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Food Allergies in Dogs

What Are Food Allergies in Dogs?

Food allergies in dogs are essentially immune reactions triggered by specific ingredients in their diet – elements they have an allergic sensitivity to. Typically, these reactions manifest gradually over time rather than immediately upon initial exposure to a food. Contrary to popular belief, most dogs with genuine food allergies are actually allergic to particular proteins rather than grains, although any dietary ingredient can potentially trigger an allergic response.

When a dog with food allergies consumes a protein it is sensitive to, its immune system perceives the protein as a threat and initiates an immune response. This response commonly results in symptoms like itching, inflammation, and swelling. It’s worth noting that food allergies are less prevalent than environmental allergies such as those related to seasonal changes or reactions to fleas and ticks. In fact, only a small fraction, about 0.2%, of dogs suffer from food allergies.


  • Pruritic skin (itchy skin)
  • Recurrent ear infections or skin infections
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Excessive licking or chewing of the feet
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of weight
  • Seizure disorders (occasionally observed)


The origins of food allergies in dogs stem from an exaggerated immune system response to specific proteins. Mistakenly identifying these proteins as foreign invaders, the immune system triggers inflammation, resulting in physical manifestations such as redness, swelling, itching, and increased tear or fluid production as it attempts to expel the perceived threat. This fluid production can also occur in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting.

While there’s a genetic predisposition to allergies in all dogs, the precise reasons behind why some develop allergies while others do not remain largely unclear. Allergies can emerge early in a dog’s life or manifest several years later. Although any breed of dog can experience allergies at any stage, certain breeds exhibit a higher likelihood of developing food allergies. Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shar-Pei are among those more susceptible to food allergies.

Several ingredients commonly trigger food allergies in dogs, with specific proteins being the most frequent culprits. Moreover, many dogs are allergic to more than one food component. Commonly linked allergens in dogs include chicken, beef, dairy, wheat, soy, and eggs.


Veterinarians primarily diagnose food allergies in dogs through a combination of physical examination, clinical symptoms, and the dog’s response to a specific food trial.

Upon suspicion of a food allergy, your veterinarian may suggest conducting a food trial with your pet, typically lasting eight to 12 weeks. It’s crucial to strictly adhere to the prescribed regimen during this period, avoiding any treats or alternative diets that could interfere with the trial results. Additionally, it’s important to discuss with your veterinarian the most suitable heartworm and flea/tick prevention products, as some may contain beef or chicken proteins for flavor, which could impact the trial.

There are various approaches to conducting a food trial:

  • Prescription hydrolyzed protein diets: These diets feature proteins broken down into small particles to prevent them from triggering an immune response.
  • Elimination diets: These diets consist of a single source of protein and carbohydrate, either formulated by a veterinary nutritionist or prepared at home under veterinary guidance. While not intended for long-term use, elimination diets help diagnose food allergies. If your dog’s skin or ear issues improve during the trial, it indicates a food allergy, prompting the search for a suitable long-term diet.
  • Novel protein/carbohydrate source diets: These diets contain unusual protein or carbohydrate sources with limited ingredients to minimize allergic reactions.
  • Skin support diets: Fortified with bioactives and phytonutrients, these diets aim to reduce the immune system’s response.

Food trials or elimination diets remain the gold standard for diagnosing food allergies in dogs, as diagnostic tests available in the market still pose questions regarding their accuracy.


The primary treatment for most food allergies in dogs involves a change in diet. It’s common for dogs with food allergies to also suffer from environmental allergies. In addition to a specialized diet, veterinarians may prescribe allergy medications to manage symptoms effectively.

Furthermore, several supplements have shown potential benefits for dogs with allergies. These include omega fatty acids, which help enhance the skin’s natural barrier function.

Best Food Diet for Dogs with Food Allergies

There isn’t a universal “best diet” for dogs with food allergies since allergies vary from one dog to another. The ideal diet is one that consists of ingredients your dog isn’t allergic to and is formulated to maintain optimal health. Numerous diets available in the market have proven effective in managing allergies in dogs. Some of these diets include:

    • Hill’s® Science Diet® z/d
    • Royal Canin® Hydrolyzed Protein HP
    • Purina® Pro Plan® HA
    • Blue Buffalo® HF
    • Hill’s® Science Diet® Derm Complete
    • Hill’s® Science Diet® d/d
    • Royal Canin® Selected Protein SP

Living and Management

While food allergies in dogs cannot be cured, they can be effectively managed over the long term through appropriate diet therapy and avoidance of allergenic ingredients. It’s crucial to carefully scrutinize dog food labels, particularly when it comes to treats, to avoid inadvertently feeding your dog anything that may trigger an allergic reaction. Prescription treats are available, and some pet owners find raw baby carrots or green beans to be suitable alternatives for treats when needed.

During a diet trial for dogs with food allergies, it’s important to be patient as results may take time to manifest. Typically, these trials last between eight to 12 weeks before any significant improvement is observed. While some dogs may show reduced licking and chewing within the first four weeks, others may require the full 12 weeks before noticeable improvements become apparent.

Food Allergies in Dogs FAQs

What is the most prevalent food allergy in dogs?

The primary food allergy in dogs is protein.

What are the typical indications of food allergies in dogs?

Common signs of food allergies in dogs include itching, frequent skin and ear infections, and excessive chewing or licking of the feet.

Is it possible to test a dog for food allergies?

Dogs undergo testing for food allergies through diet trials, typically supervised by a veterinarian.

Can a food allergy in a dog be cured?

Food allergies in dogs cannot be cured. However, they can be effectively managed with an appropriate diet and avoidance of allergenic ingredients.

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