What Causes Dog Food Allergies and What Can You Do About Them

Does your dog routinely suffer from an upset stomach? A food allergy could be the cause. If your dog suffers from a dog food allergy, you need answers. What do you do about them? How do you find out what the allergy is? How do you treat it once you know? We attempted to answer all of your dog food allergy-related questions, below. 

Prefer to listen to this article instead? We totally understand. Just click the “PLAY” button above!
Vet Tips

Allergies are actually misguided reactions to foreign substances or foods by the body’s immune system

A dog food allergy happens when your pet becomes allergic to a certain type of food. Although it is likely your dog will always have an allergy,  there are things you can do to help. Removing the food item in question and seeking a vet’s help are two good starting points. 

Vet Tips

The most common point of itching in case of food allergy is the dog’s ears and paws which may be later followed by gastrointestinal symptoms

What is a Dog Food Allergy 

A dog food allergy is when your dog is allergic to a certain type of food or food group. Just like humans, our 4 legged friends can develop intense food allergies that cause them significant pain and discomfort. Unlike humans, your pet can’t speak up to tell you about it. It’s therefore important to know what the symptoms of a dog food allergy are so you can spot it.

Vet Tips

Food allergies in dogs can be very lethal and can not only cause vomiting and diarrhea but skin issues as well. Behavioral changes are also observed in food allergic dogs. The main component that triggers food allergy in dogs is a protein that stimulates an adverse immune response causing the body to release histamine and other compounds and ultimately leading to itching and other allergic signs

The Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs 

If you suspect your dog is suffering from a food allergy, look out for these symptoms. 

Symptoms of food allergies in dogs: 

  • Itchy skin 
  • A rash on the face, ears, chin, tummy, or groin. 
  • Pink or brown saliva staining their coat 
  • Excessive wind 
  • A painful stomach/abdomen [1]
  • Obsessive licking 
  • Shaking 
  • Vomiting 
  • Wheezing 
  • Red-eye 
  • Hair loss 
  • Pigmented skin
  • Itchy paws 
  • Hot spots 
  • Secondary bacterial infection 
  • Straining to pass stool 
  • Abdominal pain 

Rare Signs of Food Allergies 

  • Nasal discharge 
  • Breathing issues 
  • Seizures 
  • Weight loss due to severe diarrhea and vomiting 
Dog scratching allergies

Take Action to Help Alleviate Your Dogs Allergies

The longer you leave the allergy unchecked, the longer the symptoms go on. If a dog licks and itches obsessively over months, it can develop skin problems resulting in bald patches. Dogs frequently feel allergic reactions most often around the sensitive parts of the pads on their feet. Unchecked, this can lead to swelling and make walking very painful. [2]

Vet Tips

Food allergies can occur at any time or age in a dog’s lifetime but are most common in dogs less than one-year-old.  Food allergies can’t be cured but their symptoms can be avoided by limiting their food choices and not giving them the food they’re allergic to

What Does a Food Allergy Do to Your Dog 

When your dog ingests a type of food it is allergic to, it suffers from an immune response. The immune response reacts to a food protein or another compound within the food. The dog’s body releases histamines. [3]

Vet Tips

It can take anywhere from 6-24 hours after eating for a dog to show clinical signs of an allergic reaction.  Dog’s immune system misidentifies the protein as an invader rather than food and gives an adverse immune response. This produces the symptoms of food allergies as described above

What Causes Food Allergies in Dogs 

Dogs develop allergies to protein molecules for all sorts of reasons. Allergies develop over time, so vets suggest rotating food groups to avoid development. Your dog may have a genetic predisposition towards a food allergy. 

