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dog food allergies

How to Manage Dog Food Allergies – Symptoms and Treatment

Dog food allergies are often caused by ingredients found in many pet foods. A hypoallergenic or hydrolysed protein diet could be the solution to your dog's discomfort.

Dog food allergies are all too common. From itchy skin to chronic ear infections, they can cause extreme discomfort for our canine companions. 

As an experienced veterinarian, I see dogs suffering from food allergies on a daily basis.

It’s an issue that doesn’t just affect our dogs – many owners are fed up of the constant scratching too! So in this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know for helping your canine companion lead an allergy-free life.

We’ll delve into identifying common dog food-related allergies and their symptoms, and discuss how to diagnose food-related issues with the help of veterinary professionals. We’ll also explore the various treatment options available for managing your dog’s allergy symptoms.

You (and your dog) must be itching to get started, so let’s dive straight in!

Identifying a Dog Food Allergy

As a pet owner, it’s important to recognize the signs of food-related allergies in your furry friend. The symptoms of an food allergy can be vague and there are many other conditions that can look the same, therefore it’s vital that we know what we’re dealing with. 

To better understand food allergies in dogs, first we need to differentiate them from a food intolerance, as this is a different condition altogether.

Food Allergy

A food allergy happens when your dog’s immune system reacts negatively to specific proteins found in certain foods.

Food Intolerance

A food intolerance doesn’t involve an immune response but can still cause gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or vomiting.

A food intolerance only affects the digestive system and usually causes symptoms on the initial exposure to the offending food ingredient. In contrast, food allergies usually develop over time with repeated exposure to the allergen. A food intolerance should resolve quickly after your dog stops eating the food that doesn’t agree with them.

Determining the individual allergies affecting your dog is challenging – after all, an environmental allergy could also be to blame. I’d recommend checking for food allergies initially, as they’re easier to control.

Be on the lookout for dog food allergy symptoms such as:

  • Skin irritation – itchy skin, redness or rashes (allergic dermatitis)

  • Skin bumps or hives

  • Hair loss or excessive shedding

  • Yeast and bacterial infections

  • Chronic diarrhea or vomiting

If you think your dog may have a food allergy, the first step is to consult with your veterinarian for testing and dietary advice. They can determine which specific allergens might be affecting your dog and recommend a suitable diet for them. 

The Most Common Foods Dogs are Allergic to

foods dogs are allergic to

Dogs, like humans, can be allergic to a variety of foods. Pinpointing the allergen that is responsible for your pup’s reactions is essential to their health and wellbeing.

Some of the most common food allergens include:

  • Beef

    Beef is used in a lot of commercial dog foods and has become one of the most common causes of food allergies in dogs.

  • Dairy

    Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are all common allergens.

  • Chicken

    Chicken is another common protein source used in many dog foods that can trigger an allergic reaction.

  • Eggs

    Egg proteins can also cause adverse reactions for some dogs.

  • Fish

    Fish-based diets might not suit every canine; fish proteins could lead to food allergy symptoms.

  • Wheat

    Wheat gluten has been identified as a potential allergen for certain dogs who may develop sensitivity over time.

Other potential allergens for certain dogs include soy, lamb, corn, pork, and rice. The first step I’d recommend is to remove these from your dog’s food and see if that makes a difference.

Diagnosing Dog Food Allergies

Is your furry friend scratching, licking, or biting themselves more than usual? They might have a food allergy. But how can you be sure? There are two ways that veterinarians go about diagnosing food allergies.

Elimination Diet Food Trial

The cheapest and simplest way of getting your dog’s food allergy diagnosed is by doing what we call an elimination diet trial. This involves feeding your dog a strict diet of hypoallergenic or novel protein foods (more on this later) for 8-12 weeks and closely monitoring their reaction. If their symptoms improve during this period then it’s likely they were suffering from a food allergy. 

To pinpoint the specific allergen causing the issue, reintroduce potential allergens one at a time and observe any changes in your pet’s condition – you can do this by slowly adding your dog’s previous foods back into their diet. Once an allergic reaction occurs after introducing a particular ingredient, you’ve identified the culprit.

