Many people dread the coming of spring because it also means the start of allergy season. Nothing is worse than spending your days in a mental fog, sniffling and sneezing, with no relief. Did you know that dogs can suffer from allergies as well? They may not manifest in the same way and they may be caused by different things, but allergies in dogs can be just as serious as they can be in humans.
What Causes Allergies in Dogs?
At the core of the issue, an allergy is an immune response to a particular substance – when your body starts to recognize a particular substance as foreign (or dangerous), your immune system kicks in to fight it. Allergies in dogs work the same way, though the reaction may not look the same. For the most part, animals are better at combating environmental allergens but, if your dog does have a reaction, it is more likely to be a serious one. For dogs, allergens can be inhaled, ingested, or they can simply come into contact with his skin. As your dog’s body works to get rid of the allergen, you may notice a variety of problems related to your dog’s skin, his digestive tract, or his respiratory system.
Though different allergens can elicit different responses, the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs include the following:
- Inflamed skin, areas of redness
- Increased scratching due to itchy skin
- Areas of moist or scabbed skin
- Inflammation and itching of the ears
- Recurrent ear infections
- Sneezing or wheezing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Chewing or licking the paws
- Excessive licking of the skin
In addition to these symptoms, dogs that suffer from allergies are also at risk for secondary bacterial or yeast-related skin infections. These secondary infections may cause skin-related symptoms such as scabbing and hair loss to worsen.
Which Breeds Are Affected and By What?
Dogs can develop allergies at any point in their life, though they most commonly develop after the age of two. All breeds have the potential to be affected by allergies. There are, however, some breeds which seem to be more prone to allergies than others – these may include the following:
- Cattle Dogs
- Cocker Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Lhasa Apso
- Shar Pei
- Spitz Breeds
- Springer Spaniel
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
- Toy Breeds
- West Highland White Terrier
As is true for humans, there are many things a dog can be allergic to. There are environmental allergens like pollen (from trees, grass, and weeds), mold spores, dust mites, and feathers as well as things like dander and cigarette smoke. Dogs can be allergic to perfumes and various cleaning products as well as certain fabrics or other materials, like plastic or rubber. Some dogs develop allergies to certain flea and tick preventives as well as certain shampoos and other pet products. About 10% of allergy cases in dogs are caused by foods. There a number of foods that dogs can be allergic to but the most common are beef, chicken, pork, eggs, dairy, corn, wheat, and soy. In reality, however, dogs can be allergic to any food ingredient.
Relieving Allergies with a Limited Ingredient Diet
Dogs don’t react to things in the same way that people do. For example, if you were allergic to a certain kind of food, eating that food might cause your stomach to become upset. In a dog, however, food allergies are more commonly associated with skin-related problems such as itching and inflammation. Depending how severe the allergy is and how long your dog continues to be exposed to the allergen, there may be digestive symptoms as well but they may not develop right away. This is why it can be difficult to diagnose allergies in dogs – particularly food allergies. Part of the diagnostic process involves eliminating other possibilities.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from some kind of allergy, your first step is to take him to the veterinarian. Your veterinarian will run a battery of tests and perform a physical exam to rule out potential medical causes for your dog’s symptoms. If these tests don’t reveal anything and allergies seem to be the culprit, your next move is to switch your dog to a limited ingredient diet. A limited ingredient diet, or LID for short, is simply a dog food product that is made with a simple list of ingredients and, ideally, a novel source of protein and carbohydrate. What you may not know is that dogs can develop allergies to foods that they are exposed to over a long period of time. Removing that food from your dog’s diet is the best way to combat an allergy. But how do you determine which ingredient is causing the problem? That’s where an LID comes in.
Many pet food brands offer limited ingredient diets so, while it may take some searching, you can find one that doesn’t include any of the main ingredients from your dog’s last diet that likely caused the allergy to develop. In addition to eliminating potential allergens, feeding your dog a product made with a limited number of ingredients will further reduce his risk for developing new allergies. The key is to find a product that contains a novel source of protein and carbohydrate. The word “novel” simply means an ingredient that your dog has never had before. For protein, this could be something like duck, rabbit, lamb, or venison and, for carbohydrates, it could be something like potato, oatmeal, sweet potato, or tapioca. Once you choose an LID, feed it to your dog for a period of at least 12 weeks until all traces of the allergy disappear.
If, after your dog has recovered from his allergies, you want to identify the allergen causing the problem, introduce potential allergens one at a time and gauge your dog’s response. A sudden case of diarrhea or the development of skin problems may be signs that you have found the ingredient that is to blame for your dog’s allergies. Once you’ve identified your dog’s allergens, you have two choices. First, you can select a new dog food product that doesn’t contain any of your dog’s allergens. Second, you can just continue to feed your dog the Limited Ingredient Diet you have been using for the past twelve weeks. Just make sure that you avoid your dog’s allergens in everything you feed him – this includes treats as well as any table scraps or “people” foods you treat him with.
