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Nutrition Nuggets
 
 
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Food Allergy Myths

October 28, 2011 / (3) comments

Allergies are a common problem for dogs. Typical symptoms include itchiness resulting in excess scratching, biting, or licking, and sometimes chronic or recurrent skin/ear infections. While dogs most frequently suffer from allergies to environmental triggers (e.g., pollen, molds, and dust mites or flea bites), allergic reactions to food are possible, and are frequently a source of greater controversy.

Diagnosing canine food allergies is not easy. It typically requires a food trial during which a dog eats ABSOLUTELY NOTHING other than a food containing protein and carbohydrate sources to which he has never been exposed before. Another option is to only allow your dog to eat food that has been processed in such a way as to make it hypoallergenic. A food trial needs to continue for at least eight weeks before its success or failure can be evaluated. This is easier said than done!

I think the difficulty we have in definitively diagnosing food allergies in dogs is at least partially responsible for some of the myths that have developed around the condition. Let’s look at a few, along with the truths behind them.

Myth: Dogs are typically allergic to corn, wheat, soy, and other plant-based ingredients.

Truth: In a study of 278 cases of food allergies in dogs where the problem ingredient was clearly identified, beef was by far the biggest culprit (95 cases). Dairy was number two at 55 cases. Wheat came in third with 42 cases. Soy and corn were actually minimal offenders, coming in at 13 and 7 cases, respectively.

In fact, protein sources are more often to blame than grains. Beef, dairy, chicken, egg, lamb, soy, pork and fish were responsible for 231 of the food allergies, while wheat, corn and rice combined accounted for only 54. (Some dogs were allergic to more than one ingredient, which is why these numbers total more than 278.)

Myth: "I’ve changed my dog’s diet several times and he’s still itchy, so he can’t have a food allergy."

Truth: Dogs are allergic to particular ingredients, not to brands or types of food. So if your dog is allergic to chicken, and each of the foods you have tried contains chicken, he will still be itchy. Look very closely at the ingredient list; it will usually contain multiple protein and carbohydrate sources. It is not unusual for a food that is labeled "lamb and rice," for example, to contain chicken or other potential allergens as well.

It is difficult to guess correctly as to what your dog might be allergic to, which is why veterinarians typically reach for foods with novel ingredients like venison and potato (your dog’s dietary history is important for picking out the right one), or specially processed, hypoallergenic foods.

Myth: "I haven’t changed my dog’s diet. It’s hard to believe that he would be developing a food allergy now."

Truth: Dogs can develop food allergies at any time in their life, and with any dietary history.

Myth: "If my dog is suffering from food allergies, why doesn’t he have diarrhea?"

Truth: Some, but not all, dogs with food allergies have concurrent gastrointestinal signs like vomiting or diarrhea, so you shouldn’t rule out food allergies just because his GI tract seems to be functioning normally. If your dog has chronic gastrointestinal problems in addition to non-seasonal itchiness, a food allergy will be at the top of the list of potential problems.

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If you think that your dog could have a food allergy, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can help you find the right food to keep your dog’s symptoms at bay while still providing the balanced nutrition that is essential to good health.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Pixsooz / via Shutterstock

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Comments  3

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  • Allergies
    10/29/2011 04:44pm

    Oh so true!

    In 1990 I adopted a kitty with all sorts of allergies because her previous owners didn't want to deal with it. They wanted to euthanize her. Luckily, the vet got permission to rehome her because she was an otherwise healthy 4 1/2 year old cat.

    She was allergic to a variety of things, including many foods. Oddly, she wasn't allergic to beef or chicken.

    We fought and fought to figure it out and finally did a RAST test, knowing that the results weren't always accurate. We got lucky. They created an allergy injection for her that did wonders.

    What I wouldn't have given for a board certified dermatologist back then!

  • Allergies
    11/20/2011 11:44pm

    Excellent article. Good to see a bit of common sense and truth being discussed amidst all the hype. Thanks for the balanced and factual view.
    It is interesting how many dogs seem to be allergic to beef yet many companies continue to promote it as a good food source. Personally, since our dog came off beef she has never been (or looked) better.

  • food allergy
    12/14/2011 10:43am

    My dog is allergic to beef also

 



ABOUT NUTRITION NUGGETS

JENNIFER COATES, DVM

Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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