Dog Food Allergies:
Diagnosis & Treatment

Year-round intense itching is by far the most common indicator of dog food allergies. A dog with food allergies will often have sores on his face or stomach from itching, sores on legs and/or paws from licking and frequent ear infections.

A food allergy is a dog's oversensitivity to an otherwise harmless food. This hypersensitivity may be displayed through itching/scratching, sneezing, hives, vomiting and diarrhea.

Common Culprits of Dog Food Allergies

Around the age of 5, our Petey began scratching and developed raw areas on his back. The 'donut' keeps him off the infected areas.

It's important to remember that dogs are individuals. A food that causes an allergy in one dog may have no negative effect on another. Still, there are several foods that often trigger allergies in dogs. These are:

  • Dairy products (milk, eggs, cheese)
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Peanuts


While food allergies can occur at any age, they are seen most often in adult dogs 4 years of age and older. That is because a dog must be exposed over a period of time before he reacts to an ingredient in his diet. A food allergy does not happen overnight; it takes time, sometimes years, to develop. A 10-12 week elimination diet, supervised by your vet, can be helpful in diagnosing the offending food. The following factors also help point the finger (or paw) toward a dog food allergy diagnosis:

  • Your dog did not have allergy symptoms until 4 or 5 years old.
  • Your dog's itching is all year long, not isolated to specific times of the year.
  • Your dog has the allergy sores described under "Symptoms."
  • Your dog has been treated for sarcoptic mange but shows no signs of improvement.

Conditions that Encourage Dog Food Allergies

Pet Care in the New Century cites three conditions that influence whether or not a dog will develop a food allergy:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease: This involves a malfunctioning gut, which allows large protein particles into the immune system and causes an allergic reaction.
  • Malfunctioning Pancreas: Dogs with this condition are not able to fully digest protein, which leads to an allergic reaction.
  • Malfunctioning immune system: A dog's immune system overreacts to protein particles. The size of the protein particle does not matter and the bowel is healthy, but the dog's immune system mounts a negative response—an allergic reaction—to a protein.

Conventional & Natural Treatment

Both conventional and holistic veterinarians attempt to identify the offending food ingredients by placing the dog on a diet he's unaccustomed to. For instance, venison, duck or rabbit. It can take up to 10 or 12 weeks for the allergic symptoms to completely subside. Once this happens, the vet may suggest reintroducing the suspected allergens, one at a time, several weeks apart, until the allergy symptoms return. If itching or other symptoms occur within two weeks of a food's reintroduction, the dog is considered to be allergic to that ingredient. Once you know the trigger of dog food allergies, you need to read labels and keep that ingredient out of your dog's diet.

It is possible that over time, your dog will become allergic to the new protein as well. This is especially true if your dog has inflammatory bowel, a malfunctioning pancreas or hyperactive immune system.

In recent years, manufacturers have been developing dog foods with hydrolyzed protein. The protein is broken into very small pieces that the immune system does not recognize and does not have an allergic reaction to. Most of these specialized diets are available for purchase through veterinarians.

Even when using a natural approach to your dog's healing and prevention, it is best to seek the guidance of a holistic vet. You can find a list of U.S. holistic veterinarians at the web site of The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

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