You’ve noticed your dog is rejecting his food, itching incessantly, or having major digestive issues. Logically, you think, “something must be wrong with the food I give my dog!”
There are many reasons why your dog might be presenting some of the symptoms and behaviour we described above. One of the first places that many pet owners look is into allergies. A common place to start looking into your dog’s allergic reaction is with their food or something or their environment.
How can you tell whether your dog has allergies? While allergies can only be diagnosed by your dog’s vet or a veterinary nutritionist, in this article we’ll give you some useful information to help determine whether your dog's symptoms are problematic and when to take her to see a specialist.
What Are Some Common Allergy Symptoms in Dogs?
The most common symptoms of allergies or allergy-like responses in dogs include:
- Swelling, especially in the face, ears, lips, earflaps, eyelids, the groin area, or around the anus.
- Red, inflamed skin, either all over or in specific areas. Where your dog’s skin appears inflamed could be an indicator of what type of allergy your dog has. For example, inflammation accompanied by itchiness around the paws and ears could be an indicator of environmental allergens, where itchiness at the base of the tail usually indicates flea allergy dermatitis.
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Constant licking of the paws, belly, and groin area
- Itchy ears
- Chronic ear infections
Keep in mind that while these are common allergy symptoms, they could also be symptoms of another condition your dog may have. For this reason, it is important for you to take your dog to their vet to receive a full diagnosis.
What Are Some Common Causes of Dog Allergies?
There are four main causes of allergies or allergy-like symptoms in dogs are:
- Environmental allergens: Just like humans, some dogs may also have allergies to substances in the environment (called environmental allergies). Common allergens that cause pet allergies include dust, dust mites, pollen, and mould. You may notice that they arise during certain times of the year.
- Flea allergy dermatitis: This is a type of allergic reaction in dogs where they have an unusually itchy reaction to flea saliva.
- Food allergies: A true food allergy in a dog is rare; they arise as an immune response to foods, and they can show up as skin conditions, like hives and swelling, gastrointestinal distress, or, in extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
- Food sensitivities: Food sensitivities or food intolerance are much more common than food allergy in dogs. The difference is that dogs with food sensitivities have a gradual reaction to certain ingredients in their food rather than an acute immune response. A common source of food sensitivities is actually not the food at all, but the chemicals and additives used in the rendering process used to make kibble.
Regardless of the cause, dogs with allergies may have similar symptoms, because they incite an immune system reaction.
Is My Dog Allergic To Their Food?
Some dogs may have environmental allergies, or have an allergic reaction to fleas, causing them to itch incessantly. Usually, in both these cases, you will notice that your dog itches more after walking outside, during certain times of the year, or when their flea treatment begins to wear off.
In most cases of allergic or allergy-like reactions in dogs, they are sensitive to certain allergens in their food causing their immune system to overact. Allergy symptoms like the ones mentioned above can be challenging to narrow down, but a good place to start is to be able to identify everything your dog is eating which can be challenging unless your dog is on a raw food diet.
Some ways of determining whether your dog is allergic to their food is through allergy testing through an elimination diet. The goal of this diet is to cuts out potential food allergens while watching for changes in their allergic reactions. Ideally, this will allow you to identify the culprit that is causing your dog’s discomfort. If your dog currently is on a kibble diet, the best place to start is by switching them onto a raw food diet either made at home, or from a vendor that you know sources high quality ingredients.
What is the Difference Between a Food Allergy and a Food Sensitivity?
There is a difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. Reactions to food allergens usually incite an acute, or short-term response that can range from slight to serious, and, in some cases, it can even be fatal. Just like when humans eat something they are allergic to, they will be itching, swelling, breaking out in hives, or running to the bathroom shortly after. Although there some dogs have a true allergic reaction to certain foods, a food sensitivity is more common.
What most dogs experience are food sensitivities or food intolerances. These are much more common than allergies in general, though the symptoms may appear much like symptoms of allergies. The difference is the dog’s immune response to certain ingredients. In food allergies, the response tends to appear shortly after eating the food. In food sensitivities, they tend to happen after several days or weeks of eating their food.
Regardless of whether a dog is experiencing a food allergy or sensitivity, know that a reaction to food is one of the five most common hypersensitivities known to affect dogs.
Will switching to Raw Dog Food Help my Dog's Allergies?
One of the best ways of determining what your dog is allergic to is by giving them a hypoallergenic diet, which is essentially a diet that is free of whatever is causing their allergies or sensitivities.
Many dog owners will try switching from one type of dry kibble to another one with different protein ingredients. This may help if they are sensitive to a specific type of protein. However, if your dog is sensitive to the chemicals and additives used in food processing to make kibble, switching to another type of kibble will not solve the problem.
Raw food diets could help to fight your dog’s food sensitivities or food allergies in many ways.
- You know exactly what ingredients are found in the food, so they are a great way to start an elimination diet and choose the best protein source for your dog.
- The best raw dog food formulations do not contain filler grains like soy, wheat, or corn, which can also cause food sensitivities and are not required in most dogs’ diets.
- They do not contain preservatives, dyes, or chemicals commonly used in the kibble-making process that could also be the culprit of your dog’s food allergies or sensitivities.
Additionally, switching to a raw food diet has many benefits for your dog’s health in the short and long term. Some of the research-backed benefits of raw food diets for your dog include:
- Reducing blood triglycerides
- Supporting gut health, which is essential for a healthy immune system
- Maintaining the quality and chemistry of your dog’s waste (ie firmer less smelly poops!)
- No ultra-processed ingredients which may increase your dog’s risk of developing diseases.
If your dog is struggling with the symptoms of food allergies or food sensitivities, or you've noticed they seem to have allergic reactions to kibble, consider switching them over to Outpost Dog Food - 100% raw dog food with no fillers or additives and responsibly-sourced ingredients. All recipes at Outpost have been created by a canine nutritionist and are designed to provide all of the nutrients your dog will need for their entire life.
We have five recipes for dogs (and even one recipe for cats) with clear, human grade whole-food ingredients and several protein options. These foods are great options if you are starting an elimination diet, a food trial, or if you are looking for a hypoallergenic food for dogs who have already gone through allergy testing and the source of the allergic reaction has been diagnosed. Keep in mind that your dog may begin to show improvements anywhere between one and twelve weeks of having switched foods.
In some circumstances diet alone may not be enough to control your dog's allergies. Talk to your vet about a complete approach to dealing with allergy symptoms and reactions, including allergy shots.
Sources and References
1. Kiley M Algya, Tzu-Wen L Cross, Kristen N Leuck, Megan E Kastner, Toshiro Baba, Lynn Lye, Maria R C de Godoy, Kelly S Swanson, Apparent total-tract macronutrient digestibility, serum chemistry, urinalysis, and fecal characteristics, metabolites and microbiota of adult dogs fed extruded, mildly cooked, and raw diets, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 96, Issue 9, September 2018, Pages 3670–3683, https://doi.org/10.1093/jas/sky235
2. Amy Dyk. 20 Dog Food Ingredients to Avoid. Home Alive Pets. https://blog.homesalive.ca/bad-dog-food-ingredients-to-avoid
3. Anna Burke. Dog Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment. American Kennel Club. Accessed September 24, 2020. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-allergies-symptoms-treatment/
4. Sandy Eckstein. Caring for a Dog with Food Allergies. Fetch by WebMD. Accessed September 24, 2020. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/caring-for-a-dog-that-has-food-allergies#1
5. Catherine Barnette, Ernest Ward. Food Allergies in Dogs. VCA Hospitals. Accessed September 24, 2020. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/food-allergies-in-dogs