Food Allergies in Dogs
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Yes, Dogs can Have Food Allergies
Dogs, like people, can have allergies to certain foods. In fact, food allergies are one of the most common allergic reactions known to affect our canine buddies. When your dog is allergic to a particular food, his immune system responds to the food as it might respond to an infection or bee sting, producing antibodies that in turn cause the symptoms associated with the allergic response.
We all know dogs are “garbage guts” and will eat, well, a wide range of stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a little upset stomach from an allergic reaction to food. When symptoms such as diarrhea persist, allergies may be the cause. These symptoms usually take time to develop, since your dog’s immune response takes time to produce the antibodies that cause the allergic response.
Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs
The most common symptoms of a food allergy are:
- Hair loss
- Skin infection
- Less common symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Sometimes, dogs show more aggression because of their discomfort.
The most common foods that cause canine food allergies are proteins such as lamb, beef, chicken, and eggs. In addition, some dogs can be allergic to soy or gluten, which is found in wheat and similar grains. Some dogs may be allergic to preservatives or other food additives, as well.
When a dog eats a food he is allergic to, a vicious cycle occurs: he eats, his body produces an allergic reaction, and he becomes symptomatic, i.e., he itches, has diarrhea, or may vomit—which is why it is so important to identify the food for which he is having the reaction!
Diagnosing Food Allergies in Dogs
If your veterinarian suspects your poor pooch of having a food allergy, he or she will perform a thorough physical exam and take a detailed history of your dog’s food intake and activities. In addition, your veterinarian may recommend routine diagnostics to rule out other causes of your dog’s symptoms.
Your veterinarian will likely recommend a strict hypoallergenic diet trial for at least 2–3 months to see if it alleviates your dog’s symptoms. The suggested diet cannot contain any ingredients your dog has been recently eating; there are several specifically designed diets to help prevent food allergies. During the food trial, it is critical that your dog does not get any treats or supplementsunless approved by your veterinarian.
Treatment for Dogs With Food Allergies
The best treatment for food allergies is avoidance. Once you’ve identified the food your four-legged friend is allergic to, you will be able to avoid it in the future and help your dog live an allergy-free life. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent your dog from developing food allergies.
If you have questions about canine food allergies, please talk with your veterinarian—the best resource when it comes to the health and well-being of your best friend.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Itching (Pruritus) in Dogs
, DVM, DACVD, Department of Medical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Pruritus is defined as an unpleasant sensation within the skin that provokes the desire to scratch. Itching is a sign, not a diagnosis or specific disease. The most common causes of itching are parasites, infections, and allergies. There are many skin diseases that do not initially cause itching. Itching may develop because of secondary bacterial or yeast infections. It is possible that by the time itching develops the initial cause is long gone.
A dog with pruritus will excessively scratch, bite, or lick its skin. Itching may be general or confined to one area. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough skin history and physical examination. Parasites, including mites and fleas, are the first possible cause your veterinarian will seek to exclude.
Next, your veterinarian will look for infectious causes of skin disease. Bacterial and fungal infections are common causes of itching. Infections are often accompanied by hair loss, scaling, odor, and fluid discharge. Excessive scratching, rubbing, or licking of the feet and face are common in animals with concurrent yeast and bacterial infections. If such an infection is suspected, your veterinarian will often prescribe a 21- to 30-day course of antibiotics.
If the itching goes away after antibiotics, then the cause was a microbial infection. However, if the dog’s itching is unchanged or only somewhat better, the most likely underlying cause may be an allergy. The most common causes of allergic itching are insect bites, food allergy, and a reaction to allergens in the environment, such as pollens, molds, or dust. Sensitivity to insect bites is readily identified by response to insect control. Dogs that have seasonal itching are likely reacting to seasonal allergens. Dogs with year-round allergic itching may have an environmental allergy (such as dust mite allergies) and/or a food allergy. Food allergy is confirmed or excluded based on response to a diet trial. During a diet trial your dog is fed a diet that does not include the foods it has normally consumed. Your veterinarian will specify a diet, often one containing fish or other meats not previously fed. To help your veterinarian isolate the food allergy, you will need to follow the prescribed diet fully and carefully and avoid providing treats that do not comply with the diet. Allergy testing and intradermal skin testing are also used to show antigen exposure patterns. These tests are used to determine the contents of an immunotherapy vaccine, but are ineffective in identifying food allergy.
Successful treatment depends on identification of the underlying cause. Dogs whose cause of itching cannot be identified, or those in which treatment of the underlying disease does not eliminate the itching, will require medical management for pruritus. Commonly prescribed anti-itching medications include glucocorticoids, and essential fatty acids, cyclosporine , and oclacitinib.
