symptoms. They’ll pop up in any season at any time. Topical treatment often doesn’t help. Treating infections will help temporarily, but the infection will come back.
If you notice these things with your dog, it’s time to take action. While these issues aren’t usually life threatening, they can make your dog really miserable. A vet can rule out other issues and help form a plan for the health of your dog.
Most common allergies
While all foods can have the potential for allergies, some are more prone to cause them than others. The top five culprits seem to be
Allergies tend to develop with time. Each exposure builds on the one before. You might feed a certain food for quite a while with no apparent problem. But eventually, if your dog is allergic to it, the reaction will be large enough that you’ll see it.
The more common the food is, the more exposures your dog might have to it and the more likely that it will cause an allergic reaction. Also, higher protein foods tend to be more troublesome. Since having allergies seems to be a genetic predisposition, if a dog has one allergy, it is much more likely they’ll have others as well.
You need your vet to examine your dog. They can rule out other causes of the issues you see. Once ruled out, your vet can work on diagnosing a food allergy.
The most common method for diagnosing a food allergy is to perform a food elimination trial. This involves taking all possible allergens out of your dog’s diet and maintaining a routine of simple ingredient foods. This would be a handful of foods that have no added flavoring, chemicals or other substances that would subtly effect your dog. No other treats or supplements with flavorings would be allowed either.
These diets generally last for several weeks, until your dog reaches a baseline. A general time frame might be 8 weeks. Once your dog is free of allergy symptoms, you would slowly reintroduce a new food, one at a time. As each food is added, you observe your dog for several days for symptoms.
If you’ve carefully limited your dog’s diet until your dog is symptom free, you can test a suspected allergen. If your dog is allergic to it, the symptoms will come back and you will identify it as an allergen. This can continue with each suspected allergen.
Other methods of identifying an allergy include doing a blood test or a patch test. These methods aren’t as definitive as the food elimination trial. So, as complicated and time consuming as it is, it’s often works better to diagnose a food allergy by food trial.
Helping your dog live with a food allergy
Allergies can’t be cured. That means that you and your dog have to manage them instead. If you watch diet and add new foods carefully, your dog might eventually be able to eat a fairly normal diet. Despite any remaining limitations, they’re going to feel a whole lot better. The end result will be a happy, healthy dog.
To read more about food allergies and your dog, check out Caring for a dog with food allergies from WebMD.Or read some of my previous posts, Dog food. What should you feed your dog? or What can fish oil do for my pets?
Read about our dog, Janey, and her hot spot in my post, What is a hot spot. Have you had a dog with a hot spot? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below.