Canines are not always picky eaters. In fact, dogs are notorious for eating things they shouldn't and needing an emergency vet visit.
However, dogs can also experience worrisome symptoms even when they eat food formulated just for them. Certain dog food ingredients can actually cause adverse reactions for some dogs. When your dog reacts negatively to dog food, two similar adverse food reactions may be at play: a dog food allergy or a dog food intolerance.
Know the Difference
A dog food allergen is a food hypersensitivity issue that occurs due to actions taking place in the dog's immune system. Essentially, when a dog has a food allergy, the dog's immune system perceives a certain ingredient in the food as a threat. In turn, the immune system produces protein or carbohydrate-based antibodies and sends them through the bloodstream. This leads to a reaction, such as gastrointestinal problems, but the reaction may not always be immediate.
In contrast, dog food intolerance is simply a negative reaction to normal food. For example, the dog eats a new brand of dog food and thereafter experiences something like diarrhea or vomiting. With food intolerance, the dog is likely to show signs of distress right away. This is due to the fact that something in the food is not being properly digested by the dog's body, and the immune system is not involved in the reaction.
Dog Food Allergy Causes
While the exact reason behind why some dogs experience a food allergy is unknown, some breeds are more likely to experience an allergic reaction to something in their food. Some studies suggest that Shar-Peis and Poodles may be at greater risk, for example. As far as what triggers an allergic reaction, certain ingredients are to blame. Most often, proteins spur an allergic reaction, especially proteins derived from dairy, eggs, poultry, lamb, beef, gluten, or soy.
Dog Food Intolerance Causes
Dog food intolerance is an adverse food reaction, so the underlying cause is generally defined as the dog's digestive system cannot process certain ingredients properly. There are several ingredients or agents that could be found in dog food that may lead to an adverse reaction, such as food additives, carbohydrates, or even certain proteins that have not been properly processed or prepared. Some dogs may also be intolerant of certain nutrients or forms of nutrients, such as vitamin D or vitamin A.
Signs of a Dog Food Allergy vs Dog Food Intolerance
Dog food allergies tend to develop over time. Instead of the food causing an issue right after ingestion, the dog may actually eat the food several times or over the course of several weeks before symptoms emerge. According to the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, food allergies can present as:
- Skin issues
- Respiratory problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Neurological issues
While a dog could potentially have any of these issues due to a dog food allergy, the most common symptoms will be related to the skin or GI tract. For example, a dog may have issues with skin rash or itching, vomiting, or diarrhea.
With dog food intolerance, the reaction to the food is more apparent and obvious, usually occurring soon after ingestion. Some signs of food intolerance include:
- Gurgling stomach or gas
- Loss of appetite
While most symptoms of food intolerance are apparent soon after the dog eats, usually within a few hours, over time, this can lead to further complications. For example, a dog with an intolerance left with an unchanged diet may lose weight or become more prone to illness and disease.
How to Identify an Offending Food Ingredient
Whether you suspect your dog is dealing with food allergies or intolerance, the goal is to track down what's triggering the problem. To do this, most vets recommend feeding the dog a hypoallergenic nutrition plan referred to as an elimination diet. Essentially, the dog is given a special bland diet and certain ingredients are added in slowly over time to gauge for a reaction. Dogs may also be good candidates for blood tests that can give some indications about what could be causing the problems.
Rotational Diets for Food Hypersensitivity
Rotational diets involve feeding your dog a well-balanced meal plan with a "rotation" of different foods. By rotating foods every few months, dogs may get a more diverse collection of proteins and nutrients, but they may also be less likely to develop a hypersensitivity to certain ingredients. Rotational diets may also help reset the dog's gut microbiome if they have experienced food hypersensitivity in the past.
A Final Word on Food Allergies and Intolerance in Dogs
Just like humans, dogs can be sensitive to certain ingredients. Allergies and basic digestive intolerance may be to blame. To deter the risks of your dog experiencing adverse food reactions, be sure to opt for high-quality dietary options. Some dogs may be more prone to sensitivity to proteins than others. Therefore, considering food and treats made with an alternative protein source may be a viable option. Take a look at our collection of dog food and treats made with insect-based protein at Jiminy's.