Signs and Symptoms of Food Allergies for Dogs (and what to do about them)

Does your pup suffer from persistent skin issues, regular ear infections, or digestive issues (like diarrhea)? It’s no fun for them, or for you. Obviously, no one wants to see a beloved pet suffer. What’s more, no one enjoys the clean-up or unappealing smells that can come with these issues. What you may not know is that these types of problems aren’t just because you’re living with an animal. Often, they are symptoms of food allergies for dogs.

food allergies for dogs
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Any dog can develop food allergies or sensitivities. However, some breeds are more likely to be affected than others. For example, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, boxers, French bulldogs, dalmatians, and bulldogs (English and American) seem to be more susceptible than other breeds.

Does Your Dog Have a Food Allergy? Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of dog allergies can range from fairly mild to severe. One of the most common and noticeable signs that your dog isn’t doing well on their current diet is itchy skin. This is often combined with redness, a rash, hives, or hot spots. It may also lead to hair loss from the frequent (even chronic) scratching or licking, often on the paws, legs, and belly as your pup tries to relieve their discomfort. Allergies can also cause swelling in the face, ears, lips, eyelids, or earflaps.

Another somewhat surprising symptom of food allergies for dogs can be frequent, recurring ear infections. If you find your dog is frequently shaking their head or scratching their ears, it’s time to look more closely at their ears. If there’s an infection, the inside of the ear may look inflamed, and there may also be an unpleasant odor.

As with humans, food allergies are often found because they cause gastrointestinal problems, like vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive gas. Some dogs may also have to have more frequent bowel movements or suffer from a combination of constipation and diarrhea.

A severe food allergy can lead to breathing issues and even anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition. Fortunately, this type of reaction is rare in dogs.

It’s important to remember there are other possible causes of these types of behaviors, such as flea bite allergies or environmental allergies. So, if you do find your dog is demonstrating any of them, don’t always assume it’s a food allergy. Rather, make an appointment with your vet to ensure they don’t have an infection or parasite that needs to be addressed. You may also find that their diet makes them more vulnerable to such issues due to the stress on their immune system. Your vet, fortunately, can help identify the cause of their discomfort and guide you to the appropriate treatment.

In addition, exposure to other allergens can make symptoms of food allergies worse. So, being diligent in reducing exposure to non-food allergens, such as dust mites, fleas, and pollen, may help reduce the overall burden on your dog’s immune system.

food allergies for dogs
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Food Allergy or Food Intolerance

Again, in both humans and animals, we’re learning about food sensitivities or intolerances, which can present similar symptoms to allergies. There are differences, however.

Food allergies occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies a specific food, often a protein within the food, as harmful and thus mounts an immune response against it. Food allergies are less common than other types of allergies. For example, your dog may be reacting to insects, parasites, or the environment. Food allergies appear to account for only 10 to 20% of allergic reactions.

Food sensitivity, on the other hand, does not involve the immune system. Instead, it’s a sign that the dog’s digestive system isn’t able to break down certain foods properly. This can lead to bloating, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting. It can also lead to skin irritations. However, this symptom is more typically a sign of an allergy. Food sensitivities are believed to be more common than food allergies. However, the data is pretty sparse, and there is much to learn about how a dog’s digestive system reacts to various foods.

Because symptoms are similar, it can be challenging to see the difference. If there are systemic reactions, such as skin issues or swelling, it’s most likely an allergy. If the issues are limited to mild or moderate digestive disturbances, it’s more likely to be an intolerance.

Your veterinarian can also test the blood or skin of your animal for allergies. There are no such tests for food sensitivities. Your vet may recommend an elimination diet, which removes suspected allergens from the diet for a certain period and then slowly introduces one food at a time to help diagnose either an allergy or sensitivity.

Your vet may also recommend certain medications that can help control the immune system’s response and help ease your dog’s discomfort. For example, they may prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids in addition to food modifications.

What Causes Food Allergies for Dogs?

Dogs, like humans, can develop allergies or sensitivities to a wide range of foods. Some, however, are more common than others. The most common culprits are:

  • Beef, the primary ingredient in many dog foods.
  • Diary products, as many dogs have an issue digesting the lactose, leading to intolerance or allergic reactions.
  • Chicken, like beef, is another food that’s commonly found in foods and treats for dogs.
  • Wheat or gluten can also cause digestive issues and other allergic reactions in dogs.
  • Some dogs develop an immune response to the proteins found in egg whites.
  • Soy is another commonly used protein source in dog foods that can cause allergic reactions.
  • Corn is found abundantly in all types of foods, including dog foods, which can lead to sensitivities and allergic reactions.

Symptoms of food allergies usually appear relatively quickly after the dog has consumed the food—within a few minutes to a few hours. However, some allergies develop over time, and it can take several days after a food has been introduced before the symptoms become noticeable.

Food sensitivities typically take longer to manifest as the foods build up in the animal’s system. So, you may not notice anything the first several times the food is consumed. You may, however, start to notice gastrointestinal issues a few hours to a few days after the food has been eaten.

In addition, food allergies can develop in dogs at any age. They often appear early, before the dog is three years old. But it’s not uncommon at all for older dogs to develop allergies, even if they’ve been eating the same food for ages without issues. Sometimes the onset of a food allergy or intolerance can be due to prolonged exposure to certain foods.

The time between when a food is consumed and when symptoms arise can make it difficult to diagnose and manage food allergies in dogs. Thus, it can be extremely helpful to work with a knowledgeable vet to ensure the issue has been correctly diagnosed and you have a treatment or management plan.

food allergies for dogs
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Strategies for Managing Food Allergies for Dogs

Once you’ve discovered your dog has an allergy, you’ll need to take steps to ensure you manage and treat the condition. The first step will be to work with your vet to identify the culprit. The most effective tool is an elimination diet. That is, you’ll feed your dog a limited diet with proteins and carbohydrates they’ve never eaten before. After symptoms have cleared, you’ll then introduce one ingredient at a time (e.g., chicken, then beef, then corn) over several weeks to see what is causing the issues. Again, a knowledgeable vet can help guide you through the process as well as rule out other possible causes.

After you’ve discovered the culprit, you can then feed your dog a hypoallergenic diet that avoids this ingredient. You may need to find a specialized dog food that uses only novel protein sources or hydrolyzed proteins, where the protein is broken down to help prevent the immune system from activating against the protein.

It’s vital to feed your dog the same allergy-friendly diet and avoid any treats (made for pets or humans) that might contain the allergen. For example, if you are training your dog and taking them to a training facility, you’ll want to ensure your trainer doesn’t provide treats that contain the offending ingredient.

Your vet may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, such as antihistamines or corticosteroids, to help reduce discomfort and avoid itching. Some pet supplements may also be recommended. For example, omega-3 and omega-6 supplements may help improve skin health. And probiotics may help support digestion and immune function to help relieve your pet’s symptoms.

Because new allergies can develop over time, it’s important to watch your pet closely to ensure they don’t develop new symptoms. Regular vet checkups can help you monitor their health and provide guidance to adjust their diets, supplementation, or medication as needed.


There’s no cure for food allergies. However, they can be effectively managed through careful diet and lifestyle adjustments. It takes consistency, though, to work with your vet and stick with a diet or treatment plan. The improvements in their comfort, as well as yours, are well worth it.


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