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What are Grain Allergies?

While "grain-free" dog food has become a fad in recent years, some dogs actually require this diet due to a grain allergy. Grains are found in an abundance in dog foods, which leads to excessive consumption of them by the dog over the course of his life. Allergies to grains can develop immediately or after years of constant exposure.

The most common symptoms seen with grain allergies include itchy, red skin, chronic ear infections, and discoloration of the feet from the pet licking them so much. If your dog is diagnosed with a grain allergy, luckily the treatment and recovery process is very straight forward. You will need to remove any foods, treat, or flavored medications that contain grain from your dog's diet. Once this is done, your dog's symptoms should subside.

Grains are in many of the human foods and dog foods manufactured today. Some dogs are allergic to grains causing a number of health-related issues. If you believe your dog has a grain allergy, discuss it with your veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Grain Allergies in Dogs

Symptoms of grain allergies can vary from dog to dog. Symptoms may include

  • Itchy skin
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Hair loss
  • Bumps/rash
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Obsessive licking/chewing of feet
  • Inflamed, red paw pads
  • Gastrointestinal upset

Grain allergies in dogs may develop immediately or may develop after years of being fed the same diet. 

Types

There are a variety of grains that can be found in your dog's food. Some of these grains include wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, and certain beans. "Gluten" is a term to describe some of these grains, but not all of them. A "gluten-free" diet and "grain-free" diet are two different things. "Gluten" covers only a few of the grains listed above, ‘grain’ includes them all. If you believe your dog has a grain allergy, you will have to stick with the "grain-free" diets.

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Causes of Grain Allergies in Dogs

If your dog has allergies, it is his body’s way of protecting itself from something it thinks will harm it. While the item in question is actually harmless, the body doesn’t recognize it as such. The body finds it dangerous and mounts a protective response to the threat. Your dog’s body produces an immune response to the grain ingredient. This allergic response may develop quickly or may develop over a period of years. Many food-related allergies happen after the dog suffers from an infection involving the stomach or intestines. 

Every dog’s nutritional requirement of grains varies. Some dogs need grains to have a healthy coat and skin, another dog might get an ear infection every time he has grains, or another may require grains in his diet to keep him at a healthy weight. Every dog’s diet requirements are different. If you believe your dog has a grain allergy, talk with your veterinarian.

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Diagnosis of Grain Allergies in Dogs

When you first arrive at the veterinary clinic, the veterinarian will start with a physical exam. This will allow her to take note of all your dog’s symptoms. If your dog’s skin is irritated, the veterinarian may take a skin scraping to check for external parasites or bacterial overgrowth. If your dog has watery eyes, the veterinarian may perform fluorescein staining to check for a scratch on the eye that could possibly cause the watering. 

Blood work will be performed to give the veterinarian a broad look as to how the internal organs are functioning and to rule out other possible causes. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will provide the veterinarian with needed information for proper assessment.  If your veterinarian feels it is necessary, she may also perform a urinalysis for further evaluation of kidney function. 

When it comes to diagnosis of grain allergies in dogs there are very few diagnostic tests you can run. A dietary trial is the most frequently used method. In a dietary trial, you have to feed your dog a novel diet, meaning you feed him a diet without any grain ingredients whatsoever. During this trial, you cannot give any type of treats or flavored medication containing grains as it can affect the results. You have to feed your dog the novel diet for at least 90 days before you can get a reliable diagnostic. After the 90 days, if resolution of the allergic signs occurs, you then must reintroduce grains to his diet. If a relapse in allergy symptoms occurs once the grains are reintroduced, then you know the source. 

Intradermal skin testing for food allergies not always accurate in every case. This test can give false positive and false negative results. When the result is a false positive, the the dog is not allergic to the food burt when ingested it results in a positive allergic skin response. As for a false negative, some food allergies produce a delayed result of a positive allergic reaction and the positive diagnosis is missed. Another way the test can result in a false negative would be when the allergic response is localized. For example, if your dog is allergic to grains but symptoms only manifests as a runny nose, this means the antibodies to the allergen are located only in the nose. Since the allergens antibodies are localized in the nose and not the entire body, there are no antibodies in the bloodstream to cause a reaction throughout the rest of the body, including the skin.

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Treatment of Grain Allergies in Dogs

Medication will be given to relieve your dog of the intense itching he is experiencing. This will be done concurrent to removal of the grains from the diet; the skin irritation may take time to heal.

Removing grains completely will also help avoid chronic infections. If the allergen remains in your dog’s food, it will continue to weaken his immune system over time. This leads to long-term and recurring issues with his skin, and other areas such as ears.

