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Allergies & Intolerances in Dogs

What is an Allergy?

“An allergy is an abnormal reaction, a disease condition. With seasonal allergy, we cannot avoid contact with the environment but we can change the system, try to restore normal function. The key to this is the diet. A natural, wholesome diet fed in the right amount can allow the system to regain normal health, whatever the disease condition”.

For more information read John Burns Veterinary Guide to Natural Healthcare.

What is the difference between a food allergy and intolerance?

A pet food allergy involves the immune system and is usually triggered by a response to a protein.

A pet food intolerance is a reaction to an ingredient but it does not involve the immune system.

The symptoms of both can be very similar. Allergies involve immune reactions and allergy tests are often not reliable so the only true way to determine an adverse food reaction is by feeding an elimination diet.

What are the symptoms of a food allergies or intolerances in dogs?
  • Loose stools, vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain and/or bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Itchy skin
  • Inflamed skin
  • Scaly, crusty patches of skin
  • Recurring ear problems

Areas most affected are the face, paws, lower legs, groin, and, less often, the ears and eyes. In addition to scratching themselves with their hind feet, dogs often lick or chew the affected areas, or rub along the carpet to scratch their face or ears.

What are the most common food allergies?

Most common food allergies seen in dogs are beef, wheat and dairy. A dog can react to any ingredient in the food but it is most commonly the protein in the food. An allergic reaction can only be developed if a dog has eaten that ingredient previously as with an allergy their immune system as to recognise it and mount a response.

Dog breeds most commonly affected by food sensitivity include Westies, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Shar Pei and German Shepherds.


What should I do if my dog has allergies?
  • Look for a hypoallergenic food as this avoids common allergens like beef or wheat
  • Choose a diet with a single protein (meat/fish/egg) source
  • Choose a diet with novel ingredients (ones your dog or cat has not eaten before or very often)
  • Follow our elimination diet guide

And lastly, contact a friendly Burns nutritionist for advice. Our nutritionists are on-hand every Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm to answer all your pet nutrition enquiries. Reach us on freephone 08000836696, or via email at and LiveChat, if you prefer to communicate digitally.

What other things should I bear in mind?

As well as diet being a possible cause, if your pet is itching, this may be caused by flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). This is very common in dogs and cats and caused by a sensitivity to flea saliva – this can be caused by just one or two flea bites.

Owners may not even see fleas on their pet; excessive grooming by hypersensitive pets often removes any evidence. Or it may be caused by environmental allergens like pollen. This type of allergy is known to be inherited. Dogs and cats suffering from an allergy should not be bred from.

Some dogs will also react to things in the environment such as pollen. Many dogs will develop itchy skin in the spring, especially when running through long grasses. Wiping down with a baby wipe after a walk can be beneficial. It is also important to remember that some dogs can react to washing powder or other cleaning products that are used in your home.

Don’t forget treats, supplements, dental chews, rawhide and even some medications all have ingredients that your pet could react to. When trying to avoid certain ingredients in the main diet you will need to look at the composition of these items too.

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