A Look at Food Sensitivities and Allergies in Dogs

by VetDepot on January 11, 2013

Two types of food sensitivities affect dogs: food intolerances and food allergies. They aren’t the same thing. Food intolerances are a digestive problem with digestive symptoms. They are often caused by digestive disorders or by a lack of the enzyme(s) needed to digest a certain food. For example, dogs or people who don’t produce the lactase enzyme can’t break down a sugar in milk called lactose. These people or animals are lactose intolerant. Food allergies, on the other hand, are hypersensitive immune system responses to a food. Allergies may also produce digestive symptoms, but skin and respiratory symptoms are typical, too.

Symptoms Are Key to Differentiating Between Canine Food Sensitivities

The symptoms your dog experiences are important for determining whether you’re dealing with a food intolerance or a food allergy. Again, intolerances cause symptoms associated with the digestive tract and function. Bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other general digestive discomfort are typical signs of an intolerance. These may present with an allergy, too, but other symptoms, such as itching, rash, hives, sneezing, coughing, or wheezing are more likely.

Why Distinguish Between the Types of Food Sensitivities?

The distinction between these food sensitivities is important because it affects whether your dog can ever eat the problem food. Depending on the degree of intolerance, your dog may be able to eat a little of the offending food without problems; the severity of symptoms is generally tied to the quantity consumed. With an allergy, though, the offending food must be avoided entirely. The severity of the reaction isn’t related to the quantity eaten, and even a morsel can trigger a serious reaction. Plus, allergies generally become worse with repeated exposure to the allergen, and allergic responses are typically much more serious than digestive disturbances caused by an intolerance. Allergies can even be fatal.

What Foods Are Usually to Blame?

Dogs may have an intolerance or an allergy to any food. They may also be sensitive to seasonings, fillers, additives, or other ingredients in food. The most common allergens include wheat gluten, meat and meat byproducts (including beef, poultry, pork, lamb, rabbit, and seafood), dairy, and soy. If your dog is allergic to one food, it’s likely she’s allergic to others, too. Canine food intolerances are often to the same foods.

How Do You Figure Out Which Foods Are Responsible?

Any chronic symptoms are cause to consult your veterinarian, and this holds true if you suspect your dog has a food sensitivity. Your veterinarian will guide you through the process of identifying the source of your pet’s problems. Deduction begins by taking your dog off all the foods and ingredients she eats and replacing them entirely with foods she’s never eaten until all symptoms clear up. Next, you add the old foods back in gradually, one by one, and wait for symptoms to return. If a whole food causes problems, the allergy or intolerance can be diagnosed. If a food with multiple ingredients triggers a response, more exclusions and additions will be needed to narrow down the offending ingredient.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Donna Collins January 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

My female dog Nalah is a mix of a minature pincher and a full pincher. Everytime she eats she will start to wheeze. Would you say she has allergies to this dog food and would you suggest a better dog food?

Thanks,
Donna Collins

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VetDepot January 28, 2013 at 10:32 am

Hi Donna, we suggest you discuss this issue with Nalah’s veterinarian to see if there’s a more suitable food for her. Best of luck.

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