Food Allergy Testing

Lab tests are another option for diagnosing a dog food allergy, but they tend to be less reliable than diet trials. Therefore, blood testing should not replace an elimination diet but it can provide additional information when used alongside it.

  • Serum IgE Tests: These blood tests measure levels of an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) that’s produced by your dog’s immune system in response to specific allergens. High levels of IgE indicate an allergic reaction; however, some healthy dogs also have elevated IgE levels, making the results less conclusive.
  • Atopy Patch Tests: These tests involve placing patches containing potential allergens on your dog’s skin and observing any reactions. Atopy Patch Tests are mainly used to determine if environmental allergies are present, but they may also assist in uncovering food sensitivities at times.

Remember, diagnosing a food allergy in dogs requires patience. Working closely with your veterinarian will ensure you take the right steps to accurately diagnose and manage your pet’s condition.

Treating Your Dogs Food Allergies

If your dog is suffering from a food allergy, it’s important to work with your veterinarian to get their issue treated. Here are some effective ways to treat food allergies in dogs:

Elimination Diet Trial

The most effective way to treat dog food allergies is to try and reduce as many allergens as possible through an elimination diet trial. This involves feeding your dog a limited-ingredient or hypoallergenic diet for 8-12 weeks, without any treats or table scraps that could contain potential allergens.

Hypoallergenic diets are designed specifically for dogs with food sensitivities and they typically contain novel proteins and carbohydrates; these are ingredients that your dog probably hasn’t come into contact with before and so they’re less likely to exhibit an allergic reaction. Think of a food trial as a diagnostic test in order to identify specific food that your dog might be allergic to. 

Medications and Supplements

If symptoms persist during a diet trial, medications such as corticosteroids may be prescribed by your veterinarian – these aim to reduce the immune response and therefore the symptoms. But this is only a short term fix, and should only be used until your dog’s allergy symptoms resolve.

Probiotics and omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also be beneficial for dogs with a food allergy, as they can help to promote a healthy gut environment and reduce inflammation.

Regular Check-ups

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to monitor your dog’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to their treatment plan. Your veterinarian may recommend additional testing or treatments if symptoms persist or worsen over time.

Preventing Cross-Contamination

To avoid cross-contamination of allergens in your dog’s diet, make sure you thoroughly clean all feeding bowls, utensils, and storage containers before introducing the new hypoallergenic diet. Additionally, ensure that other pets in the household do not share food with your allergic dog.

Remember, treating food allergies in dogs takes time and patience.

Avoiding a Dog Food Allergy

Prevention is always better than cure, and so the best course of action is to avoid food allergies altogether. Here are some tips to avoid an allergic reaction:

  • Introduce new foods gradually

    Don’t shock your dog’s system with a sudden change in diet. Slowly introduce new foods over several days or weeks to prevent adverse food reactions.

  • Maintain a balanced diet

    Keep your dog’s diet complete and balanced with high-quality ingredients to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients without any allergic reactions.

  • Avoid common food allergens

    Skip feeding your dog beef, dairy, chicken, wheat, soy, lamb, corn, egg, pork, fish, and rice if possible. These are known allergens for dogs.

  • Avoid retail pet foods

    Unlike veterinary diets, many retail pet foods contain common allergens so it’s best to avoid these altogether to reduce the chance of adverse food reactions.

  • Vary protein sources

    Mix up your dog’s protein sources to reduce exposure to specific proteins consistently and prevent sensitization.

  • Purchase hypoallergenic diets if needed

    If your dog has a predisposition to food allergies, consider using a veterinary prescription hypoallergenic diet designed for dogs prone to allergies. Consult with your vet first to determine if hypoallergenic diets are necessary for your dog. 

Another crucial aspect of avoiding food allergies is being aware of potential cross-contamination in the manufacturing process. Some pet food companies produce various products containing different ingredients on shared equipment. This can lead to trace amounts of allergens ending up in foods not specifically formulated with those ingredients. Examine labels carefully for brands that utilize stringent quality control measures and are forthright about their production techniques in order to decrease the probability of trace allergen contamination in foods not explicitly formulated with those components. 