Treating itchiness with antihistamines is common, but their success in treating itching is highly variable. Current research does not support the use of antihistamines for itching relief in dogs.
Glucocorticoids are anti-inflammatory steroids. They are often considered the most effective drugs in the management of itching. However, these drugs can cause adverse side effects, including excessive hunger, thirst, and urination. These drugs also suppress the function of the adrenal glands and increase the risk of diabetes and secondary urinary tract infections. Thus, these medications are prescribed only in limited circumstances. Topical sprays that contain glucocorticoids may provide an effective alternative to pills, as long as they are used appropriately. The use of glucocorticoids to control itching caused by infections is inappropriate.
Modified cyclosporine and oclacitinib are other drugs used to manage itching. Your veterinarian will recommend a medication appropriate for your dog.
Essential fatty acids are rarely effective as sole anti-itch agents however, they may be successful when used longterm.
Also see professional content regarding pruritus.
What You Should Do If Your Dog Has Atopy or Food Allergies
Based on the history, physical exam, and test findings, your veterinarian will make recommendations.
Managing your dog's atopy
For the management of atopy, your veterinarian will have to consider what treatments are needed for the skin issues that exist as well as how to best manage your pet’s atopy. Some things that may be recommended are:
- Antibiotics to treat any skin infections
- Ear medications and ear cleaning since most dogs suffer from ear infections along with the atopy
- Medicated baths to help the infection and calm the inflammation in the skin
- Cool water soaks to help reduce itchiness
- Antihistamines – these work for some pets but not others
- Antifungals – often there are also fungal infections in the skin
- Flea control – one that not only kills but repels fleas
- Omega fatty acids – these are natural anti-inflammatory agents, like fish oil
- Steroids and Immunosuppressive agents – Prednisone or prednisolone are commonly prescribed to help control itching because they reduce inflammation. Atopica® is an immunosuppressive agent that may be recommended since it reduces inflammation and calms the immune system.
- Immunomodulatory medications – two commonly used are Apoquel® (a daily pill) or Cytopoint TM (an injection done every 4 to 10 weeks)
- Immunotherapy – allergy drops or shots based on the results of your pet’s allergy tests
- Medications for hypothyroidism
- Environmental control – while completely avoiding or eliminating allergens is the most effective long-term treatment approach, it isn’t realistic. But there are some things that owners can do to help control environmental factors. The following is a list of some options you can try:
- Molds can be reduced with dehumidifiers
- Air purifiers using HEPA filters help control dust and pollen
- Air conditioning filters designed to decrease allergens
- Keep windows closed to reduce circulating airborne allergens
- Wash bedding (yours and your pets) several times per week in hypoallergenic laundry detergent
- Use dust mite covers on all pillows and beds. They can even be used with pet bedding.
- You may benefit from using benzyl benzoate spray to control dust mites (Acaroscan Spray by Bissell)
- Robotic vacuums set to clean multiple times per week can aid in decreasing dust and dust mites
- Wash area rugs as much as possible
- Avoid aerosol sprays and carpet deodorizer and powders
Once treatment has begun for atopy, it is critical that you have your pet re-evaluated regularly. Initially, you can expect your veterinarian to see your dog every 2 to 8 weeks. This allows them to evaluate the effectiveness of the medications and to be sure there are no drug interactions. Once the itching is managed, you will likely need to have your pet evaluated every 3 to 6 months. Regular blood work will be needed to monitor the effects of the medication on your pet.
Dealing with your dog's food allergies
Food allergies will require that you put your pet on a STRICT hypoallergenic diet for a minimum of 12 weeks. Your veterinarian will need to prescribe your dog a new diet. You will also have to eliminate treats for a period of time. It is usually recommended that you initially just use the new hypoallergenic diet prescribed to your pet for treats. Remember, love, attention, and toys are better than food with possible allergens.
There are some things to remember with food allergies. There are times where a diet will work for a period of time, but then your dog develops a new allergy to a different ingredient. Therefore the diet will need to be changed again. Novel protein (a protein your dog has never eaten before) and hypoallergenic diets are expensive, but they are cheaper than regularly visiting the vet for skin issues. Lastly, there are times where commercially produced special diets do not work, and your veterinarian will need to refer you to a veterinary nutritionist. The nutritionist will formulate a balanced diet that you may need to prepare for your dog that suits their special needs.
It is important to prevent grain mites in your pet’s diet, as your dog may be sensitive to them. Therefore, when opening a new bag of kibble, divide it into weekly servings and seal it in Ziploc® freezer bags. Store the extra in the freezer and only remove a week serving at a time. This process prevents grain mites from getting into the food.
