Food hypersensitivity is an adverse reaction to certain foods leading to unpleasant and life-threatening symptoms. Food allergies are most commonly caused by ‘proteins.’ The most common causes of hypersensitivity in dogs in decreasing order of occurrence is milk and milk products, chicken, gluten from wheat, soy, mutton/lamb, egg, pork, fish and rice. Foods containing large quantities of carbohydrates or fats and lower percentage of proteins, such as potatoes and fish oil have a rare chance of causing allergies. Grain allergies caused by high protein grains like corn are less common than meat allergies. Food allergies may also be attributed to high percentages of feed additives and preservatives. 

Dogs already facing allergic conditions (food hypersensitivity, flea allergy dermatitis, inhalant allergy) may be susceptible to developing newer hypersensitivities to foods. Dogs may also develop sensitivities to foods they have been consuming for years. 

Genetics of a dog play an important role in their tendencies to develop food hypersensitivities. These allergies are often inherited from the ancestors. Breeds most susceptible to such conditions are- Dachshunds, Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Pugs, Pitbull, Cocker Spaniels and Shih Tzus.

Itching, sneezing, itchy paws, hot spots, skin rashes, scaly and/or oily skin, pigmented skin, leathery skin texture, eye discharge, red eyes, hair loss, and infections (aka pyoderma) of the skin or ears are some of the external manifestations observed. Dogs may also suffer from loose stools with blood or mucus, bloating, vomiting, indigestion, abdominal pain, respiratory distress and weight-loss. Some dogs may occasionally also show behavioural changes like restlessness and apathy.

Withdrawal diets involve stopping your dog’s normal diet for a period of minimum of 8-12 weeks and feeding your dog a simple diet consisting of a single source of protein, single source of carbohydrate and fat. This new diet may be home-made or commercially available hypoallergenic diets, ensuring this new diet does not contain any ingredient from the original diet. If the symptoms recede with the new diet, it is highly indicative of food hypersensitivity. Giving your dog any treats and table scraps must be avoided during this period. Original foods may be reintroduced post this 8-week period, one ingredient at a time for a minimum of 2 weeks each. If the signs reappear with a certain ingredient, the same must be discontinued immediately.

Preservative and additive free home cooked alternatives may be an ideal solution since the ingredients and their percentages can be monitored very closely, the only drawback is that if not formulated appropriately and with supplements it may cause deficiencies in your pet.

Allergen.           Possible Alternatives

Chicken.              Fish (Mackerel, Salmon, Ocean    fish), Turkey meat, Mutton                                           

Milk Products.    Avoid all milk and milk Products,Curd
Grains.                 Rice, Vegetables (Pumpkin, Carrots, Sweet Potatoes)
Wheat Gluten.     Rice, Jowar, Bajra, Barley.
Mutton/Lamb.      Fish, Turkey
Eggs.                    Soya chunks, Pulses (Masoor, Chickpea, Moong Dal)
Fish.                     Turkey Meat, Pork, Mutton

A pinch of turmeric powder and pre- and pro- biotics may also be added to your dog’s diet to improve their immune and gut health.

Sadly, there currently is no treatment for food related hypersensitivities, avoidance of allergens is the only remedy.

If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from food allergies, you should discuss the same with your Canine Nutritionist so your pet can return to a healthy and itch free life. As a reminder, consult your nutritionist before starting your pet on new foods.