If you own a pet that is prone to having allergic reactions to food, it's important to pay extra attention to its dietary needs and monitor its reaction to the food that it eats.
It's well-known that puppies and dogs can have sensitive tummies but the tell-tell signs that your pet might be suffering from an actual food allergy are itching, sneezing, itchy paws, skin pigmentation, hot spots, eye discharge, hair loss, red eyes, and rashes. However the body part that is most likely to become affected if your dog has an allergic reaction to a particular food is its ears. So watch out carefully for signs of an ear infection. These could show as bad odour or as itchy ears, when your dog may have scaly skin in his ears, paw at them constantly or shake his head all the time.
Your dog may also react to certain foods with gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, a tender tummy and constipation. If you notice that your pet is displaying any of these symptoms, you should take it to the vet.
Most common food allergens
Many of us feed our dogs a single type of protein for several years, mostly because we’ve discovered what they really enjoy. However this increases the risks of the pet developing an allergic reaction to that food. For example, beef is such a common ingredient in dog food that numerous dogs end up allergic to it. Other common foods that often cause allergies are wheat, eggs, lamb, soy and chicken. Least common food allergens are fish and rabbit.
Many dogs are also lactose intolerant and exhibit symptoms such as diarrhoea, flatulence and vomiting if they are given cheese or milk or other dairy products.
Discovering the culprit food
If you are not sure what food is causing your dog to have an allergic reaction you must start your pet on a food elimination diet. It’s best to do this under the supervision of your vet, to ensure that you are giving the right amount of nutrition during this allergen-identification period.
Pet owners are often advised to start by cutting out meat and substituting salmon as the dog’s main source of protein. No treats or human food is allowed on the elimination diet.
Should I feed my dog hypoallergenic food?
Hypoallergenic pet food is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction because it contains fewer or none of the common ingredients that pets can react to.
A hypoallergenic food is usually free from wheat, beef and dairy. It can also sometimes exclude soya, colourings and artificial preservatives too. There are also grain free diets available for very sensitive pets. The chances of your pet being allergic or intolerant to all types of grain (e.g. wheat, oats, rye, barley, rice, maize etc.) is relatively unlikely as they have different chemical structures, but if you are unsure which grain could be causing a problem then a grain free dog food is is a good place to start.
You could also go a stage further and offer dog food that contains ingredients which are not routinely used in pet foods such as venison, duck or sweet potato The idea is that this can help sensitive dogs as they have to have been exposed to something previously for the body to react against it. So feeding a pet food with 'novel' ingredients can help.
Breeds with the most food allergies
According to researchers, some breeds are more predisposed than others to developing food allergies. These breeds are Dachshunds, Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Pugs, Pitbulls, Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Yorkshire Terriers.
Finding out what other owners of food-allergic dogs recommend that you do to help your dog cope with its condition is always useful. Online forums such as dogforum.co.uk are a great way of learning and sharing experiences.