Can Dogs Have Food Allergies?

What does a food allergy or food sensitivity look like in dogs?


The wave of gluten allergies and dairy intolerances are nothing new in humans, but can dogs have food allergies? You may notice something is a little off with your furry friend — maybe they have irritated skin or are constantly itching it, and everything you have tried just isn’t working. You could be unintentionally causing this distress in the food you are giving them , as food allergies and intolerances seem to be affecting dogs more and more.


Food can both harm and heal. At The Vet Set, it is important for our dog owners to be armed with the leading information when it comes to your dog’s diet and how to help prevent and treat their food allergies. For a definitive answer to the looming question of food allergies, bring your pooch in for tests at our Carroll Gardens veterinary clinic. If you would like more information about food allergies in dogs, navigate the subject with us in today’s post.  

Food Allergies in Dogs


Food allergies and food intolerances in dogs are similar to the food allergies in humans — dogs are either missing (food intolerances) or completely lacking (food allergies) specific enzymes used to break down and digest different proteins. Because dogs are primarily carnivores, they consume a variety of proteins (meat, grains, and vegetable proteins) — proteins that can potentially cause a food allergy.


How exactly are dogs affected?


A dog’s gastrointestinal tract plays a crucial role in the food that is consumed and how it is broken down. When your dog eats, the food is first digested in the stomach. The large food pieces are broken down further to smaller pieces via stomach acid, and then the enzymes are then deployed to break down protein compounds into smaller substances. The parts that were partially digested then move into the small intestine, where the food is broken down further to amino acids and then absorbed by the body. Enterocytes have a love/hate relationship with amino acids and will gladly accept or deny amino acids, all based on their preferences. If a whole protein is absorbed into the intestines instead of being broken down through the digestive process, this is how your dog can get an allergy.


So, why does the body let the whole protein through?


Whether or not the whole protein is absorbed has to do with what is referred to as the mucosal barrier. This lining can prevent the absorption of larger compounds and potentially harmful substances when the structure of the enterocytes are healthy and intact. If the enterocytes are compromised, this affects protein digestion, thus causing a reaction in your dog.


How does the enterocyte become damaged?


With time and being bombarded by whole, undigested proteins, the enterocyte becomes weakened and whole proteins are able to breach the lining of the gut. Every time your dog consumes a protein they’re allergic to, the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) takes over and produces an immune response to the now “foreign” protein that has entered the GI tract.


Every time the food is consumed, the GALT response becomes greater and greater, making the symptoms worse and worse for your pooch.


What are the signs that my dog has a food allergy?


There are many tell-tale signs that your dog has a food allergy, but unfortunately, these signs and symptoms can be related to a host of conditions including:

  • Compulsive itching
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Scratching on the ears and paws  
  • Diarrhea


More uncommon signs of food allergies in dogs may manifest as:


  • Ear infections – If your dog is visiting the vet more than two or three times per year for an ear infection, this could be a sign of a food allergy. There are many causes of ear infections in dogs, but it is when they are persistent and constantly showing up, when all signs indicate food allergies.


  • Discolored nail beds – If your dog has a brownish red to bronze discoloration in their nail beds, this is an inflammation response. If your dog typically has white nails, the nails should be white with a healthy, pink quick. It is when they turn a reddish brown color that there could be an issue. If this nail color appears, your dog’s nails are irritated and so they may lick or itch them for relief.


  • Watery eyes – Just like in humans, dogs also get watery eyes from an allergic reaction. If you notice your dog constantly itching their eyes or have a lot of viscous eye discharge, this could be related to food.  


  • An inflamed muzzle – This feature will be more noticeable in light-colored breeds, but essentially, it’s inflammation around their lips. The irritation is a result of a yeast colonization, possibly triggered by food.  


When it comes to your dog’s health, do not give up! It feels hopeless and frustrating trying to figure out their health issues. A proper food allergy diagnosis is imperative so you can help get your dog on the right path to healing. This time can be utterly disheartening, but it will get better!


Food allergies and intolerances develop in dogs just as they do in people. There are many common signs, and some uncommon, but really, if your dog shows signs of increased systemic inflammation, you may want to take a trip to the vet clinic.


For empathetic, pet-centered care, schedule an appointment with The Vet Set — or save yourself a trip, we will come to you!


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