Does My Dog Have Food Allergies?

by Britt
Photo credit: Pixel-Shot /

Does your pup suffer from itchy skin? Are they struggling with digestive issues? As dog parents, when we see our best friend suffer, we want to find a solution – and fast!

While food allergies in dogs are less common than environmental allergies, they can still be a frustrating mystery. From identifying the trigger for your dog’s allergies to managing their allergies with a carefully planned diet, there is a lot involved in giving your dog the best possible quality of life. But it is possible.

This guide will help you identify the signs of dog food allergies and the steps needed to help your dog feel happy and healthy again.

What Are Food Allergies in Dogs?

Just like food allergies in people, dog food allergies occur when the dog's immune system reacts to specific foods. This reaction can range from a minor one, like itchy skin, to a more severe or life-threatening one, like anaphylaxis.

Common Food Allergies in Dogs

Your dog could potentially develop an allergy to any food. This makes allergies challenging to identify and manage, especially for those who are new to this concern. However, some foods are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction in our furry friends.

Researchers have found that the most common food allergies in dogs include:

  • Beef
  • Dairy products
  • Chicken
  • Chicken eggs
  • Wheat gluten
  • Soy

Given the high rate of allergies to these food sources, they are a great starting point for identifying the allergen responsible for your dog’s struggles. Alternatively, if you have a dog with overly sensitive skin or other health issues that an allergy could escalate, you may want to feed a diet free from these common offenders.

Signs That Your Dog Has Food Allergies

Similar to food allergies in people, dogs may experience several different reactions when coming in contact with an allergen—these range from severe, obvious reactions to much more subtle and difficult-to-spot signs.

Some of the more common signs of food allergies in dogs include:

  • Itchy or irritated skin
  • Red, itchy paws
  • Itchy, irritated, or infected ears
  • Digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy or loss of energy
  • Uncharacteristic aggression

All of these signs can be attributed to other health issues. If you notice anything is “off” with your dog, the first step is to contact your veterinarian. They will run tests to rule out any medical explanations for the change. If they determine there are no medical reasons for the signs, it’s time to consider the possibility your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction.

The Difference Between Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities (also known as food intolerances) are very similar at their root: a reaction to a specific allergen. The difference between the two is the extent of the response. A food sensitivity is an adverse reaction but not too severe. A food allergy makes the reaction more intense and involves the immune system.

While food sensitivity may not seem like a big deal (and it isn’t life-threatening), it can worsen in time. Often, a food sensitivity that is ignored or unaddressed will become much more severe and resemble an allergy. However, they still don’t involve the immune system, meaning the most dangerous reactions (like anaphylaxis) aren’t going to occur.

What to Do if You Suspect a Food Allergy

As I mentioned, the first step is to make an appointment with your veterinarian and rule out any possible medical problems. The next step is to take inventory of everything your dog has recently eaten. This includes food, treats, and supplements, as any of these products could contain an allergen.

I also recommend taking note of any possible environmental allergens. Environmental allergies are far more common in dogs than food allergies. Some of the more common allergens that could trigger a reaction include:

  • Grass & Grass Pollen
  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Tree Pollen (Oak, Ash, Cedar)
  • Weed Pollen (Ragweed)
  • Dust Mites

Allergic reactions can also occur in response to chemicals and products that you use in your home. For example, a new laundry detergent being used on your dog’s bedding, your bedding (if they sleep in the bed) or your clothing (when you’re holding or cuddling them) could lead to a contact allergy.

The only way to diagnose a food allergy in your dog is by conducting an elimination diet trial, or food trial, to identify the specific ingredient responsible for the reaction.

What Happens During a Food Trial for Dogs

A food trial usually lasts eight weeks, during which your dog’s diet is adjusted under veterinary supervision to eliminate all but one ingredient. During that period, all treats and food must include only the designated ingredient (or ingredients), including food, treats, supplements, chews, and anything else your dog may ingest. Even one small “cheat” could cause a reaction, ruining the trial.

During this time, pay attention to any signs of an allergic reaction. If the food trial diet triggers a reaction, your dog is allergic to the ingredient being tested. If not, you will see your dog recovering from the symptoms they were previously experiencing.

After eight weeks, your vet may ask you to return to your dog’s original food or treats to ensure that the food caused the symptoms and not another outside factor (like seasonal allergies or contact allergies). Alternatively, they may ask you to add another ingredient to the trial to start the next 8-week period.

This process can take a long time, especially if the allergen isn’t introduced into the mix until several other ingredients have been tested. However, it is the only guaranteed way to confirm exactly what is causing your dog’s allergic reactions.

There are commercially available tests, like the 5Strands Pet Food Intolerance Test, that can be conducted at home. While they can provide some direction, they should be followed up with a food trial to confirm their findings.

