Dog Food Protein Allergies: Everything You Need to Know

Getting to Know Protein Allergies

Many pet owners are surprised to learn that the most common food allergens that can affect dogs are proteins. While grains and gluten are often blamed for food allergies in both pets and people, allergies to animal proteins are much more common than allergies to grains in dogs.

To develop an allergy, your dog has to have been exposed to the substance more than once, usually over time. Most dogs don’t have an allergic reaction to a food the first time they eat it. Instead, they may suddenly have a reaction to a food they’ve been eating for years because sensitivity to allergens may have been gradually building up. A dog that reacts to one type of food may develop allergies to different types of food in the future.

What Are Meat Protein Allergies?

When a dog or person has an allergy to a substance, the body develops an unusual sensitivity to that substance and mistakenly creates antibodies against the allergen. The role of these antibodies is to protect the body from unwanted invaders that could cause illness. The immune system is designed to protect the body from harm, such as disease-producing microorganisms. However, in an allergic reaction, the immune system responds to a substance that’s not harmful.

In an allergic reaction to meat protein, the immune system overreacts to protein as if it’s a threat even though it isn’t. The first time your dog reacts to a substance, the symptoms may be mild but continued exposure may lead to a very serious and possibly even life-threatening reaction.

Meat protein allergies are abnormal reactions to meat proteins, which are proteins derived from meats such as beef, pork, chicken, lamb or turkey. Dog foods and table scraps can contain meat proteins. These allergies can affect any dog breed, but some breeds that often struggle with allergies include golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels, poodles and German shepherds.

Food allergies aren’t the same thing as food intolerance. In an allergy, hypersensitivity to a substance is triggered by the immune system. Food intolerance happens when the body has difficulty digesting certain types of food. If your dog has meat intolerance, he has difficulty digesting certain types of meat proteins.

Symptoms of Allergies in Dogs

Food allergies in dogs frequently show up as dermatitis, which is usually characterized by itching and skin redness. This may be concentrated in one area or happening all over the dog’s body. Itching doesn’t always mean your dog has food allergies. It can also be a sign of fleas, environmental allergies (such as a change in laundry detergent or a new bed) or a bacterial or fungal infection.

While itching is the most common symptom of allergies, it’s not the only symptom of allergies in dogs. Pet owners don’t always recognize other symptoms that may be caused by allergies such as:

Abdominal pain. A food that sets off an allergic reaction may cause symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease such as abdominal distress and vomiting.

Breathing trouble. If your dog is severely allergic to a particular food, it can affect breathing, which may turn into a life-threatening emergency known as anaphylactic shock—a condition in which the muscles of the throat contract, which could lead to asphyxiation and death.

Diarrhea. Food that’s not tolerated by your dog’s body may be quickly expelled by triggering diarrhea.

Excessive licking. When the dog’s skin is itchy or irritated, you may notice excessive licking or chewing of the tail, paws or other areas, which can lead to bald spots.

Severe allergic reactions aren’t common, but symptoms such as facial swelling, coughing or gagging shouldn’t be ignored. Inflammation triggered by allergens can lead to anaphylactic shock.

More commonly, allergy symptoms in pets resemble those in humans. Your dog may have a runny nose, red eyes or sneezing. You may notice a rash or hot spots on the skin and you may also see your dog rubbing on the furniture or shaking their head. Skin problems weaken the barrier the skin provides, making the dog more susceptible to infections from bacteria or yeast.

Symptoms of food allergies usually show up immediately or shortly after the food is eaten. Allergy symptoms in pets can be frustrating to manage, especially when you’re not sure what’s causing them. The key to relief is to stay calm so you can identify what’s setting off a reaction in your dog. Once you do that, these symptoms can be brought under control.

What Are Common Dog Food Allergens?

Every dog is unique, and different dogs may be sensitive to different foods. While just about any substance can trigger allergies, the most common dog food allergens include:

• Beef
• Chicken
• Lamb
• Wheat (and excess gluten)
• Soy
• Dairy

It’s not surprising that these are the most commonly reported allergens in dogs since these are among the items found most often in commercially sold dog food. This means your dog has probably been frequently exposed to these ingredients. Meat proteins in dog food may be listed by the name of the meat or by terms such as animal fats, bone meal and animal derivatives.

