Like humans, dogs can be born with allergies or develop them throughout their lifetime. Allergies in dogs can run the gamut from environmental allergies to food allergies. In fact, about 10% of dogs have a food allergy.
It can be challenging for dog parents to identify and treat their pup’s allergies, but there are some common symptoms to look out for and tips to help decrease allergy symptoms. In this article, we’ll cover all of this and more — including specific food that can support a hypoallergenic diet.
Typical Symptoms of Dog Food Allergies
Dog food allergies can present with a myriad of different symptoms, and it’s important to recognize that all dogs are different. However, there are some common symptoms to be on the lookout for, including:
Skin Irritation and Infections
Skin irritation and infections are common symptoms of allergies. Here’s what to look for:
- Hives and other bumps on the skin
- Redness or swelling
- Scaling, crusting, or hardening of the skin
- Dry and sensitive skin
If you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog, it’s best to check in with your veterinarian. You could try some at-home remedies to help treat your dog’s discomfort, such as itch-relief shampoos, aloe vera creams, colloidal oatmeal baths, and coconut oil to provide some temporary relief.
Another common symptom of an allergy in dogs is stomach upset and general gastrointestinal problems. This may show up as diarrhea, vomiting, excessive gas, and bloating.
Something as normal as gas may not seem like a cause for concern, but if it becomes a regular occurrence, it’s best to consult your vet to help rule out allergies or other health issues.
Chronic Paw Licking or Chewing
All dogs self-groom, but it may be an allergy symptom when a dog begins chronically licking or chewing their paws, and you notice redness, swelling, or skin problems.
The most common cause for excessive paw licking is an environmental allergy like atopic dermatitis, but food allergies may also be the culprit. Food allergies cause a dog’s immune system to overreact to something in the ingested food, which can cause itching and lead to paw licking or chewing.
Hair Loss or a Dull Coat
Allergies can trigger hair loss or coat dullness in dogs. There is a direct connection between proper nutrition and a healthy coat. This is because a dog’s skin and coat make up their largest organ, comprising 10% to 15% of their total body weight.
Hydration and nutrient storage are two major factors in maintaining dogs’ healthy skin and coat. Up to 35% of a dog’s daily protein intake is used to maintain their skin and coat. Other things like collagen, vitamins, and minerals are also vital in keeping dogs healthy.
Chronic Ear Infections
If your dog experiences ear infections more than four times per year, it’s considered chronic. There are several reasons dogs may get ear infections, but allergies are a common culprit.
According to Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital, food allergies in dogs can be caused by abnormal immunologic responses to a protein that a dog eats. This can cause itchy skin and ears, leading to excessive scratching and infection.
Is It a Food Sensitivity, an Allergy, or an Intolerance?
Food sensitivities — also referred to as food intolerances — may sound less extreme than a true allergy, but symptoms can be similar. A true food allergy involves an immune response and is commonly triggered by a protein in a dog’s food. On the other hand, a sensitivity or intolerance is a reaction to an ingredient that doesn’t involve the immune system.
Because the symptoms can be similar, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to determine if the reaction your dog is experiencing is due to a true allergy or an intolerance.
Allergies Commonly Found in Dogs
Some of the most common allergies in dogs that can present with similar symptoms include:
- Environmental allergens
- Dust mites
- Parasites (fleas)
- Food allergens
- Dairy (dogs don’t have the proper protein to digest dairy products)
- Other less common protein sources include soy, chicken, fish
- Wheat and corn
The tricky part about identifying the type of allergy your pup may have is that hives and itchy skin, for example, can be symptoms of environmental allergies and food allergies. Your veterinarian can run diagnostic tests to help determine the cause of the itching and make appropriate treatment recommendations.
How To Identify Allergens In Wet or Dry Dog Food
If you suspect your dog has food allergies, here are some tips that can help you identify potential allergens in their pet food:
Read Dog Food Labels Carefully
Similar to labels on human food, dog food lists its ingredients by weight in descending order, so the first ingredient on the list will be the bulk of the food. It’s always a safe practice to research anything on the ingredient list you may not be familiar with.
Also, remember that the label will not indicate the quality of each ingredient, so it’s also important to look out for words like “by-product” or “meat meal.” These words can mean the food is highly processed and may be mixed with fillers and preservatives that could cause allergic reactions. Some of these fillers can include low-quality grains and animal protein meals.
Keep an Eye Out for Hidden Ingredients To Avoid
As mentioned above, there can be hidden ingredients in your dog’s food that can cause allergy symptoms. Here’s a list of common ingredients in pet food that may trigger allergy symptoms in some dogs:
- All sugars, often seen as molasses, caramel, dextrose, fructose, glucose, cane molasses, or maple syrup
- Artificial flavors and artificial colors like Red40 or Yellow 5
- Vegetable oils made from corn, canola, soy protein, or lecithin
Ask Your Vet About a Limited-Ingredient Diet
Limited-ingredient diets are designed specifically for individual dogs to help reduce the number of ingredients they’re exposed to, hoping to decrease potential allergic reactions. A limited-ingredient diet can help determine which ingredients your dog is allergic to — or intolerant of.
