There’s a reason dogs are man’s best friend — it’s because they’re an awful lot like humans. And just as many humans suffer from gluten and dairy intolerance, our furry four-legged counterparts are prone to food allergies too.
If your dog is constantly itchy and it seems like they are always getting ear infections, there’s a good chance that his or her diet may be the problem.
Say what? Dogs can have food allergies?
Veterinarian Dr. Oscar Chavez, assistant professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and veterinary consultant at Just Food For Dogs, says that 20 to 40 percent of veterinary visits are a result of allergies. Of those, 10 percent are food allergies according to Peteducation.com. In fact, food allergies are the third-leading cause of itching, scratching, skin lesions and hair loss in dogs.
Signs of food allergies in your dog
Chavez says all of the following could be symptoms of food allergies:
- Itchy skin
- Biting at paws
- Bald spots
- Hot spots
- Skin infections
- Chronic ear infections
Furthermore, some dogs have food intolerances. Maldigestion (upset GI) signs include:
- Soft stools
- Mucous in the stool
Common causes of food allergies
So what the heck is your dog allergic to?
“Studies have shown that what the body is reacting to is the proteins in the diet,” explains Chavez. “This is usually a meat source, but can also include the protein found in wheat.”
The most common causes of food allergies and intolerance in dogs are beef, milk products and wheat, according to Hill’s Pet. Allergies can also be brought on by damage done to the digestive system through inflammation, infection, surgery and some medications.
If you suspect your dog could have food allergies, Chavez says you should read the first 10 ingredients in your dog’s food to determine the protein that may be upsetting your dog’s system. Common dog food ingredients are beef, chicken, lamb and fish.
“Some vets are also suspicious of the various preservatives, fillers and additives found in commercial dog food, although more research should be done in this area,” adds Chavez.
The elimination diet
To get to the bottom of your dog’s issues, your pet will basically have to go through a doggified version of Whole30.
“The vet will send home a special ‘hypoallergenic’ prescription diet that is not known to be recognized by the dog’s immune system and is therefore unlikely to cause a reaction,” says Chavez.
“The owner must give this diet and only this diet — no treats or no scraps at all — for a minimum of 12 weeks. If the clinical signs resolve, then the vet should recommend a ‘re-challenge’ with the original diet that was suspected of causing the allergies. If all the symptoms return within three to four weeks of switching back on to the old diet, then you have your diagnosis: food allergy.”
Diets for dogs with food allergies
Feeding your dog a healthy diet isn’t impossible — or even difficult — if you discover they have food allergies.
“Whole food diets are best, with no preservatives and no processed ingredients,” says Chavez. “Traditionally, commercial pet foods are heavily processed. Look for diets that are whole, fresh and minimally processed. The more wholesome the diet, the less likely it is to trigger the immune system.”
Chavez says that if you’re ready to don your chef hat, you can work with a vet or veterinary nutritionist to make your own dog food. Or, if dog cuisine isn’t your thing, “look for a commercial whole food source (i.e., Just Food For Dogs),” recommends Chavez. “The food should be able to go bad quickly if left out. You don’t want it to actually go bad, but you do want it to be able to go bad. If your food lasts weeks or months in a bag, then that should be a red flag when it comes to nutrition!”
Chavez reminds us that if your dog has food allergies and you’re able to confirm it, it’s not the end of the world.
“In the world of allergies, this is the easiest one to manage,” he says. “Find a food that works and stick with it strictly.”