Feeding your dog the same foods regularly for years may increase the risk of developing a food allergy. The best way to decrease the risk of a food allergy is by feeding your dog a varied diet. Consider alternating meat proteins weekly. For example, feed your dog beef one week, chicken the next and lamb the next.

How is a Food Allergy Diagnosed?

When you visit your veterinarian for a suspected food allergy, the vet will perform a physical exam of your dog to check your pup’s overall condition. This may include checking your dog’s skin, eyes, ears, nose, weight, breath sounds and temperature. Your vet may want to run bloodwork or other tests to rule out an infection or underlying disease.

Once other causes for your dog’s symptoms have been ruled out, your vet can provide information on blood tests that can be done to determine specific foods that your pet is allergic to. Going through this testing may or may not be beneficial since these tests may be expensive and they aren’t always accurate. There’s a good chance you may be able to diagnose your dog’s food allergy by using an elimination diet.

An elimination diet is one of the most effective ways to determine foods your dog may be allergic to. For eight to 12 weeks, feed your dog hypoallergenic food and/or foods with limited ingredients made with a single protein source that doesn’t contain the same ingredients that your dog has been eating up to now. Be sure to avoid giving your dog supplemental table food or treats while you’re trying to find out if there’s a food allergy.

If you find that your dog’s symptoms resolve when only hypoallergenic foods are given, gradually begin to reintroduce foods one at a time and allow several weeks before adding back another food. If your dog’s symptoms return when a particular food is reintroduced, a food allergy is at the root of your pet’s symptoms. It’s a good idea to return to hypoallergenic food for at least a couple of weeks if symptoms return before trying to reintroduce a different food back into your pup’s diet.

Once you have identified the food or foods your dog is allergic to, it’s important to be vigilant about sticking to a diet of foods that your dog can tolerate. This information should also be communicated to friends, family members, dog trainers and/or dog sitters who have contact with your dog.

If there’s no change in your pet’s symptoms when on an elimination diet, the allergies may be environmental. In environmental allergies, your pet’s allergies may clear up during cold weather months, worsen during flea season or when exposed to grasses or pollen. Some pups have both food allergies and environmental allergies. Sometimes they’ll resolve by changing to natural laundry soap.

How is a Dog Food Allergy Treated?

Food allergies can’t be cured but symptoms can be reduced or eliminated by avoiding foods that trigger an allergic reaction. It’s best to avoid all the most common meat protein allergens while looking for the trigger. If your dog has a severe episode, medication may be needed, but this isn’t common. A skin rash or inflammation may be treated with anti-itch medication or a hypoallergenic shampoo that can help to soothe irritation. Sulfate-free shampoos, particularly human-grade, may also do wonders for your pup’s coat and skin.

Avoiding meat proteins that trigger a reaction is best done by transitioning to a new food. Hypoallergenic dog food and/or those with limited ingredients often include novel proteins. These are proteins that aren’t commonly used in commercial dog food. Examples include bison, duck, rabbit, kangaroo, alligator or venison. Since novel proteins aren’t regularly used in dog food, there’s a reduced risk of an allergic reaction. Novel proteins may be paired with novel carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or lentils.

Protein is a vital part of any diet, so when a dog’s immune system reacts to certain proteins, alternatives need to be found. Protein for dogs can come from both animal and plant sources. Your vet may recommend hydrolyzed protein dog food, a type of food in which the proteins are broken down into tiny pieces through a process called hydrolysis. Since this process makes proteins very tiny, they are less likely to set off a reaction in the immune system. Hydrolyzed dog food is prepared using strict quality control to ensure the food isn’t contaminated by anything that’s not listed on the label.

Transitioning your dog to a new food should be done gradually. Trying to change too quickly can lead to diarrhea and an upset stomach. Start by introducing the new food as 25% of your dog’s diet. After a day or two, increase to 50%. After another couple of days, the new food should be around 75% of the diet, and after a week, your dog should have successfully transitioned to a new food.

