Six things your vet wants you to know about dog food allergies

With hayfever season fully underway for humans, it’s a good time to think about our doggy pals and any allergies they might have to deal with themselves.

I’m Dr. Guy Sandelowsky, a practicing small animal veterinarian and founder of plant-based dog food, omni.

I’ve put together a list of important things every dog parent should know about allergies in dogs. How do you know if your dog suffers from allergies? Here are some common signs: Ear scratching, licking paws excessively, red skin and patchy hair loss.

1. The most common allergens are beef, lamb, pork, chicken and chicken eggs.

Dogs react to protein much more than people do, so it’s likely that it is the source of protein in your food that is causing your dog’s allergies. Because all of these allergens come from animal protein, a plant-based diet is an easy switch to eliminate the most common causes of allergies in dogs. Other non-food based allergies include fleas, pollen and mites.

2. Grain allergies are incredibly rare

There’s been a lot of attention recently on grain-free diets for dogs, but in reality, only around 0.1% of dogs suffer from a grain allergy.

All the new dog food companies that offer grain-free diets for dogs are jumping on the ‘clean eating’ trend that happened with people, and you now see affecting the way we think about food for our dogs.

Marketing people at these dog food companies know that we treat dogs like members of our family, which means that if we know people with grain or gluten allergies, we think it makes sense that our dog could suffer in the same way.

Grain allergies are not unheard of but they are incredibly rare, so it shouldn’t be the default switch you make when you suspect your dog is suffering from allergies.

3. The only way to determine exactly what allergies your dog has is through an elimination diet. 

There is no single or simple way to easily assess allergies, blood tests can be expensive and difficult to analyse. One of the easiest and most reliable ways to find out what is causing your poor pup to suffer is through a food elimination diet.

This is a process whereby you switch your dog to an entirely new diet, gradually, and keep them on that diet for 12 weeks. If their symptoms clear up as a result of the new diet, you can slowly reintroduce ingredients from their previous diet to identify which one was causing the allergic reaction.

You should, of course, always consult with your vet before making any major changes to your dog’s diet. 

4. Look out for itchy skin

It’s frequently thought that gastrointestinal symptoms are the most obvious sign of food allergies, because it’s the intestinal tract that’s exposed to the allergen.

Not all dogs with food allergies have gastrointestinal symptoms, so you shouldn’t rule out allergies just because their bowel movements seem ok.

It’s more often itchy skin that is the first sign of an allergic reaction, so if your dog has been scratching themselves a lot more recently, consider taking a trip to the vet to check it out. 

5. Plant-based dog food is widely considered to be hypoallergenic.

Because allergies happen when a dog's immune system overreacts to one or more of the ingredients in their diet, it’s likelier that they won’t react to the new kinds of ingredients found in plant-based dog food. If you’re worried about allergies in your dog’s food, try a nutritionally complete plant-based replacement diet like omni.

6. Your dog can develop an allergy even if they’ve been eating the same food for years

Quite often dog parents rule out allergies because their dog has been happily eating the same food for a long time, but food allergies can take a long time to develop. It's a bit like people who never get hayfever and then one year it hits hard.

The immune system has to be exposed to an allergen for a long enough time to develop enough antibodies to trigger an allergic reaction.