Dog Food Allergies and Intolerances: Sensitive Digestion

The information in this article was reviewed and approved by registered veterinary nurse, Beth Walker

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker

Sometimes, dogs can become sensitive to certain foods. Just like us, their bodies may respond badly to ingredients that make their digestive systems work a little harder. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can identify a dog food allergy or intolerance. We’ll also talk about the benefits of natural dog food when it comes to ‘elimination diets’, and we’ll explore some of the best dog food for allergies and sensitive stomachs relating to intolerances.

If your dog’s stomach issues are not a result of allergies, intolerances or sensitivities to certain foods, take a look at our blog How Can I Help My Dog’s Sensitive Stomach. Here, you’ll find advice on supporting more general digestive upset in dogs.

What is Causing My Dog’s Sensitive Stomach?

There are lots of reasons why dogs might suffer from problems with their digestion. They might have a viral infection, be suffering from gastritis, or perhaps they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t have. First of all, it’s always best to see your vet so that they can rule out any underlying medical issues.

If the problem is not one of those mentioned above, your dog’s digestive issues could be down to food allergies or intolerances. These two things are often confused, but they are not the same. Let’s explore the difference between allergies and intolerances.

Food Allergy

Food allergies in dogs are an immune system response to a particular ingredient. This is where the dog’s body identifies an otherwise harmless ingredient as a ‘threat’, and triggers an antibody response. When the allergen comes into contact with these antibodies, they release substances that result in symptoms starting to appear.

As well as digestive upset, dog food allergies might also result in other symptoms, such as skin problems. The symptoms of a food allergy often present themselves almost immediately after eating the food responsible for the allergy.

These allergic responses in dogs are almost exclusively to proteins within their diet. In other words, meats like chicken or beef are responsible for most dog allergies. While it is possible for a dog to be allergic to other ingredients, such as grains, it’s rare. True food allergies in dogs are actually much less common than people think.

Always see your vet if you suspect a food allergy as your dog may require specific treatment.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerances don’t involve the immune system like allergies do. An intolerance is a reaction to certain ingredients or additives in food that your dog’s body struggles to process. For example, lactose intolerance is not an allergy to milk, but a difficulty in processing it properly.

Food intolerances are far more common than allergies. The symptoms for a dog’s intolerance to food can take longer to present themselves than they do for allergies – sometimes up to several days after eating the ingredient. This can make it difficult to identify which food is causing the problem.

What to Do if Your Dog Has a Food Intolerance or Allergy

In order to avoid the food that is causing your dog’s food intolerance or allergy, you need to find out which ingredient is responsible. All dogs are different, and food sensitivities are specific to the individual dog. That’s why it can be difficult to determine what is triggering stomach upset in some dogs.

Whether your dog has an allergy or an intolerance, the best way to find out which food is the culprit is through a diet elimination trial.

Elimination Diets

A diet elimination trial, or elimination diet, is where you ‘test out’ different ingredients to see if they cause a reaction in your dog. You feed your dog a very stripped-back diet with no additional treats or extras for a fixed amount of time. This includes cutting out supplements and even flavoured treatments for things like fleas and worms. During an elimination diet, your dog should only eat the food your vet has recommended. Anything else could introduce ingredients that cause a reaction, making it unclear where the problem is coming from.

An elimination diet usually lasts for at least 6-8 weeks. At this point, if symptoms stop, you can gradually reintroduce ingredients to your dog’s diet.

Always work with your vet to plan your elimination diet.

Natural Dog Food

If you’re not sure which ingredients your dog is allergic or intolerant to, natural dog food can help you identify it. Natural dog food brands usually contain only a few choice ingredients, making them ideal for elimination diets.

For example, James Wellbeloved use single-source proteins in their diets. This makes it easy to identify if it’s meat from a specific animal, like chicken, that is causing the problem.

Burns Sensitive Duck & Brown Rice dog food contains only a handful of ingredients. These are: brown rice, duck meal, oats, peas, duck fat, sunflower oil, seaweed and minerals. This simple recipe makes it easy to identify which ingredients to avoid if your dog does have a reaction. Plus, this diet is specially formulated to be gentle on sensitive stomachs.

Burns Sensitive+ Adult Dry Dog Food Duck & Brown Rice

Hypoallergenic Dog Food

Natural dog food brands like James Wellbeloved, Burns, Butcher’s and Natures Menu are said to be naturally hypoallergenic. This is because they are less likely to cause a reaction in your dog, containing a limited number of easily digestible, natural ingredients.

Novel proteins are often used in natural dog food to make them hypoallergenic. For a protein to be considered novel, it must be one that the dog has not consumed before. Nature’s Menu Country Hunter uses novel proteins such as venison, duck and turkey. These single-source protein dog foods are less likely to cause an allergic reaction because dogs are less likely to have been exposed to them before. Plus, they provide exciting and delicious flavours for our pups!

The diets within Butcher’s Simply Gentle range are complete and balanced, wholegrain, and hypoallergenic. They also contain the perfect balance of naturally active ingredients to support a sensitive stomach and promote healthy gut bacteria.

Butcher’s Simply Gentle Loaf Recipes Adult - Wet Dog Food 18x390g Cans
Butcher’s Simply Gentle Loaf Recipes Adult Wet Dog Food

Hydrolysed Proteins

In the case of allergies, another type of diet that vets often recommend for elimination trials are those containing hydrolysed proteins. A good example of this is ROYAL CANIN ANALLERGENIC. A hydrolysed protein is one that has been cut up so small on a molecular level that the body doesn’t recognise it. Therefore, the body doesn’t trigger an allergic response.

Hypoallergenic Dog Treats

Once you’ve identified which food is responsible for your dog’s allergies or intolerance, you can start to introduce treats again. Hypoallergenic dog treats are a great choice for dogs with food sensitivities and digestive problems.

Specific CT-HY Hypoallergenic Treats, which are made using hydrolysed salmon, are one good hypoallergenic treat option. As explained above, the body can’t recognise hydrolysed proteins, so they don’t trigger a reaction. That’s why hypoallergenic dog treats like these are ideal for pups with allergies.

Single-protein treats are another great way to let your dog enjoy a tasty snack, without risking a reaction. If you know your dog has an intolerance to beef for example, you can easily avoid it by choosing the lamb, chicken or turkey flavours of Nature’s Variety Freeze Dried Meat Bites. The turkey flavour, for example, contains 100% turkey meat, and nothing else.

Nature’s Variety Freeze Dried Meat Bites Dog Treats

Hill’s Prescription Diet Hypoallergenic Dog Treats are the perfect accompaniment to dogs being fed Hill’s Science Plan Sensitive Stomach and Skin or a sensitive skin or digestion diet from the Hill’s Prescription Diet range. This hypoallergenic dog treat is formulated specifically for dogs with food intolerances and helps to support skin function.

Wrapping Up

It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to supporting your dog’s sensitive stomach. The first steps are to work out what is causing your dog’s allergies or intolerances. You can do this by working with your vet to trial an elimination diet. Once you know what the culprit is, you can avoid it. Most of the time, the problem will be with a specific protein. Natural dog food is a great way to help determine the cause of your dog’s reactions, and to continue supporting their sensitive stomach down the line. For more information about natural dog food visit our dedicated landing page.

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