Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

Written By Leslie Ingraham
Published: 12/22/2021Updated: 03/28/2023
Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers

What are Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers?

While all dogs can have or develop an issue to a food, Labrador Retrievers are especially prone to food allergies and sensitivity because their bodies react more frequently and intensely to the food in their diets. They have a genetic tendency for these conditions.

Food allergies are the result of the body’s immune system attacking what it perceives to be threats, called allergens. In dogs, the reaction is typically seen in the skin, which becomes itchy, reddened, and inflamed.

A food sensitivity doesn’t involve the immune system at all. Instead, it’s the body’s gradual intolerance to ingredients in food the dog consumes. Symptoms typically affect the gastrointestinal system and skin.

Symptoms of Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

Signs of food sensitivities and allergies in dogs are not exactly alike, although they may overlap. 

Symptoms of a food sensitivity include:

Symptoms of food allergies can also cover a wider range of systems. While signs of an allergy include those of a sensitivity, an allergy may also cause:

  • Itchy skin
  • Bald patches
  • Inflamed feet
  • Coughing
  • Chronic gas
  • Facial swelling
  • Hives
  • Poor growth in puppies and adolescents
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Hyperactivity
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Aggression

An acute allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, can occur in dogs with untreated food allergies that can lead to death.

Causes of Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

Commercial dog foods contain a large number of ingredients, including preservatives, vitamins and minerals, and a variety of proteins and carbohydrates. Dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers, can be either intolerant or allergic to any of these substances. 

In allergies, a substance called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) reacts to an allergen in food, and triggers the release of histamines, resulting in inflammation and irritation. Sixty to seventy percent of immune system cells reside within the digestive system. 

Food sensitivities don’t involve IgE or the immune system, but are actually a gradual intolerance to certain foods and other eaten substances. In this way, they’re much like celiac disease and lactose intolerance in humans.

The most common foods or additives that can cause both sensitivities and allergies include:

  • Protein like beef, chicken, dairy, or eggs
  • Complex carbohydrates such as corn, soy, and wheat
  • Preservatives
  • Dyes
  • Natural or artificial flavoring
  • Supplemental vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients

Diagnosis of Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

Diagnosing food sensitivities and allergies requires some detective work. Your veterinarian will want to first find out what in the dog’s food is causing the condition, and then eliminate that from the pup’s diet. This may sound straightforward, but it isn’t a simple task. 

The first step is to start an elimination diet consisting of substances not found in the dog’s regular food. Often the elimination diet consists of homemade foods like chicken and rice, raw unprocessed meats and vegetables, or a specialized commercial diet. This diet must be followed for 8-12 weeks, during which time you should omit treats, chews, flavored vitamins, flavored heartworm medication, and table scraps. At the end of the trial, the allergy and sensitivity symptoms should have abated. 

After the elimination period, the veterinarian will gradually add back various foods and additives to see which ones trigger GI sensitivity or an allergic reaction. Once the culprit has been identified, they will help you find a diet that will be healthy for your dog going forward. 

If the elimination diet is inconclusive, another diagnostic tool is the serum IgE test which is performed on blood. A high level of IgE in the blood’s serum indicates it’s likely that the dog’s problems are allergic in nature. Alternatively, veterinarians can do a skin test involving injecting specific allergens into the skin, then looking for a reaction to identify allergy-causing substances.

Treatment of Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

Once the trial has ended, treatment aims to prevent another reaction from a food sensitivity or allergy from happening, as well as reducing overall symptoms. 


There are many hypoallergenic dog foods on the market that don’t contain common problem ingredients. Some pet parents choose to continue to feed the elimination diet indefinitely, adding some vegetables and supplements such as Omega-3 oils and vitamins under their vet’s guidance. 

Heal skin

If skin reaction symptoms have occurred, secondary bacterial or yeast infections can occur as a result of the dog scratching or biting itchy areas. For these, the vet will prescribe antibiotics or anti-yeast medications. Topical shampoos, creams, ointments and other treatments may also be prescribed to help soothe skin.

Treat the itch

Antihistamines or corticosteroids can reduce itchy inflammatory symptoms until the correct diet is found. Vomiting, diarrhea, and other GI symptoms can be treated with medications to reduce them, like antiemetics, antacids and antidiarrhetics. 

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Recovery of Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

Dogs who have food allergies may have other allergies or sensitivities as well. In some cases, one food allergy will eventually lead to the development of another. For these, the diagnosis and treatment methods are the same as for the initial onset. To catch the problem early requires monitoring your dog’s diet and health, reporting any return of symptoms to the veterinarian, and regular office visits to look for subtle signs. The vet can respond to these early signs of another outbreak and treat the dog’s symptoms before any secondary infections can set in.

There is no cure for food sensitivities and allergies other than omitting the trouble food from the diet. Your Lab must stay on a limited diet for life to avoid new episodes.

Food allergies and sensitivity can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your Labrador Retriever is at risk of developing an allergy or sensitivity to food, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

Cost of Food Sensitivity and Allergies in Labrador Retrievers in Dogs

The average cost to treat your Labrador Retriever’s food allergies and/or sensitivity is $200 - $2,000.

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