When I was a practicing veterinary technician, I encountered many clients with questions about their pets’ potential allergies. They’d be surprised to find out that dogs can develop allergies to certain ingredients even in premium foods. Increasingly, it’s easy to find pet foods made with high-quality ingredients and limited fillers. Yet our dogs can still be allergic or intolerant to a number of these ingredients.
First off, it’s important to know there’s a big difference between a food intolerance and a true food allergy for dogs. Jean Hofve, DVM explains in Whole Dog Journal that for most dogs, skin and gastrointestinal problems are not usually the result of a food allergy, but rather due to environmental factors like pollen or sensitivity to certain foods.
What is a true food allergy?
A food allergy occurs when a dog’s immune system mistakenly identifies a particular food ingredient as harmful. Their body then creates defensive antibodies to fight the invading enemy (the food).
Dr. Hofve explains that an allergy is a “real immunological reaction to a food component.” Symptoms commonly include itchy skin, ear infections, and GI issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Dogs can become allergic to certain foods if they have the genetic predisposition to develop food allergies. Surprisingly, the most common allergens are not grains!
Dogs are most commonly allergic to the following foods (in descending order): beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb/mutton, soy, pork, rabbit, and ﬁsh. Rabbit and fish are by far less common than the others.
7 most common causes of food allergy in dogs
- Beef. Proteins are common allergens. Feeding a single food for years increases the potential for your dog to develop an intolerance or allergy to one or more ingredients. Beef is one of the most common ingredients in a lot of pet foods, which may be a reason it’s number one. I feed our three dogs a raw diet and we rotate meats every week. I do this partly to ensure we decrease the risk of developing a food allergy.
- Dairy. Some dogs have problems digesting lactose. This is an intolerance, rather than an actual allergy. Lactose intolerance leads to gas, diarrhea or vomiting. What’s tricky is that so can a true dairy allergy, so it’s hard to know which a dog suffers from. One important distinction: a dairy allergy may manifest as skin itchiness or related symptoms, whereas lactose intolerance is always about digestion.
- Wheat. There are many misconceptions regarding carbohydrate-containing foods for dogs, especially grains. It’s much more common for dogs to have allergies to meat than grains, for instance. However, some dogs do have an allergic reaction to wheat. Check with your vet or pet nutritionist about grains, as every animal should be treated as an individual.
- Eggs. An egg allergy means that your dog’s immune system overreacts to the proteins present in the egg yolk. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to avoid eggs. Just be sure to double-check food labels.
- Chicken. The same rules apply here as they do for beef and lamb! Just because it’s plain old chicken doesn’t mean your dog can’t be allergic to this common protein.
- Lamb. Many commercial dog foods were made with chicken or beef, so lamb was considered a good option for dogs that experienced allergies while eating a “regular” food. However, it’s also a possible cause of allergy. If your dog is allergic to lamb and rice, you could try venison and sweet potato.
- Soy. Some studies have shown that eating soy can cause various health issues beyond allergy, including reproductive and growth problems, thyroid, and liver disease. Dr. Karen Becker, for Healthy Pets, is very concerned about soy. “The health risks associated with soy products far outweigh any potential benefit,” she writes.
Breeds prone to food allergy
- Cocker Spaniel
- Springer Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
- West Highland White Terrier
If you’re concerned about your dog’s potential allergies, we recommend that you consult with a veterinarian or a pet nutritionist.
The best way to determine the cause of your dog’s allergies is to eliminate the number of ingredients your dog is exposed to. Gradually, ingredients are re-introduced to determine what’s causing the problem.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.