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The essentials

  • Protein is the most typical allergen — Protein from dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, and soy are popular causes of food allergies in a dog’s diet.
  • Environmental allergies can show the same symptoms — This makes it challenging to determine the cause, especially since environmental allergies are far more common than food allergies.
  • An elimination diet trial can help in diagnosing — This is done by removing foods and treats that have ingredients that potentially trigger a reaction.

The most common dog food allergies stem from proteins like those in meat and dairy. While itchy skin, gastrointestinal issues, and constant ear or paw infections are common symptoms of food allergies, they can also mimic environmental allergies, often making them difficult to diagnose. 

Pinpointing the root cause of your dog’s allergies can help them find relief and lead a healthy, happy life. Here’s what pet owners need to know about common food allergies in dogs.

Food allergies in dogs

Dog food allergies are caused by the body mistaking a foreign substance as harmful, even if it isn’t. Your dog’s immune system responds by creating antibodies to attack the antigen. This reaction leads to symptoms like itching, swelling, rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and sometimes sneezing and runny eyes. 

You may believe your dog is allergic to grains, but the allergy is usually related to a protein. And while food allergies exist, only about 0.2% of dogs suffer from them .

11 common dog food allergens

While true food allergies may only affect less than 1% of the canine population, it remains an important issue to monitor. Naturally, dogs can’t communicate their feelings, so it’s up to owners to keep an eye out for potential allergies. 

Below are some of the frequently reported culprits of the most common food allergies in dogs:

Meat allergens

Allergen % of Dogs Affected*
Beef 34%
Chicken 15%
Lamb 5%
Pork 2%
Fish 2%

*Numbers based on 2017 study from BMC Veterinary Research

This data does reveal some trends in dog food allergens. Identifying these allergens in your dog’s diet allows for a more targeted approach to treatment.

However, up-to-date research remains scarce, and more research is still needed on the causes of food allergies in dogs.

Other allergens

Allergen Percent of dogs affected*
Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, whey protein) 17%
Wheat 13%
Soy 6%
Corn 4%
Eggs 4%
Rice 2%

*Numbers based on a 2016 study from BMC Veterinary Research

There’s also some evidence that certain breeds may be more prone to food allergies than others. Some of these include Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and cocker spaniels

Lastly, it’s important to note that dogs who have food allergies often have other types of allergies (such as environmental or flea allergies) as well.

Diagnosing food allergies in dogs

A suspected food allergy is a serious matter for dogs that can adversely affect their quality of life. Even for professionals, diagnosing food allergies can be tricky. Here’s what to do if you suspect a food allergy.

Elimination diet 

The first step in identifying a food allergy in dogs is to do an elimination food trial, the gold standard test for determining food allergies. To be successful, the elimination diet trial should be done under the guidance of your veterinarian.

Food trials last around 8 to 12 weeks to give your dog enough time to adjust to a new temporary diet. This diet needs to be followed exactly as recommended by the veterinarian. Otherwise, you run the risk of inaccurate results. This means NO other treats, snacks, people’s food, or flavored medications during this time.

👉 Blood tests are not accurate for distinguishing or determining food allergies. 

The elimination trial is not a long-term diet — it’s only for identifying food allergies. If your dog’s allergy symptoms resolve during the trial, this suggests that your dog has a food allergy. 

After the diet trial is over, you have the option of reintroducing foods to see if symptoms return. In many cases it is just easier to keep the dog on the prescription food long term.

Dr. Liza Cahn

You may not see results until after 12 weeks, so be patient and watch for less licking, biting, and chewing. From there, you can discuss possible alternatives and next steps with your vet.

Managing food allergies in dogs

Unfortunately, diagnosing food allergies in dogs can be a difficult and drawn-out process, and you don’t want to see your dog suffering in the meantime. Thankfully, there are several effective ways to manage allergy symptoms in dogs, even from your own home.

  • Prescription diet. There are an increasing number of high-quality prescription dog foods on the market. These formulas are usually made from novel proteins and simple ingredients to better cater to canines with food intolerance issues.
  • Skin and coat supplements. In the ever-expanding industry of pet healthcare, many over-the-counter skin and coat supplements now exist, with ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids to address itching and skin issues.
  • Vet-prescribed medication. In extreme cases of allergy symptoms in dogs, a veterinarian may prescribe a number of safe and effective anti-itch medications. Examples of these include an oral medication, Apoquel, or an injectable medicine, Cytopoint. Topical treatments like medicated shampoo or ear medications (in the case of an ear infection) can also be extremely beneficial. 
  • Manage other allergies. Consistent flea prevention is another key aspect of managing allergies. Flea allergy dermatitis is a condition from an allergic reaction to fleas, causing itchy skin at the base of the tail and other areas of the body. If it’s environmental allergies, allergy injections or medication can help lessen symptoms.

While food allergies are not as common as you may think, they still exist. Allergies can start at any time, even if your dog has been on the same food for most of their life. If you notice your dog consistently showing any of these symptoms, speak with your vet.

Frequently asked questions

How can you tell if your dog is allergic to food?

Food allergies cause a host of symptoms, like itching and gastrointestinal distress. A visit to the vet and a potential elimination diet can help pinpoint the culprit and determine if it’s a food allergen.

What is the most common food allergy in dogs?

Protein, specifically beef, appears to be the most common food allergy in dogs, followed by chicken and dairy.

What does a grain allergy look like in dogs?

A grain allergy will show up similarly to other food sensitivities. Adverse food reactions may include the following symptoms: itchy skin and paws, ear itching, and digestive upset. While a grain allergy is possible, most dogs can digest grains without any issues. Speak with your vet if you notice any changes in digestion and whether this is suitable for your dog.

What food is good for dogs with allergies?

Hypoallergenic dog foods and novel protein diets with simple ingredient formulas, omega-3 fatty acids, and skin health supplements are great options for dogs with allergies. Our vets love Royal Canin’s Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein Adult DP Dry Dog Food because it’s packed with easy-to-digest proteins.

What ingredient in dog food causes itching?

The most common ingredients causing itching are proteins, including beef, dairy, and chicken.