Single Protein Dog Food

Single protein dog food is a type of dog food that has only one animal protein. It’s a good option for dogs that have allergies, and it can lead to a boost in your dog’s energy level. Your dog’s snacks should contain the same protein that’s in the single-protein dog food.

Best Protein for Dogs with Allergies

So, what’s the best protein for dogs with allergies? It’s any protein that doesn’t trigger a reaction in your dog. When your dog is affected by food allergies, the last thing you want to feed your pet is a dog food brand that has a long list of ingredients. Look for single-protein dog food or limited-ingredient food for sensitive dogs.

Best Meat for Dogs with Allergies

The best meat for dogs with allergies depends on which meat protein your dog reacts to. Dogs allergic to chicken may not be allergic to beef or salmon, while dogs that are allergic to beef may not be allergic to poultry. Limited-ingredient foods are less likely to set off an allergic reaction and don’t require a prescription from your vet.

The Best Dog Food for Allergies

The best dog food for skin allergies has a limited number of ingredients. Commercial dog food often contains meat proteins that may cause allergic reactions along with a long list of other ingredients. Choosing dog food with limited ingredients makes it easier to pin down the cause of an allergic reaction.

Some meat proteins are less likely to trigger allergy symptoms than the most common allergens. It’s a good idea to try novel proteins from foods that aren’t usually part of your dog’s diet. Venison is a healthy option that has less fat and cholesterol than a lot of other meats. Kangaroo is a form of meat protein that’s easy to digest. Duck is a good substitute for poultry such as chicken and turkey and is less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

If you’re looking for the best dog food for allergies, a good way to attain a balanced and healthy diet is by enrolling your dog in a PetPlate meal plan. Meals are designed by vets and are rooted in science. You can count on food that’s freshly cooked and personalized to your dog’s needs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Protein Allergies

Pet owners sometimes feel overwhelmed or confused if their pet starts showing signs of an allergy, especially when there have been no recent changes. Here are some of the questions most frequently asked about dog protein allergies:

How Do I Know if My Dog is Allergic to Protein?

If your dog exhibits signs of an allergic reaction such as itching, a rash, sneezing or digestive disturbances, the cause could be food protein or environmental. If symptoms disappear on an elimination diet, your dog has a meat protein allergy.
What Are the Symptoms of Animal Protein Allergy?

A skin reaction such as itching or biting their own skin is the most common sign of an animal protein allergy. Biting and scratching can lead to inflamed skin and areas of missing fur. Animal protein allergies can also cause digestive problems or breathing difficulties.

Can Too Much Protein in Dog Food Cause Allergies?

Protein in dog food is one of the most common causes of allergies in dogs. It’s true that dogs need the amino acids in protein for them to thrive. Too much protein isn’t the cause of allergies. Your dog may develop allergies because of genetics or because of eating the same foods almost all the time.

Can Too Much Protein in Dog Food Cause Itching?

Itching has many possible causes. Protein in dog food is only likely to cause itching if your pet has an allergic reaction to it. If your dog does have an allergy to a meat protein in dog food, consuming this protein may cause itching. This doesn’t mean that there’s too much protein in the dog food. It only means that your dog is sensitive to a particular protein.

Give Your Dog Top Quality Food

A food allergy can affect your dog’s quality of life. Your dog trusts you to keep him happy and healthy. Be persistent about getting to the root of the problem of allergy symptoms. Put your pet on an elimination diet and carefully observe any apparent connection between meals and allergy symptoms.

If you have to make a change in your dog’s diet because of food protein allergies, a good way to be proactive about what your dog eats is by personalizing your dog’s meals through Pet Plate. When you provide information on your pup’s unique characteristics, we’ll craft the perfect meal plan that your dog will love!

Commercial dog food often contains low quality and sometimes harmful ingredients. Your dog deserves better than that. We provide the new standard for dog food with fresh cooked and personalized dog food of unmatched quality prepared in USDA approved kitchens. It’s human grade, which means it meets all federal safety laws for human food.
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