The Best Dog Foods for Dogs with Allergies
If your dog suffers from food allergies, a limited ingredient diet may be the best choice to make sure that he gets the nutrition he needs without triggering an allergic response. If your dog doesn’t have allergies but you want to make sure that he never develops them, choose a diet that doesn’t contain any of the most common food allergens for dogs – this could be a limited ingredient diet or simply a recipe made with a novel source of protein and carbohydrate. To help you get started in choosing an allergy-friendly recipe for your dog, consider one of the brands reviewed below:
If you have a dog with food allergies, Natural Balance is a great brand to consider. Not only does this brand use high-quality ingredients in each of their formulas, but most of their products are Limited Ingredient Diets. This brand develops their products using sound scientific principles and nutritional truths, relying on premium ingredients like high-quality meats, complex carbohydrates, and nourishing fruits and vegetables. Natural Balance offers a wide variety of product choices including dry foods, canned foods, wet food trays, rolls of raw food, and even oven-baked biscuits. This company currently offers more than fifteen limited ingredient recipes, many of which are made with novel proteins and carbohydrates like venison, bison, duck, and wagyu beef as well as sweet potato, peas, and legumes. Natural Balance also offers a limited selection of high-protein formulas, reduced-calorie diets, and whole body health recipes for dogs in all life stages. – Buy It
The Blue Buffalo company is known for producing a wide range of high-quality pet food products for both dogs and cats. This company follows a nutritional philosophy that is built around fresh, natural ingredients of the highest quality. Each recipe is made with a premium source of protein, supplemented with healthy fats, digestible carbohydrates, and beneficial supplements. In fact, every one of Blue Buffalo’s recipes includes their LifeSource bits which contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. When it comes to allergy-friendly recipes in particular, Blue Buffalo offers an entire line of limited ingredient diets called Blue Buffalo Basics. These formulas feature premium proteins like turkey, salmon, duck, and lamb as well as digestible carbohydrates like potatoes. In addition to these limited ingredient diets, Blue Buffalo also offers their high-protein Wilderness line of kibbles and canned foods. Many of these formulas feature novel proteins as well as grain-free carbohydrates. – Buy It
If you are looking for a dog food brand that offers a wide variety of product choices, Pinnacle may not be your best bet. However, if you want a dog food brand that is committed to grain-free, limited ingredient diets, Pinnacle is a great choice. This brand describes all of their products as being, “formulated for the total health and wellbeing of your dog” which is why they only use the highest quality proteins and digestible grain-free carbohydrates in each of their recipes. Pinnacle currently offers six grain-free recipes for dry food and 5 grain-free recipes for canned food, all of which are made with a limited number of key ingredients plus healthy supplements. Pinnacle’s allergy-friendly recipes feature quality proteins like salmon, trout, turkey, and duck with grain-free carbohydrates like vegetables, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Each recipe contains a blend of omega fatty acids for your dog’s healthy skin and coat, plus plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Every recipe is also supplemented with chelated minerals for maximum nutrient absorption and dried fermentation products for probiotic support. – Buy It
The Nature’s Variety pet food company is aptly named because they offer one of the largest selections of products in the pet food industry. Nature’s Variety products are divided between two brands – the holistic Prairie brand and the premium Instinct brand. Within the Instinct brand there are multiple product lines including classic, high-protein, grain-free, freeze-dried, and raw food products. Nature’s Variety also offers a line of limited ingredient diets, each made with a single source of premium protein. There are three limited ingredient kibbles for adult dogs plus one for small breeds in particular – they feature protein like lamb, rabbit, and turkey plus digestible carbohydrates like green peas and tapioca. As an added bonus, each limited ingredient diet features a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, plus a unique green tea extract coating for added taste and aroma. If you don’t think that your dog needs a limited ingredient diet, Nature’s Variety also offers a line of high-protein and grain-free kibbles and canned foods that could be a good alternative. There are also several freeze-dried meal blends and raw frozen products for dogs. – Buy It
The Wellness brand of dog food is known for following a holistic approach to pet nutrition – this means that they use only the best ingredients to make sure that your dog gets all the nutritious ingredients he needs and nothing he doesn’t. Wellness offers several different product lines for dogs in all life stages. The Complete Health line features original and grain-free recipes for puppies through senior dogs, including toy, small, and large-breed dogs. If your dog has an allergy or sensitivity to grains, the CORE line of kibbles and canned foods could be a good choice – there are several different recipes featuring quality proteins like chicken, turkey, salmon, and whitefish. If you think that a limited ingredient diet might be the best choice for your dog, Wellness offers an entire line of them called Simple. The Simple line of products includes six dry food recipes, four of which are grain-free with one healthy weight formula and one small-breed formula. These recipes are made with a limited list of main ingredients, including high-quality meat proteins as the first inclusion. To help ensure proper digestion, these recipes are also supplemented with prebiotics and probiotics. – Buy It
Allergies can be a serious thing for dogs, just as they can be for people. Environmental allergies can cause severe skin problems as well as digestive and respiratory issues that could affect your dog’s quality of life. Food allergies are just as bad, or perhaps even worse because they could compromise your dog’s ability to digest and absorb nutrition from the food he eats. If you suspect that your dog might be suffering from food allergies, consider switching to one of the allergy-friendly brands reviewed above to give your dog some much-needed relief.