Does your dog have a food allergy?

We’ve been learning all about Dog food allergies this week, thanks to our friends over at Vet’s Kitchen. Does your dog have a food allergy, or do you suspect they might? Read on to find out more…

So, what are allergies? Food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to a particular protein molecule, which is known as an allergen. By far the most commonly documented allergen is beef protein, which has caused a reaction in 60 percent of cases, recorded, followed by dairy and then wheat. The incidence of wheat allergies is actually relatively low, seen in approximately 24 percent of cases. The very nature of an immune system reaction means that a protein must have been presented to the immune system prior to the allergy developing – so the dog must have eaten it before. If the animal is predisposed to developing an allergy, its chances increase every time it is exposed to that particular protein. This makes it clear why the prevalence of food allergies, in general, tends to reflect the ingredients that are most commonly included in commercial dog foods.


Food intolerances are certainly more prevalent than allergies and they are probably more common than evidence suggests. Food intolerances are caused by reactions to particular chemicals, both biological and synthetic. The quality of ingredients can certainly cause variations in chemicals present in the finished food, such as ingredients that are going off, or the preservatives or additives that might be used. Ultimately, the quality of ingredients going into any food comes down to formulation and the quality control processes put in place by the manufacturer. Manufacturers that care about the quality of ingredients that go into their foods are more likely to produce diets that trigger fewer food intolerances, and are more likely to produce grain-free foods. So some of the improvements being observed may well be from feeding a better quality all natural dog food product.

Just as with humans, the most reliable way of diagnosing a food allergy is by process of elimination. Patients are commonly put on an exclusions diet, which will be based on a novel protein and carbohydrate that a dog has not previously been fed. The gold standard for an exclusion diet is to prepare home cooked meals so there is no risk of anything else being present in the diet, for six to eight weeks. Quite a labour of love!

Improvements can often be seen in the first week but be aware that in some cases it may take much longer – up to eight-weeks for full effects to take hold. The challenge of diagnosis then becomes apparent, as to properly complete the process, you need to re-introduce your dog to their old diet. It is only by doing this and witnessing the clinical signs recurring that you can definitively diagnose the problem as being a direct consequence of food. However, in many cases this step is, quite understandably, not completed due to pet owners not wanting to put their dog through a potential recurrence of the clinical signs.

Attaining a proper diagnosis is notoriously difficult and as a result, the incidence of food allergies is pretty controversial. However, given that these are currently estimated at only 1-6 percent of clinical cases and that wheat is only accountable for 24 percent of these reactions, it’s obvious, due to the sheer numbers of dogs where improvements are being seen, that it’s not all down to wheat or gluten allergies. Certainly some dogs will improve because of the removal of another protein source within the diet they are allergic to. However, with the confirmed incidence of food allergies being relatively low, it indicates that there may be more to this issue than just allergies alone.

If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, we’d always recommend you go to see your Vet, who will advise you on the best course of action.

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Content and Images via Vet’s Kitchen

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