Photo credit: Chendongshan /

Can Food Allergies Be Cured?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment to cure your dog’s food allergies. Instead, you must focus on managing the problem by eliminating the allergen(s) from your dog’s diet. This can be challenging, but it is possible.

My senior girl, Daviana, was allergic to a long list of foods, including all protein sources except seafood and vegetables. Selecting food and treats for her involved carefully reading the packaging of each product to ensure that the allergen wasn’t included in the ingredients list. For some ingredients, this may also involve learning alternative names for the ingredients.

Managing your dog’s allergies is a team effort. Have a conversation with the rest of your family and friends, especially if there are young children involved, to discuss what your dog cannot eat. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken and your child is sneaking chicken nuggets to them behind your back, you will never be able to get the reaction under control. In more severe cases, this could be incredibly dangerous or even life-threatening.

Tips for Managing My Dog’s Food Allergies

Now that you have identified your dog’s food allergies, how can you reduce the risk of a reaction and manage their diet? Here are a few tips and tricks that I have picked up throughout my own experiences:

Try Novel Protein Diets

There are many great food options available. However, many commercial diets rely on the same protein sources – chicken, lamb, salmon, and beef. If your dog is allergic to any of these proteins, you may want to consider something outside the box. Novel protein diets are formulated with less common or “new” protein sources your dog hasn’t previously been exposed to, like rabbit, alligator, bison, or venison.

Find Something Suitable for the Whole Home

Do you have multiple pets? If so, the idea of trying to manage your dog’s food allergies may seem even more complicated. Rather than trying to stay on top of feeding different foods to each dog, why not try to find a suitable solution for everyone?

If your dogs are all healthy adults, this is simple. Choose balanced food that is free from offending allergen(s). You may have to try a couple of options for picky eaters until you find one that everyone is happy with – but the ease of feeding just one food will be well worth the effort.

However, if another dog eats a prescribed or special diet, this may be a bigger challenge. Start by having a conversation with your veterinarian about your options. There may be a diet that will meet both of your dog’s needs. If not, I recommend feeding your dogs in separate rooms to prevent your allergic dog from accessing the other dog’s food. Keep all foods stored safely where your dogs can’t access them between meals.

Make a List of “Safe” Foods

As you start reading packaging and identifying which food and treat products are safe for your dog to eat, keep a list or a journal. Keep this list somewhere easy to find. Have you found the “perfect” food for your dog? While you don’t have to change what your dog is eating, keep reading packaging and adding to your list.

If there is ever a situation where you can’t access your go-to food or treats, your list will make it easier for you to find a safe alternative. After all, a food’s availability can quickly be impacted by production shortages, recalls, retail shutdowns, and other events out of our control.

Consider Preparing Foods at Home

Some allergens make it exceptionally hard to find suitable commercial food or treat options, especially if your dog is allergic to more than one ingredient. If this is the case, you may find making your dog’s food or treats at home easier. This is the one way you can guarantee complete control over what goes into everything they eat.

When creating your own food, you must ensure the diet is balanced correctly to meet your dog’s nutritional needs. You can also seek professional advice in formulating your dog’s diet by contacting a certified veterinary nutritionist.

Even with our healthy little dog Lucifer, who has no food allergies, I enjoy making his treats. It’s a great way to prioritize his health and well-being. Here are some Lucifer-approved dog treat recipes to help you get started:

There are also many fresh fruits and vegetables your dog can enjoy. They make tasty and healthy treats that you can give your pup guilt-free.

Familiarize Yourself with Medical Treatments

Even the most diligent and well-meaning dog parents may find themselves in a situation where their dog has come in contact with an allergen. This could result from someone else slipping them a “little treat” or your dog sneaking a bite of something they shouldn’t have.

If your dog does eat something they shouldn’t, you may find yourself faced with a dangerous or life-threatening reaction. Your preparedness to respond quickly and effectively could make all the difference. Speak with your veterinarian about potential treatment options, including oral medications, anti-itch shampoos, and ointments.

Don’t Be Afraid to Revisit

If your dog was diagnosed with a food sensitivity or intolerance early in life, there is the possibility that they will outgrow it later in life. The only way you will know is if you are willing to reevaluate and retest your dog later in life. If the allergen is easily avoided, you may not be interested in taking this step. However, if you find that managing their allergies is challenging, costly, or overly limiting, this carries the possibility of opening doors later in life.

Final Thoughts: Food Allergies in Dogs

Food allergies can be hard to manage, but the good news is that they ARE manageable. With the correct information and preparation, your dog can live a long, happy life free from allergic reactions. But this journey all starts with the process of identifying the offending allergens.

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from an allergic reaction, contact your veterinarian to start the process.

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Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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