How to know if your pet has a food intolerance or allergy

UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 20: Cute Border terrier puppy 8 weeks old (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 20: Cute Border terrier puppy 8 weeks old (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images) /

Your pet is a family member, so it’s vital to keep them healthy and happy. While dogs, cats and other animal friends are biologically different from humans, there are some surprising similarities regarding illness and allergies. Like humans, dogs can have an allergic reaction and intolerance to their food.

It’s common knowledge that your pets can’t eat certain human foods or plants without illness or death, but they can also be allergic to food designed for them. How do you know if your dog has a food intolerance or allergy?

Allergy Versus Intolerance

You might hear the words “intolerance” and “allergy” paired together even though they don’t mean the same thing. What is the difference between food intolerance and allergies in dogs?

For all animals, it depends on the severity. For minor discomfort or allergies, the inflammatory reaction might just be intolerance. As it gets more severe, it becomes an allergic reaction. Either way, it’s necessary to avoid foods that cause harm to your pet.

Like humans, what starts as an intolerance can quickly lead to a severe reaction. Don’t panic — it’s rare for pets to have a deadly reaction, at least not immediately.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Dog Has A Food Allergy

If you suspect your dog is experiencing an allergy, it’s essential to stay calm. You never want to see your friend unwell, but unless they are struggling to breathe, it’s not an emergency.

Get an appointment at the vet and ask for their guidance on what to do until they can see you. If it’s a minor irritation, your vet might recommend keeping them on the food until evaluation. In other cases, they may suggest an alternative until testing is complete.

If your pet has an allergy, it might be worth investing in pet insurance. Some specialized foods and medicines can keep your pal healthy, but they can get pricey. Shopping for the right insurance can save you a lot of money on treatments.

Common Signs of Food Problems in Dogs

Once you think your dog has a food allergy or intolerance, you need to see if they’re showing any symptoms. Here are five signs your pet needs a change.

1. Stomach Problems
Many animals will have stomach problems if they’re allergic to an ingredient of their food or treats. Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms in both dogs and cats.

If you notice your pet isn’t feeling well, your vet will likely recommend an elimination diet. By trying out different ingredients, you can narrow down the cause of your pet’s allergy and avoid that ingredient giving them tummy trouble.

2. Skin Irritation
Another common food allergy symptom in dogs and other pets is skin irritation. Just like humans can break out into hives, animals react similarly.

You might not see it through their fur initially, but excessive scratching, licking or pawing at themselves could indicate a reaction. Some dogs will lose patches of hair if the irritation is severe.

3. Breathing Problems
You might notice your pet sounds congested or starts wheezing. Furry friends can have allergies during certain air conditions, but these respiratory symptoms could also signify food allergies.

Just like humans may struggle to breathe during an allergic reaction, breathing problems can occur with pets, but may present differently. While rare, severe breathing problems can occur. Other times, it might just seem like they’re under the weather. If your dog struggles to breathe, it’s best to get them to a veterinarian for treatment and to discuss allergy testing.

4. Watering Eyes
If your dog looks like they’re tearing up, they probably are. Instead of feeling emotional, though, they likely have an allergy.

Watering eyes is often a sign your animal’s body is reacting to something environmental or in their food. If you notice their eyes watering or their tear stains seem more significant, it might be time to talk with your vet.

5. Ear Infections
Though they may seem unrelated, an allergic reaction can cause an ear infection in dogs and cats. When the inside of the ear is irritated, your dog will itch and break down the skin barrier. That causes the ear to produce more wax, allowing yeast and bacteria to multiply. Signs of an ear infection include your pet digging at its ears, not wanting anyone to touch their ears, discharge from the ear and redness inside it.

Common Food Allergies in Dogs

While pets’ allergies can vary, species can share many common allergens. Some of them might surprise you. Your dog might be allergic to:

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Soy

You can find all these ingredients in a store’s pet food section, so paying attention is crucial when narrowing down what’s bothering your companion. Keep in mind that a food allergy might not appear right away. Dogs might initially have a minor reaction to a food that increases over time. A food your dog has eaten for years might suddenly not agree with them, so stay aware of how your pet behaves.

Treating Your Dog’s Allergies

With the proper treatment, you may see your pet feeling better in days or even hours. Skin irritation should improve and you’ll likely notice less stomach upset.

Whenever you switch your pet’s food, it’s essential to follow your vet’s guidance on transitioning them to it. If you don’t introduce it slowly, your dog could face tummy trouble on top of their allergy. It might take time, but by knowing your pet’s allergy, you can help them live a long and happy life.

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