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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 many dog foods and treats and chews, making them tricky to avoid. 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. However, some dogs will have allergies to other things such as other foods, pollen and dust mites.

Grains are in many of the human foods and dog foods manufactured today. Some dogs are sensitive or 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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Grain Allergies Average Cost

From 443 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

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 the protein in 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. It is thought that some food-related allergies happen after the dog suffers from an infection involving the stomach or intestines. For many, allergies are genetic.

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, especially if very active. Every dog’s diet requirements are different. If you believe your dog has a grain allergy, talk with your veterinarian. It is not advised to cut out grains without seeking a vet opinion.

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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 and swab 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. They should also measure tear production to ensure it is adequate. Ears will be examined with an otoscope and any excess discharge should be sampled and examined.

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.

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, offer 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 this diet for at least 90 days before you can get a reliable diagnosis. 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 and blood tests for food allergies is not always accurate in every case. This test can give false positive and false negative results. When the result is a false positive, the dog is not allergic to the food but the test shows up positive. 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 at the same time as grains are removed from the diet. Remember, the skin irritation will take time to heal; often several weeks.

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, 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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Ask a Vet

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Finn

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Cattle dog

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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2 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Itchy And Hives/Rash

My dog who has eaten grain free food all of his life (2 years), recently I changed to food with grains to help clean his teeth. He has been scratching and broke out in hives/rash. Could this be a change in food? I gave him a medicated bath and seems to be better.

Aug. 12, 2018

Finn's Owner

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2 Recommendations

A dog may be allergic or have a reaction to any ingredients in dog food not just the grains, surprisingly some studies have shown that dogs may have a higher chance of allergies to meat proteins more than grains. You should switch back to the previous food for a few weeks until all symptoms are resolved and try the new food again, if there is a similar reaction there may be an ingredient in the food which is causing the reaction. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/

Aug. 13, 2018

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Coco

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Chihuahua

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5 Years

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Fair severity

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2 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Paws
Shedding
Licking At Genitals
Licking
Itching

I rescued my dog about 6 months ago and finding it hard to find the right diet for her. Initially I started giving her blue buffalo grain free turkey and potato formulae and I literally had to beg her to eat. After introducing some wet food to the kibble by the same brand, I was back to begging her to eat after every 3-4 days. After a recent digestive mishap, I started cooking food for her at home with quinoa, zucchini, carrots, ground turkey and chicken but I see that she is still shedding hair (no patches and smooth fur). I have tried to add clarified butter to her diet but seeing no difference. This is the 3rd time in the last 6 months that I see this type of shedding - she is a fur ball!! What am I doing wrong?! Please help

June 8, 2018

Coco's Owner

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2 Recommendations

If there is an allergy, it can be very difficult to narrow in on a cause; surprisingly grain allergies are not as common in dogs as people think and most dogs on grain free don’t need to be on it. You may either go through an elimination trial with a restricted ingredient diet to monitor for improvement then reintroduce different foods one by one to identify the allergen or have allergy testing done with your Veterinarian. There is no straightforward answer unfortunately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/

June 8, 2018

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Grain Allergies Average Cost

From 443 quotes ranging from $200 - $800

Average Cost

$400

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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