If you want to transition your dog to a limited-ingredient diet, ask your veterinarian if they think it’s the right choice. From there, they can help you design an elimination diet to determine which foods may be the trigger(s) for your specific pup.
Here’s an example of what an elimination diet could look like:
- Step 1: Begin with a 50/50 diet consisting of one protein and one carbohydrate. Feed your dog this for at least 12 weeks.
- Step 2: Observe and record notes.
- Step 3: Add simple foods back into your dog’s diet.
- Step 4: Observe and record notes.
- Step 5: Use this information to create a limited-ingredient, healthy diet for your dog.
During an elimination diet, it’s a good idea to test novel proteins like duck, venison, and bison — even if your dog hasn’t tried them before. This can help expand which proteins your dog may or may not be able to eat. Learn more about elimination diets.
Benefits of Choosing Adult Dog Food With Allergies in Mind
If your dog has displayed allergy symptoms in the past, you may find that choosing allergy-friendly dog food offers the following benefits:
Reduced Allergic Reactions
A pet food absent of common allergens can help reduce allergic reactions, which means less discomfort for your dog.
Improved Skin and Coat Health
A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals without byproducts, fillers, or preservatives has been shown to positively affect skin and coat health.
Because many food allergies manifest as a sensitive stomach and gastrointestinal issues, an allergen-friendly diet may decrease the potential for digestive upset.
Best Dog Food That Helps With Allergies
If you’re looking for an allergy-friendly dog food, consider The Honest Kitchen’s line of high-quality, human grade options. The Honest Kitchen offers grain free dog foods, limited-ingredient dog foods, and more to provide a solution to even the most sensitive dogs.
Start with this quiz to find the recipe right for your furry friend!
Grain Free Dog Food
Grains are common allergens and can be difficult for some dogs to digest properly, so grain free dog food options can be helpful for dogs with allergies.
Instead of whole grains as ingredients in the food, The Honest Kitchen’s grain-free line swaps in potatoes, peas, and lentils, among many other high-quality, non-GMO ingredients to support your dog’s wellness.
Limited Ingredient Dehydrated Dog Food
The Honest Kitchen’s Limited Ingredient Dehydrated Dog Food may be a great option if you have already determined your dog's intolerances or allergies. The Limited Ingredient Dehydrated food is available in turkey, beef, duck, chicken, and fish recipes.
Regardless of which recipe your dog requires, you can rest assured each recipe is full of essential nutrients to support a healthy diet. Some ingredients include gently dehydrated whole meat, sweet potatoes, flaxseed, fish oil, and vitamins and minerals. The duck, turkey, and fish recipes don’t contain corn, wheat, soy, or gluten.
High Protein Dog Food
The Honest Kitchen’s high-protein dog food contains a higher percentage of protein from high-quality animal sources than other recipes. These animal sources include chicken, beef, turkey, and fish.
Because there is a higher protein concentration in The Honest Kitchen’s high-protein recipes, there’s less room for other ingredients that may upset a dog with allergies or intolerances.
Additional Strategies for Managing Dog Food Allergies
In conjunction with different food to manage your dog’s allergies and intolerances, there are a few other strategies you can incorporate to support their overall wellness:
Consider Allergy Testing or Medication
Allergy testing and medication — under the care of a licensed veterinarian — may help alleviate allergy concerns. The most common types of allergy tests include blood-based tests and skin tests.
Skin tests, which a dermatologist performs, are typically more reliable than blood-based tests. Once allergens are determined by a professional, allergy shots or other immunotherapy may be recommended.
Beyond allergy testing, an elimination diet in which you limit the ingredients your dog eats for eight-week periods can also help pinpoint allergies and intolerances.
Test Out Environmental Changes
Allergies are difficult to pinpoint and can come from many places in addition to food. Some allergies are environmental, so reducing exposure to different types of allergens (dust, mites, fleas, etc.) is essential. It can also be helpful to note which environments lead to allergy symptoms in your pup.
Consult With Your Veterinarian
As you navigate the world of dog allergies, it’s important to have a veterinarian you trust and can lean on for an expert-level management plan tailored to your dog's dietary needs. When in doubt, call the vet.
Go With The Honest Kitchen To Stop Dog Food Allergies in Their Tracks
Skin allergies and intolerances can really impact your dog’s well-being, but there’s hope! Start by taking a closer look at your dog’s diet and opting for high-quality limited-ingredient foods like those from The Honest Kitchen.
The Honest Kitchen has you covered, with a wide range of options, perfect for even the most allergy-prone pups. We offer traditional kibble-style dry food options, tasty toppers and stews, wet dog food, dehydrated options, and more!