I have become quite passionate about allergies since it's such a mysterious topic. It's challenging to know what is causing the allergy or intolerance. In my case, it took 20 years to realize I was lactose-intolerant.
You would think that I would have known sooner with such a mainstream intolerance. I didn't. I went through bad years of acne, oily skin, and low confidence. Finally, at 20, I realized that I would feel bloated every day right around breakfast and finally made the connection. I had felt bloated my whole life, so I thought that feeling was normal.
Allergies are all around us: grass, pollen, food, insect bites, etc. My mission is to know as much as possible about this subject and share my findings with you. So today, let's look into the most common food allergens for dogs.
How to know if your dog has food allergies
Allergies result from your dog's immune system fighting off a food ingredient. Since this ingredient is usually eaten every day as part of your dog's diet, the immune system is triggered daily and can sometimes worsen over time.
Usually, the culprit is the protein source and not grains. For instance, a study showed that a vegan diet was healthier for dogs. I would consider switching the protein source first before putting a dog on a vegan diet. Most likely, it will fix the allergy problem.
If your dog has the following symptoms, they may have allergies:
- Itchy skin
- Itchy paws, nose, or ears
- Hot spots
- Skin rashes
- Flaky or oily skin
- Pigmented skin
- Leathery skin texture
- Eye discharge
- Red eyes
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Hair loss
How to help your dog with allergies
These symptoms are common allergy symptoms and not necessarily food-related. However, since most allergies in dogs are not caused by food, I would encourage you to look into this other article I wrote first: 21 Natural Remedies You Can Give Every Dog for Allergies and Itching.
According to veterinarians, about 10% of allergies in dogs are caused by food. However, even if your dog has food allergies, check out the article above for different ways to soothe your pup's skin and relieve him of any pain.
11 most common causes of food allergy in dogs
Before we get into the list, you may be surprised at some of the food allergens since they are so common. But, you may think, if they are so common, why are they also in most dogs' food? This is because eating the same protein or ingredient for years can increase the risk of developing an intolerance or allergy to it.
- Beef. Beef is commonly found in dog food and is at the top of our list.
- Dairy. Your dog may be lactose-intolerant or allergic to dairy. Symptoms are gas, vomiting, or diarrhea. If your dog is lactose-intolerant, they may only develop digestion issues and no skin issues. However, if your dog develops skin rashes, they may be allergic to dairy.
- Chicken. Another prevalent protein. Consider switching it out.
- Pork. Although less likely to cause allergies, pork is still a common culprit. Remember that dogs cannot eat raw pork, just like us, because of parasites.
- Wheat. It's more common to develop allergies to protein than to wheat and grains in general. However, it's still one of the common sources.
- Eggs. Eggs are not as commonly found in food, so they are easier to avoid. Your dog may be allergic to the protein in the egg yolk.
- Lamb. Lamb was considered an excellent alternative to beef and chicken and is unfortunately also the cause of allergies in some dogs.
- Soy. Soy has been linked to many health issues beyond allergies and should be avoided.
Here is my fool-proof method to find which ingredient your dog is allergic to
I know the list above may be confusing, and you might realize that at least 2 or 3 of these ingredients are part of your dog's regular diet.
In a study of 278 cases of food allergies in dogs, three ingredients were found responsible for the vast majority of cases.
These three ingredients are beef, dairy, and wheat.
The study also found that all the proteins combined (beef, dairy, chicken, egg, lamb, soy, pork, and fish) were responsible for most cases, while wheat, corn, and rice were only responsible for a minority.
Step 1: inspect your dog's diet.
Before you make any drastic changes and start cooking for your dog, look at your current dog's food label—note which common food allergens it contains.
For example, consider Purina Pro Plan "Adult Giant Breed Chicken & Rice Formula." Here are the ingredients:
- Whole Grain Wheat
- Corn Gluten Meal
- Whole Grain Corn
- Poultry By-Product Meal
- Pea Fiber
- Egg Product (dried)
- Beef Fat
- Fish Meal
- Natural Flavors
- Fish Oil
- Calcium carbonate, salt, mono, and dicalcium phosphate, potassium chloride, potassium citrate
I bolded the ingredients that may cause allergic reactions. We want to look at the protein sources first before considering other ingredients based on what the study says above.
Step 2: switch the protein.
As we saw above, the ingredients contain various potential food allergens. However, it does not mean your dog is allergic to them. The example above contains chicken, egg, and beef. Before looking at whole grain wheat, corn gluten meal, and rice, focus on switching the protein first.
Looking at Purina Pro Plans, there is a good alternative: Salmon & Rice. It no longer has chicken, egg, whole grain wheat, or corn gluten meal. However, it still has rice and beef fat.
In my example, it is not the perfect alternative, but it's an easy alternative to try. If you try to remove all the allergens at once, it will be difficult for you to find an option.
Step 3: give it a week at least.
Give your dog your new choice for at least a week, and carefully look at your dog's symptoms. If you want to be very analytic like I am, take "before & after" pictures of any skin rashes your dog has. In addition, take notes on other allergic reactions: how often has your dog sneezed, vomited, or had diarrhea. Is he losing hair as usual, or less?
If your dog's symptoms improve, great news! Keep your dog on this new diet. However, if symptoms persist, you will need to go to step 4.
Step 4: find a better diet.
If symptoms persist, your dog may be allergic to whichever food allergens are still present. Since it will be hard to find a generic dog food without beef, chicken, or rice, you will need to look harder and find an option online.
For instance, I found this dog food online. I won't name the brand, but here are the ingredients:
Ingredients: Ground pork, russet potatoes, green beans, squash, kale, cremini mushrooms, dicalcium phosphate, potassium chloride, salt, natural flavor, citric acid, fish oil, vinegar, taurine, and others that are not food allergens.
As you can see in the list above, the only typical food allergen present is pork. If your dog has never been on a pork-based diet before, they are likely not allergic to it. You can look for similar dog foods with a different main protein if they have.
If your dog's symptoms persist after switching to this even better diet, I recommend the elimination diet through home-cooking.
Step 5: if nothing else works, try the elimination diet.
Many people online recommend the elimination diet right away. While it may work, it's also the most time-consuming method, and I prefer to try faster and easier methods first. When you know that beef causes most allergy cases, why start home-cooking when you can switch beef kibble for salmon kibble?
The elimination diet works as follows:
- Start feeding your dog a protein and carbohydrate source he has never been exposed to before. It could be venison, duck, kangaroo, or even alligator. You can add sweet potatoes, pumpkin, quinoa, or white potatoes. Remember to pick two options that your dog has never been exposed to before.
- Keep your dog on this diet for a few weeks. If your dog's allergy is food-based, you should see a significant improvement after just one week.
- Add one new ingredient at a time. Once your dog's symptoms have disappeared, you can add one new ingredient at a time from your list of suspected culprits: eggs, corn, rice, etc. It is the only way to know what is causing your dog's allergy.
Step 6: what if it's not a food allergy after all?
If you complete all the steps above and realize that your dog still has allergies, your dog may have another kind of allergy. Read my article 21 Natural Remedies You Can Give Every Dog for Allergies and Itching for ways to help your dog.
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