Strict control of the diet is the best treatment of grain related allergies. It can be a long, discouraging process, but once you discover if this is the source of allergen and are able to successfully remove it from his diet, you and your dog will both be happier and healthier. Your veterinarian will lead you through the diet elimination trial, providing your with instructions and foods to replace the grains. The diet must be a strict one; all family members will need to adhere to the trial and not give your pet any treats, medications, or supplements not approved by the veterinarian.

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Recovery of Grain Allergies in Dogs

When you remove grains from your dog’s diet, his prognosis of a full recovery is good. When the grain is no longer in your dog’s system, all symptoms should cease and he should return to his normal self. Chronic infections and skin irritations will heal and not occur again as long as you keep grains out of his diet. His immune system will stop over-reacting and return to its normal strength. This will help your dog fight off actual threats instead of false ones.

While the overall process can be discouraging, once your dog is diagnosed with a grain allergy it is an easy fix. Once grains are out of his system, it means no more itchy skin and no more constant scratching to keep both of you up at night.

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Grain Allergies Average Cost

From 443 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

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Grain Allergies Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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French Bulldog

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Redskin And Itchiness

I have switched her food to the Nutro grain free lamb and sweep potatoes she itches tell she is raw She's only been on the food for under a week and I have used good shampoo and conditioner it is the tropical clean I live more than 3 hours way from a vet hoping someone can help me

Jan. 2, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello this looks like an allergic reaction. If this just started after switching foods I would switch back to what she was eating. You can give Benadryl the dosage is 1mg/pound given twice a day.

Jan. 2, 2021

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French Bulldog

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Itching And Redness

I am giving her bath which in good soap that supposedly for take care with irritating skin of its the Tropical clean And she won't stop itching Tell she is raw for food to Nutro grain free lamb and sweet potatoes I'm just worried and I'm three hours from vet I do give her a Benadryl once A-day seems to help for a few hours than it stops working

Jan. 2, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello this looks like an allergic reaction. If this just started after switching foods I would switch back to what she was eating. You can give Benadryl the dosage is 1mg/pound given twice a day.

Jan. 2, 2021

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Border collie mix

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One Year

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2 found helpful

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Food Recommendation

Hello, We have a 1 year old Border Collie mix and have been feeding him Taste of The Wild Grain free for the past year. We have Been hearing all of the warnings about the dangers of DCM, So we switched him to the Taste of the Wild ancient grains formula and within two weeks he started having a terrible reaction, intense itching, gas, shaking his head anal glands repeatedly drained. Is there a high quality grain food you would recommend without peas, legumes or potatos as we have heard we should pick a food without these. Thank you

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I do not actually know of a food that meets those requirements, but if he is allergic to any of those ingredients, there are hydrolyzed dog foods available that might help him.

Oct. 14, 2020

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Golden Retriever

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18 months

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Redness

Our retriever has had a rash for about 5/6 months now around his privates, vet said it’s an allergy rash treated with steroids but never really completely gone He continues to lick it making it very sore

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that your pet is okay. That rash look very sore. He may need different medications or treatment. If they are still having any problems, It would be best to have your pet rechecked by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed. Let them know that the treatment was not helping, as that may direct them to a different medication.

Oct. 20, 2020

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Border collie mix

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Three years

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Itching Chewing Licking

My dog is constantly itching chewing or licking various parts of her body. She has scabs on the base of her tail and she’s starting to chew off fur. The treats she eats has main ingredients of wheat or grains and her dog food has underlying wheat and grains. Could she be allergic to that or is the chewing licking and scratching be something else? If it is an allergy what’s the best way to help her and stop the irritation.

July 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Some dogs do have allergies to foods, but it is much less common than allergies to fleas and environmental allergies. They can also have parasites, mites, or bacterial or fungal infections. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can help figure out what the problem might be and get treatment for her so that she is not so itchy. I hope that all goes well for her!

July 25, 2020

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Lucas

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Yorkshire Terrier

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3 Months

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Serious severity

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1 found helpful

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I have a 3 month old yorkie and he is turning bald. He is loosing a lot of hair, he has almost no hair in his legs and behind his ears; he leaks a lot and scratches a lot. My vet just switch him to a grain free food. But, he had also a respiratory infection. He already finished his treatment but he is still coughing. Could it (the coughing) be caused by the same allergy of the skin?

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Hamilton

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Hound/beagle mix

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Itching
Red Eyes

When my dog was a puppy, I noticed my dog was itching and had red eyes to the point where he had to administer Benadryl. I found out it was a grain allergy. Now I have read that grain free diets are causing cardiomyopathy! What can I feed him now?

Grain Allergies Average Cost

From 443 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

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