Dog scratching face due to allergies

What are the Most Common Dog Food Allergies 

The particular allergy that your dog suffers from can impact their symptoms. It’s also useful to find out what allergy they have so that you can eliminate that food item from their diet. Vets believe proteins are the ingredients most likely to cause food allergies in dogs. [4] 

The most common types of allergy are as follows: 

  • Dairy 
  • Beef 
  • Lamb 
  • Chicken 
  • Eggs 
  • Soy 
  • Gluten (wheat and grains) 
  • Pork
  • Rabbit 
  • Fish 
Vet Tips

Rabbit and fish are less common allergens as compared to other above-mentioned allergic foods. It’s important to remember that any food can cause an allergy

Is it a Food Allergy or Food Intolerance? 

Before we discuss how you find the food your dog is allergic to, let’s touch on food intolerances.  These are not the same thing, though they can produce similar consequences. Only 1-2% of dogs have food allergies. The difference between the two is marginal. Intolerance doesn’t produce an immune response where an allergy may. It’s possible for your dog to have the occasional upset stomach but you should have them checked by your veterinarian if they itch or suffer abdominal swelling/pain. [5]

Vet Tips

Food intolerance occurs when the body has a chemical reaction to eating a particular food or drink. Food intolerance also doesn’t show up in allergy testing. Symptoms of food intolerance include nausea, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, etc. 

Loose Dog Weight 

Flabby or loose skin is normal for selected dog breeds. Pugs, for example, are naturally flabby. The only time loose weight is a concern is when your dog is overweight or when your dog has had healthy skin before. Dogs may have flabby skin if they are suffering from a disease. Ehlers-Danlos  Syndrome can cause droopy and stretchy skin. [6] This is a hereditary disease. Cushing’s disease is another doggy condition that can affect muscle tone and mass. Cushing’s is hard to detect unless the vet is looking for it. [7]

Pug Dog with flabby skin

What to do About Your Dogs Food Allergies 

Now that you know your dog is suffering from an allergy to food, you can take some simple steps to help your pet. There are two ways to find out what your dog is allergic to. On your own through the elimination of foods or through veterinarian testing. Let’s discuss each one in more detail. 

Eliminate Potential Allergens to Find the Cause 

Vet Tips

CAUTION: Never change your dog’s diet plan without consulting your veterinarian first. Food allergies are most often diagnosed using an elimination diet

The elimination method is something that is often done to help humans determine exactly what they are allergic to if testing is not possible or insufficient. 

You can use the list of the most common allergens in dog food that we gave you earlier to assist you in narrowing down exactly what your dog is allergic to. By working through the list and cutting one item out at a time, you can find out if changes to your dog’s food will help improve his or her health. 

To do this effectively, select one item and remove it from the dog’s diet for a week. If nothing changes, re-introduce that food item, and eliminate another. Repeat this until you find the item that was making your dog unwell. This method takes time and if the dog has an unusual allergy, you may never find it, in which case you may want to move on to having the veterinarian find the cause. 

Vet Tips

If the allergy-causing food is completely eliminated from the diet then clinical signs often disappear. This symptomatic treatment generally means no further treatment is required

Having the Veterinarian Determine Your Dogs Allergies 

The vet can perform allergen testing on your dog,  just like a doctor could do for a human. The vet will test for different types of allergies to rule out other things. A pollen allergy is one of the more common allergies and the vet will rule these out. 

Blood tests 

Vets can take a blood test and send this to a lab. The vet’s laboratory will screen the blood for allergens. The vet usually recommends you opt for intradermal testing instead. This is due to the blood test being designed more for humans. 

Intradermal tests 

Your vet can perform patch tests on small areas of your dog’s skin to see if they prompt a reaction.  Vets perform intradermal tests at the same time as they guide the owner through food trials to eliminate food allergies. The intradermal tests will rule out what vets call Atopy. Atopy is an allergic skin condition that veterinarians think may be coming from the environment your dog lives in. [8]

Food Trials 

Vets use food trials in the same way you would yourself. It takes a few weeks to narrow down foods your dog may be allergic to. The vet is quicker to narrow down food allergies this way because they have experience and knowledge of your dog’s breed. 

