Why Are Dog Food Allergies So Tough To Figure Out?

Well, first of all, not always, but OK, most times. Maybe part of the problem is blaming food as the cause of the symptoms when it isn't. Much as I would love to demonize commercial kibble constantly and forever, sometimes that just isn’t the culprit.

Technically, at least by the numbers, only about 10% of all allergies are related to food. The biggest issue is fleas. Whether you see them or not.

But let’s say you’ve taken care of any fleas and you still have a problem. Let’s say you figured out it isn’t seasonal so it’s not environmental. You’ve whittled it down to where it has to be the food. 

Splitting hairs, there is a difference between dog food intolerance and dog food allergies. Both, however make your dog miserable so you want to get the item identified and out of your sheltie’s diet.

If you are really lucky, but rarely, your sheltie will have an immediate reaction to the food and you will know never to feed it again.

sheltie before allergic reactionThis is Penny
Dog food allergies resultsThis is Penny on pineapple. Any questions?

This was Penny before eating fresh pineapple and about 15 minutes after. She has been fed a variety of fruits and veggies over time without nary a reaction. Until pineapple. Sorry, girl if this is your 15 minutes of fame….

A quick dose of Benadryl Dye-Free, 25mg stopped the reaction from progressing.

A second dose at bedtime did the trick and by morning she was her old self again. But not before a sleepless night by her owners. She is one of the lucky 20% of dogs that Benadryl does help. For a lot of dogs it does no good. 

If Benadryl doesn't help your dog, you can try other antihistamines such as hydroxyzine or Chlorphenamine.

But in the case of rapid swelling like Penny’s you need to watch carefully for difficulty breathing and be prepared to get to a vet ER ASAP. Inflammation like that can close off the airway in a matter of minutes.

Usually, dogs don’t puff up like Penny did. Usually the symptoms of dog food allergies are chronic:

  • skin irritations
  • itching
  • infected ears
  • licking their paws incessantly. 

The surest way to determine allergies to food is with an elimination diet. But consider for a moment, if your dog is allergic to several foods it may take a while to figure that out. Also, I would take it slow as far as adding in foods. 

Sometimes the body is able to handle a small amount of the offending food without reacting. It is not until it hits “the tipping point” with large enough amounts, that it will send the sheltie into an allergic reaction. 

How much before you see symptoms? Every single dog is different. Obviously the simpler the food in terms of number of ingredients, the easier for you to determine if it’s safe or not. Most commercial kibble have an ingredients list the length of “WAR AND PEACE”.

Some of the “allergy free” foods can be a little…. Perplexing, shall we say?

A friend of mine has a sheltie that had skin issues. The vet decided on this very expensive food for allergic dogs. Guess what the first ingredient in the food was… go ahead… be creative… I’ll give you a hint, it can’t sustain a dog’s health. 


What kind of starch?

Who knows, they didn’t say. Just starch. Maybe… cornstarch?? The kibble was white and looked like the puffed cereal for people. Dear God in heaven! Who makes up this stuff??

I hear there is also a very expensive dog food out there made of chicken feathers…. Hmm, don’t get me started…

Anyway, back to dog food allergies.

Dogs tend to react to cooked foods more than raw. So certainly this is where I get on my soapbox and extoll the virtues of a raw dog food diet. But let’s say I’m beating on a dead horse and you are sticking with kibble.

Elimination Diet To Determine Dog Food Allergies

Pick a food with one protein source and one carbohydrate without the ingredients in your usual dog food. Pick something they’ve never had before.  Feed that and only that for 12 weeks. No additional treats. Then see if the symptoms go away. 

This is not the time to feel sorry for your sheltie and sneak little food goodies under the table.

Oh, and check the ingredients label on the food you choose to buy. Just because it says venison on the front doesn’t mean the ingredients won’t show they put chicken in as well. 

If you can’t find a food that is new to your sheltie, you may have to go the hydrolyzed protein path. Hydrolyzed protein has been broken down to such a small molecular size that the body doesn’t recognize it as a potential threat.

Most sources recommend hydrolyzed soy. I beg to differ. After all, most soy is now GMO, so I don’t see how that can be healthy. 

There is a hydrolyzed fish protein called Seacure sold as a supplement, but you could use it in a home made diet as the source of hydrolyzed protein.

After 12 weeks, if the symptoms subside, you know it's something in the food.

Next, you slowly, over the course of a few weeks, begin to add in single foods to the diet to see if there are any reactions.

At some point, you will probably add a food that causes the symptoms. If not, then you have to figure it is something in the brand of food you were feeding that was not food, like dyes, chemical additives etc.

Remember, there are dog food companies which use rendered animal protein in their foods. What's rendered? Dead, diseased animals. Dogs that were euthanized at the vets and sent to a rendering facility. So it could be the drugs in the dead animals for all you know. 

Sorting out dog food allergies is a slow, rather tortuous process but unfortunately, skin tests and blood tests aren’t particularly accurate, so you are stuck with the elimination diet as the only logical means to determine the dog food allergies of your sheltie.

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