Feeding Dogs with Food Allergies

The key to managing food allergies in dogs lies in finding the right type of dog food that suits your pet’s specific needs. Let’s dive into two types of diets commonly recommended for dogs with food allergies: novel protein diets and hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein diets.

Novel Protein Diets

A novel protein diet is composed of a single source of animal-based protein, such as venison, duck or kangaroo meat, that your dog probably hasn’t been exposed to before. This helps minimize the risk of triggering an allergic reaction since it’s less likely that your dog has developed sensitivity towards these proteins.

  • Select high-quality ingredients: Look for dog foods made from premium sources like lean meats and whole grains instead of by-products or fillers.
  • Choose limited ingredient formulas: Opt for limited ingredient recipes designed specifically for pets with sensitivities; these typically contain fewer components than traditional pet foods.
  • Vary proteins over time: Rotate between different novel proteins every few months to reduce the chances of developing new sensitivities while maintaining variety in their diet.

Hypoallergenic Hydrolyzed Protein Diets

In contrast to novel protein diets, hydrolyzed protein diets consist mainly of smaller protein molecules derived from breaking down larger proteins in a process called hydrolyzed. Don’t worry if this all sounds very complicated – essentially these smaller particles are less likely to trigger an allergic response in your dog, making them ideal for pets with food allergies.

  • Choose a reputable brand: Opt for a well-known and trusted brand that specializes in hypoallergenic diets, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet, Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets, or Royal Canin Veterinary Diet. Always read food labels.
  • Consult your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist: Always consult with your vet before switching to a hydrolyzed protein diet, as they can guide you on the best choice based on your pet’s specific needs and health condition.
  • Maintain consistency: Stick to the recommended diet without adding any treats or table scraps that may contain common food allergens; this will help ensure maximum effectiveness of the hypoallergenic diet.

Caring for a dog with food allergies requires a thorough evaluation of their nutritional requirements and consistent observation by both pet owners and veterinarians. By choosing either a novel protein diet or a hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein diet, you can provide your furry friend with the nutrition they need while minimizing any immune response. If your dog’s previous foods caused allergic symptoms, then it’s best to avoid them as they may contain an offending food substance. 


If your dog is suffering from allergies, then it’s essential to identify and treat the underlying cause.

Knowing the most common foods that trigger your dogs immune system, such as chicken, beef, dairy products, and wheat, is crucial. For the best outcome, it’s recommended to see your vet to get your dog’s food allergy diagnosed.

Treating canine food sensitivities involves replacing common allergens in your dog’s diet with low-allergenic options such as novel proteins or hydrolysed protein sources. Avoiding food allergies can be done by reading labels carefully before purchasing any type of dog food or treats.

Feeding dogs with food allergies requires patience, it can be a while until your dog’s symptoms resolve and to get fully treated. If your dog is still suffering from itchy skin, redness or repeated ear infections despite making the changes mentioned in this article then they could still be suffering from environmental allergies. Talk to your vet about how best to approach this.In addition to allergenic foods, here’s a list of foods that can be potentially toxic to dogs – you’ll want to make sure you avoid these.


What are the Top 10 Food Allergies in Dogs?

Beef, Dairy products, Chicken, Wheat, Soy, Lamb, Corn, Eggs, Pork and Fish.

What is the Best Food for Dogs with Food Allergies?

A hypoallergenic hydrolyzed protein diet or novel protein diet is the best option for dogs with confirmed allergies, using uncommon proteins like venison or rabbit and limited carbohydrate sources to reduce potential allergen exposure.

If you want to make your own dog food then try to source these novel protein sources as the base for your dog’s diet. Find out how to choose the right hypoallergenic dog foods here.

Is a raw food diet for dogs good for allergies?

While some owners report that a raw diet cured their dog’s food allergies, this is only true if the raw diet doesn’t contain an ingredient that triggers your dog’s immune system.

Many vets recommend against a raw food diet however, due to the numerous potential risks to not only your dog’s health but also your own. Read our guide on raw food for dogs for more information.

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