Vet Tips

A food trial is based on feeding a dog one source of protein and carbohydrates for 12 weeks. Work with your vet to determine how best to do this for your particular dog’s situation

Doing Geneologic Research 

If you have a purebred dog, it’s possible there are known common food allergies based on their genetics. Researching your dog’s breed can give you hints as to where to start with diet restrictions.  You can use a genealogical search to learn health facts specific to your dog’s breed.

Vet Tips

Usually, dogs don’t die of food allergies but it can severely affect their quality of life.  Continuous itching can feel like having thousands of tiny mosquito bites all at once. If your dog has frequent bouts of itching, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible

Treatment for Dogs with Food Allergies 

Now that we know how to find the food our pup is allergic to, we can discuss potential treatments. 

Refine your Dog’s Diet 

A dog with a sensitive stomach may do better on food made for dogs with allergies. There are foods available for dogs with sensitivities. Once you know what food your dog is allergic to, you can choose a food that eliminates that product. Options include grain-free, senior, or puppy-specific foods, raw diets, dairy-free kibbles, and a myriad of other options. [9]

dog food in bowl

Abstinence from the Allergen 

Of course, the most effective way to treat a food allergy is by avoidance. Removing the product from the dog’s diet is the best cure possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t a foolproof treatment. It may be that you visit friends one day and they accidentally feed it something it’s allergic to. In this case, you need medicine on standby for emergencies. 

Vet Tips

About 10 percent of all allergy cases in dogs are food allergies. It’s a genetic problem in dogs and is initiated by whatever the dog is allergic to

What Medicine Can I Give My Dog For Food Allergies

Your vet might want to prescribe you a medication to treat your dog. This will start while your vet is putting the dog through food trials. They might administer a corticosteroid to reduce the pain and swelling of the abdomen. They may also prescribe an antihistamine to reduce itching and improve your dog’s immune response. Both medicines will make your dog more comfortable until your vet determines the food allergen.

Vet Tips

Antiemetic and antidiarrheal medications can also be prescribed by the vet. Anti itching shampoo can also be prescribed to reduce itching. Multivitamins can be given to fulfill the body’s energy requirements

Once you discover what your dog’s food allergy is, the vet may continue these courses of medication. It can take up to 6 weeks until your dog fully recovers from its food allergy. Once your dog recovers, you should not experience any further symptoms.

Final Thoughts on Treating Dog Food Allergic Reactions 

If you suspect your dog has any kind of allergy, the best course of treatment is to immediately take them to the vet. Allergies always work the same way, prompting the dog to enter an immune response state. Once you have eliminated the food group from the dog’s diet, you should find that the dog’s health improves. 

Dogs that have allergies to foods can live perfectly normal lives. Through food restrictions, we can find out what is causing the allergy and avoid it in the future. In the case of dog food allergies,  prevention truly is the best cure. 

If you would like to learn more about dogs, please browse our website. You can follow us on social media for updates or join us again for our next blog. We appreciate your continued support.


All information in this article has been verified for accuracy by a veterinarian prior to publication

Jeremy Paul


Jeremy has an extensive background in ghostwriting and has written many articles as well as a book on a huge range of topics. He has worked extensively with a number of websites on everything from clothing to sports. As an avid outdoor lover, he and his wonderful wife spend their days out in the sun on the family farmstead looking after the animals.


New Dog Owners

Are you a new fur-baby owner and looking for some guidance on how best to raise your pup to be a kind, gentle and well-behaved adult dog?

Then Check Out Adrienne Farricelli's

Adrienne's gentle and force-free training techniques help get your dog excited to learn and can really strengthen the bond between dog and owner!

Adrienne is a professional CPDT-KA certified dog trainer with over 10 years of experience. She'll help you train your furry friend to become a well-behaved, more intelligent dog who follows your every command!"

2 thoughts on “What Causes Dog Food Allergies and What Can You Do About Them”

  1. I just wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude for the great content you consistently produce. It’s informative, interesting, and always keeps me coming back for more!


Leave a Comment