Your dog is itchy all over, scratching non-stop and in a constant state of discomfort. His skin is red and inflamed, his hair is falling out and he's shaking his head and ears about every other minute.
The diagnosis from your vet? Your pooch could be suffering from a food allergy.
Food allergies occur when a dog's immune system reacts to a particular food. Though relatively uncommon, it's thought that food allergies account for roughly 10 percent of the allergies seen in dogs, causing irritation and sometimes intense distress for affected animals.
Unfortunately, there's no reliable way to test for food allergies in dogs. However, allergies can be diagnosed by conducting an elimination diet trial. Keep reading to find out how!
Signs of Dog Food Allergies
If your pet has come over all itchy and scratchy, there's a pretty good chance that an allergy could be the cause. Symptoms of food allergies are the same as any other type of allergy, and itching is the most common sign to keep an eye out for. It can cause your furry friend to scratch, rub and chew at the affected areas — anything to provide even a little relief.
The face, paws, ears, legs, armpits and the areas around the anus are the parts of the body most likely to be affected, and it's usually pretty easy to notice your pooch's discomfort. All this scratching can, in turn, produce other telltale signs, like hair loss, redness and nasty-looking "hot spots". An allergic dog may also suffer from frequent ear infections, while in severe cases chronic skin infections can also occur.
Some dogs with food allergies may experience gastrointestinal upset in addition to all that itching. Vomiting, diarrhea or even loose stools can all indicate that your pet is at least intolerant and maybe even allergic to a particular food.
If your dog shows any of the above signs and symptoms, it's worth heading to the veterinarian for a check-up to get to the root of the problem.
The Science of Dog Food Allergies
Humans aren't the only creatures on the planet to suffer from allergies, with basically every type of mammal capable of developing them. However, while many of the symptoms of food intolerance are similar in animals and humans, adverse reactions in dogs generally tend to mostly affect the skin, followed by the gastrointestinal tract.
Studies have shown that food allergies account for around 10 percent of all allergies in dogs, making it the third most common cause, after flea allergy dermatitis and atopy (inhalant allergy). However, our understanding of how dogs become sensitized to particular foods and the effect they have on an animal's immune system is quite limited.
What we do know is that food allergies can develop in dogs of any age, affecting both males and females and neutered and intact animals. Many dogs with a food allergy suffer from inhalant or contact allergies at the same time.
We also know that around 70 percent of pets affected by food allergies actually develop an allergic reaction to foods they have been fed for a long time, typically more than two years.
Unfortunately, until we can develop a deeper understanding of what causes dog food allergies, a reliable test to diagnose those allergies is still a long way off. In the meantime, feeding an elimination diet is the best way to properly diagnose food allergies in our canine companions.
How to Test For Dog Food Allergies
If your pet suffers from atopy, your veterinarian can rely on blood tests and intradermal skin testing to help diagnose the problem. Unfortunately, there's currently no reliable way to test for food allergies in our furry friends.
Instead, an accurate diagnosis can only be made after the much longer process of an elimination diet. The first step in this process is to provide your veterinarian with an accurate diary of everything your pet has eaten, including any treats and table scraps, and the symptoms their allergy has produced.
Your veterinarian will then start your dog on a special elimination diet for a period of six, eight or even 12 weeks. This could be a home-prepared diet or a commercially available prescription diet, and it consists of protein and carbohydrate sources different to what your dog has had before. You'll also need to make sure your dog sticks to the diet religiously and doesn't eat anything that could cause their allergy symptoms to flare up.
If your dog has a food allergy, their symptoms will improve during the course of the trial. Then, if the symptoms worsen again as you start reintroducing other foods into your pet's diet, you should be able to identify the culprit.
Once you know what's causing your dog's itchiness and irritation, you can make sure your pet avoids the offending ingredient altogether.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 02/09/2018, edited: 04/06/2020