Just like humans, dogs can have food allergies, too. And like humans, those allergic responses can range from itchy and irritating to severe and dangerous.
Food allergies in dogs can begin at any age. They can start even if the dog has been eating the same food for months or years.
Symptoms in Dogs
If your dog has a food allergy, you may notice:
Itchy skin: Also known as allergic dermatitis, this is the most common type of allergy. Irritated, itchy skin can happen anywhere on your dog’s body. It often happens near the:
- Rear end
Hives: These itchy red bumps, also known as urticaria, may pop up 6 to 24 hours after your dog eats the food he's allergic to. If your dog has short hair, they’re easier to see. Otherwise, you may have to feel for them.
With itchy skin and hives, there are two side effects of the irritation:
- Your dog likely will scratch, bite, and lick the affected areas, which can lead to broken skin. If the skin is open, there’s a chance your dog could get an infection, which would need treatment.
- All that scratching can lead to hair loss.
Tummy trouble: Allergies may cause gastrointestinal issues, such as gas, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Swollen face: You may see swelling in your dog’s lips, eyelids, or ear flaps.
Chronic ear or paw infections: Repeated infections in your dog’s ear or paws may be a sign of a food sensitivity, not a food allergy.
It’s important to know the difference between a food allergy and food sensitivity. For example, an allergy triggers an immediate immune system response. Food sensitivity doesn't. Your dog may have food sensitivity if he’s having a gradual reaction to an ingredient in his food.
When it comes to food, the most common culprits are:
- Dairy products
Less common ones include:
In rare cases, a life-threatening allergic reaction may happen and your dog may not be able to breathe. If that happens, call an emergency animal hospital right away.
Thankfully, most of the time, food allergies in dogs can be managed with changes to their food.
Allergy testing: Just like in humans, figuring out a dog’s food allergy can take time. First, your vet may try to rule out other things that could lead to your dog’s symptoms. If the vet thinks the problem is an allergy, they may suggest some testing.
Elimination diet: The best way to figure out a food allergy is with one of these, which should only be done under the care of a vet or nutritionist. A dog is fed one protein and one carbohydrate for 8 to 12 weeks. For example, if your dog follows a beef and wheat diet, the vet may have you switch to salmon and rice to see if the symptoms go away.
You need the help of a professional with this. That's the only way to make sure you both find the cause of the allergy and do it in a nutritionally complete way.
Medications: Your vet may prescribe an antihistamine or a skin cream to help ease symptoms while they figure out a long-term plan.