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Scratching An Itch: Food Allergies In Dogs

Updated on July 15, 2012
Paw showing the effects of a food allergy.
Paw showing the effects of a food allergy.

Every day, dogs develop an itch they need to scratch. At one time, the immediate suspect was fleas. People would rush off and give their dog a bath hoping to end the misery and frantic scratching. Yet today, with so many different ways to control fleas before they establish themselves, scratching may indicate something entirely different. While it is true your dog could be suffering from a skin problem such as mange or dermatitis, it is most probably a food allergy.


Most dog allergies stem from food. While your favourite canine may be allergic to other substances, food is generally the root cause of any such health issues. Usually, this is protein found within the food you are feeding him or her. It is a result of our dog’s current dependencies on us for nutrition and our choices of what constitutes a healthy, nutritious diet for him or her.

When a dog has an allergic reaction, it is the result of a malfunctioning of the immune system. The particular protein or enzyme triggers a response within the dog’s system. It analyzes the protein mistakenly as a bacteria or a virus. The immune system then does what it is meant to do – it attacks the invasive body.

When the immune system goes into action, it releases various substances – particularly a histamine. This chemical reaction will result in one of several actions. The most common is the symptoms of a food allergy.

Allergy Symptoms

The most common indications of a food allergy are:

  • A year-round itchiness
  • Ear infections that never seem to end
  • Diarrhea that is unrelenting
  • Increased flatulence

While these may indicate other issues, they are common symptoms of food allergies.

Common Culprits

Your dog may be allergic to any number of food items. The proteins that cause the reaction may be found in such things as

  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Dairy
  • Eggs

Other potential allergens are beef,chicken, fish, pork and rabbit. Yet, do not automatically assume your dog has an allergy. You need to take the next step.

The Next Step

You need to talk to a Veterinarian first to determine whether this is actually an allergy or has some other source. The symptoms your dog displays may actually come from several different health problems. These include:

  • Atopy often takes the form of atopy dermatitis
  • Allergy to flea bites
  • Hypersensitivity to intestinal parasite
  • Sarcoptic mange
  • Yeast infections
  • Bacterial infections

Only then can you approach the subject of changing a dog’s diet.

Testing for Allergies

Only one way is commonly used to determine whether a dog is allergic to food items. This is an elimination diet. It may or may not be followed up with what is termed a “challenge.” In other words, you stop giving your dog its regular food and adopt a different diet.

The “special diet” includes monitoring EVERYTHING he or she eats, including cookies, treats, indulgences, people food and any other source of potential protein. You do not want to trigger an allergic reaction. Once you discover what she or he is reacting to, then you can reintroduce treats that will not affect her negatively.

The diet may consist of protein sources not typically associated with allergies. Among these are oatmeal, venison and sweet potato or even rabbit and rice. You should place him or her on such a diet for 12 weeks. Research seems to indicate that the former decision of 3 weeks proved insufficient.

Some people, once they believe they have discovered the source of the problem will challenge. This means they will feed the animal with the causal food and see if it triggers a reaction. Some will skip this part of the elimination diet and will continue on feeding their beloved dog a diet that does not cause them any health issues.

Note that this process will be less complicated if you have already carefully screened your dog food prior to purchasing and feeding it. In particular, if you have restricted your dog to a simple one or two major protein diet. This allows you to eliminate quickly what could be wrong. Also, be forewarned that allergies can develop over a period of time. A food once acceptable may soon turn harmful.


If we make the wrong food selection and/or ignore the signs of problems, health issues may result. It is best, therefore, to be wise in your choice. Talk to a veterinarian, your favourite clerk at a pet food store, a nutritionist or anyone else you may think can help. Read books on the subject and go online to reputable sites for information. Become an informed consumer. This will help you eliminate your dog’s itch.


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    • Patty Kenyon profile image

      Patty Kenyon 5 years ago from Ledyard, Connecticut

      Interesting Information!!

    • profile image

      Diane Ward 5 years ago

      very informative