If your dog has any skin issues as a result of the food allergies, your veterinarian may start your pet on some of the following:
- Antibiotics to help the skin infection
- Antifungal medications
- Medicated baths
- Ear medications and ear cleaners
- Steroids – to help control some of the itching and self-trauma
- Immunomodulatory medications – Cytopoint TM to get over the initial itchy phase
Allergies are a misguided reaction to foreign substances by the body’s immune system, which, of course, people and pets can suffer from. There are quite a few different types of allergies in dogs. Skin allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergens all pose challenges for dogs and their owners, and to make things more complicated, the symptoms of all these different types of allergies can overlap.
Skin allergies, called allergic dermatitis, are the most common type of allergic reactions in dogs. There are three main causes of skin allergies in dogs:
- Flea allergy dermatitis
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergens
Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to fleabites. Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva. This makes affected dogs extremely itchy, especially at the base of the tail, and their skin may become red, inflamed, and scabbed. You may also notice signs of fleas, such as flea dirt, or even see the fleas themselves.
Food allergies and sensitivities can cause itchy skin, as well. The most common places dogs with food allergies itch are their ears and their paws, and this may be accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms.
Environmental allergens, such as dust, pollen, and mold, can cause an atopic allergic reactions or atopic dermatitis. In most cases, these allergies are seasonal, so you may only notice your dog itching during certain times of the year. As with food allergies, the most commonly affected areas are the paws and ears (but also include the wrists, ankles, muzzle, underarms, groin, around the eyes, and in between the toes).
All skin allergies pose the risk of secondary infection. As your dog scratches, bites, and licks at his skin, he risks opening up his skin to yeast and bacterial infections that may require treatment.
True food allergies may not be as common as people think, according to AKC Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein. True food allergies result in an immune response, which can range in symptoms from skin conditions (hives, facial swelling, itchiness), gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and/or diarrhea) or a combination of both. In some rare cases, a severe reaction resulting in anaphylaxis can occur—similar to severe peanut allergies in humans
But what about all of those dogs that are on special hypoallergenic dog food diets?
What most people mean when they say that their dog has a food allergy is that their dog has a food sensitivity, also known as a food intolerance. Food sensitivities, unlike true allergies, do not involve an immune response and are instead a gradual reaction to an offending ingredient in your dog’s food, for example to beef, chicken, eggs, corn, wheat, soy, or milk.
Dogs with food sensitivities can present with several symptoms, including gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea, or dermatologic signs like itchiness, poor skin and coat, and chronic ear or foot infections.
The best way to diagnose and treat a food allergy is to work with your veterinarian to manage your dog’s symptoms and discover the ingredient causing the reaction.
Acute Allergic Reactions
Perhaps the most alarming of all the types of allergies in dogs is an acute allergic reaction. Dogs, like people, can go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe reaction to an allergen. This can be fatal if not treated.
Bee stings and vaccine reactions, among other things, can cause an anaphylactic response in some dogs, which is why it is always a good idea to keep a close eye on your dog following the administration of any new vaccine, drug, or food item. Luckily, anaphylactic reactions are rare in dogs.
Your dog may also develop hives or facial swelling in response to an allergen. Swelling of the face, throat, lips, eyelids, or earflaps may look serious, but is rarely fatal, and your veterinarian can treat it with an antihistamine.
Before we talk about other allergies, we first must discuss the most common reason dogs itch: fleas. These tiny parasites can live on your dog's skin beneath the coat. Fleas survive by biting the dog and ingesting its blood. Not all dogs seem bothered by fleas. This is because some dogs are not actually allergic to fleas. However, most dogs itch when they have fleas, which means they are allergic to flea saliva. Flea allergies vary in severity. Some dogs experience only mild itching when exposed to fleas, while others develop intense itching from just a few flea bites. Every dog should be on flea prevention. However, if you have an itchy dog, do not take any chances: make sure your dog is on the best flea prevention available all year long. Ask your veterinarian about the right flea prevention product for your dog. Fleas eventually develop immunity to flea prevention products, so new products are constantly emerging. What worked to kill fleas a few years ago might not necessarily work today.
Itching in dogs is commonly related to allergies. Flea saliva is just one of many dog allergens. Dogs can be allergic to virtually anything in the environment, such as dust mites, dander (cat, human, etc.), pollen, grasses, mold spores, and more. Many dogs have seasonal allergies. These are most likely caused by pollens and other outdoor allergens that change with the seasons. Dogs can also be allergic to ingredients in dog food, such as chicken, beef, and various grains. Some dogs only experience mild to moderate reactions to various allergens and respond well to treatment. Others suffer from a more serious allergy condition called canine atopic dermatitis and may require more intensive therapy. In addition, your vet may recommend allergy testing to determine the sources of your dog's allergies.