Food Allergies in Dogs

Food allergy is one of the top three allergies in dogs, the other two being flea allergy
and atopy (allergy to dusts and pollens in the environment).

Many people feel that their dog couldn't possibly have a food allergy because they
haven't changed his diet at all; he eats the same food that he always has.

This is exactly the circumstances in which food allergies can rear their ugly heads.

Food allergies develop over time, so your dog will be allergic to something he has been eating for a year or two. The problem isn't the brand of food you give him, but one of the ingredients in it. For example, some of the more common allergens in dogs include chicken, beef, lamb, dairy products and corn.

Symptoms of Food Allergies

As with any other allergy, the main symptom of food allergies in dogs is itching. It tends to affect the ears, feet and body. The itchy inflamed skin often develops a secondary bacterial and fungal infection which adds to the itching and can make your dog smell bad.

Some dogs with this type of allergy suffer from recurring ear infections as their only symptom.

Diagnosing Food Allergies

There are some clues that your dog's itching can be due to food allergy. One is that his ears are often affected. Another is that the allergy tends to bother him all year round - flea allergy and atopy tend to be seasonal. Lastly, food allergies tend not to respond very well to treatment with corticosteroids.

The only way to properly diagnose food allergies in dogs is to do a food trial. This takes a lot of self-discipline on your part. Because your dog is allergic to food he's eaten for a while, you need to feed him something he's never had before. He can't possibly be allergic to it, so his itching should ease.

There are commercial hypoallergenic diets available, or you can make your own. Choose one protein source and one carbohydrate source, and make sure both are completely new to him. This is all he has to eat for the whole 12 weeks of the food trial.

It's not nutritionally balanced, but in a healthy adult dog it isn't likely to cause any problems for that length of time. If you want to give him a treat, make sure it is made from the same protein source as his food trial protein. This isn't easy, because it means your dog gets no leftovers or table scraps. It can also be difficult if you have more than one dog to feed. However, it's worth doing because it's the only sure way of diagnosing food allergies in dogs.

Treating Food Allergies

After the food trial has confirmed your suspicion of food allergies, then you can start to challenge your dog. Feed him a new protein for two weeks and watch if he starts to scratch. If not, then you can add it to a list of foods that are safe to feed him. If he does scratch, then that food is banned from his dinner bowl. Go back to the hypoallergenic diet until his skin settles down, then challenge him with a different food.

Over time, you'll develop a list of safe foods and a list of bad foods, and you should be able to keep his skin under control just by feeding him safe foods. You may from time to time need some antibiotics to control secondary infections and a medicated shampoo can also be helpful.

Food allergies take some effort to diagnose and manage but if you can do the hard work, your dog's skin will be healthier without the need for ongoing medication.