One of the biggest myths about food allergies in dogs centers on which ingredients are most often to blame. The makers of grain-free dog foods often advertise their products as being a good option for these pets, but research has shown that grains are not the most frequent trigger for dogs.
In a previous post, I joked that my dog, Apollo, is “allergic to food.” Of course, that’s not technically true. I did (luckily!) find a vegan dog food that controls his symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Not every dog who suffers from a diet-responsive condition is so fortunate.
Some pets seemingly can eat almost any type of dog food without problem. This is not the case for many others, however. Adverse reactions to food are relatively common in dogs. They range from simple food intolerances to true food allergies. What’s the difference? A few examples from our own perspective will help explain.
Food intolerances have different underlying causes where food allergies involve a very specific part of the immune system.
Food intolerances have many different underlying causes. Do spicy foods give you an upset stomach? That’s a food intolerance. Do you have to avoid dairy products because you don’t produce sufficient amounts of the enzyme needed to breakdown lactose? That’s also a food intolerance. These types of conditions affect dogs as well. For example, a specific brand of food may contain types or amounts of specific ingredients that just don’t sit well with particular dog. Food intolerances tend to result in symptoms like vomiting, poor appetite, diarrhea, or excessive gassiness.
Food allergies, on the other hand, involve a very specific part of the immune system that is misidentifying one or more dietary items as a potential health threat and is attacking them as such. Dogs with food allergies sometimes develop gastrointestinal upset, but more commonly they are chronically itchy and may have recurrent skin and ear infections. Food allergies can develop soon after a dog starts eating a new food or after years on the same diet. The condition does not discriminate based on sex or age, but some breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, appear to be genetically predisposed.
Animal-based proteins are far more problematic.
One of the biggest myths about food allergies in dogs centers on which ingredients are most often to blame. The makers of grain-free dog foods often advertise their products as being a good option for these pets, but research has shown that grains are not the most frequent trigger for dogs. Animal-based proteins are far more problematic. A recent study revealed that animal-based ingredients (beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, egg, pork, fish, and rabbit) were responsible for 236 cases of food allergy in dogs while plant-based ingredients (wheat, soy, corn, rice, barley, kidney bean, and tomato) were involved in only 77 cases.*
Whether your dog has a food intolerance or a food allergy, treatment is essentially the same—feed a diet that doesn’t contain your dog’s triggers. Of course, the food must still meet all of their nutritional needs and should be made from high-quality ingredients that promote well-being. If a diet change does not resolve your dog’s symptoms or if those symptoms are especially severe, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
* Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. Mueller RS, Olivry T, Prélaud P. BMC Vet Res. 2016 Jan 12;12:9.