Gluten-free diets have been sweeping the food industry over the last few years, as Celiac disease, allergies and sensitivities to gluten have become a fact for many. If you’ve noticed your dog having problems digesting foods containing wheat or gluten, you may be wondering if they could be experiencing the same problems.
Short answer: the truth is that while dogs aren’t affected by Celiac disease, they can be allergic to gluten. Let’s get to know this troublemaker food and how it can affect your furry pal.
Gluten is a sticky protein that comes from grains like wheat, rye and barley. It is often used in pet foods to increase the protein content, and as a binder that holds it together. Gluten itself is made up of two smaller proteins, glutenin and gliadin, the latter of which is what gives Celiac patients so much trouble.
Since gluten is used so widely in pet foods, it’s highly likely your dog has been eating it for years. Even foods and treats that say they are grain-free or gluten-free could still contain gluten, as they can easily become cross-contaminated with this widespread plant protein.
If you’ve noticed your dog experiencing certain skin and digestive symptoms, you may be wondering if it’s something they are eating. Since there are several other conditions that can cause the same symptoms, you’ll need to talk with your veterinarian to figure out the culprit. If it’s been narrowed down to gluten, your veterinarian will then seek to determine if your dog is allergic or sensitive to this plant protein.
A food allergy occurs when the immune system thinks a certain protein or other food is an invader. It then produces antibodies to fight that invader, which can cause symptoms like itchy or reddened skin, hives, ear infections, watery eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Blood tests can be used to determine if certain antibodies are present in response to gluten exposure to help diagnose an allergy, but results are often unclear.
Food allergies in dogs are usually to proteins, such as from beef, chicken, eggs or gluten, and can be caused by too much exposure to that one protein over a long period of time. This is why some veterinarians encourage switching the main protein in your dog’s diet every so often to prevent an allergy from occurring.
A food sensitivity or intolerance is caused by an issue in the digestive tract, such as a reaction to additives and chemicals, or the lack of digestive enzymes needed to digest that particular food. Since sensitivity is not caused by the immune system, there aren’t any antibodies for a blood test to find. Gluten sensitivity in dogs is rare, with symptoms limited to the gastrointestinal tract, including diarrhea, constipation, nausea, bloating and gastrointestinal pain.
The best way to diagnose an allergic reaction or sensitivity to gluten is to eliminate gluten from your dog’s diet. A new food that is gluten-free is usually prescribed for several weeks, during which time, you should be watching your dog’s symptoms closely. If their symptoms subside, gluten may be the problem. To be certain, the original diet containing gluten can be reintroduced to your dog to see if the symptoms come back.
Whether your dog has been diagnosed with a gluten allergy or sensitivity, the only treatment for either is the avoidance of gluten for the rest of their life. A change of diet will be needed, as well as the elimination of any treats, medications, and chews that may also contain gluten.
While this may have once been tough to do, today you can find several pet foods on the market that cater to the various allergies and digestive issues dogs can experience. With grain-free and limited ingredient diets, finding one without gluten is easier than ever before.
Due to the risk of cross-contamination from other gluten sources, however, your dog still may be experiencing symptoms if they are highly allergic or sensitive. A homemade diet can give you a lot more control over any gluten contamination, but it can be time-consuming. If you are considering making your dog’s food, be sure to consult your veterinarian about how to safely include all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates they need to stay healthy.
With some patience, knowledge and a lot of love—your dog can overcome a gluten allergy to lead a happy and symptom-free life.