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How Do You Know If Your Dog Has a Food Intolerance?

It’s always difficult to watch your pup suffer, especially if they are demonstrating dog food intolerance symptoms. From itchy skin to ear infections, food sensitivity manifests in a wide variety of ways.

When the very food that is supposed to keep your dog healthy is actually making them sick, you may feel at a complete loss for how to take action. But you can do it. Recognising and managing your dog’s food intolerance is an important part of helping your furry friend live the happy, healthy life they deserve.

So in this post, Freeze Dry Australia wants to help you identify the signs of food intolerance, take steps to adjust your dog’s diet, and recognise when it is time to call in the help of a professional veterinarian.


In This Article:


How Do You Know If Your Dog Has a Food Intolerance


Identifying Dog Intolerances

The first step in giving your dog a healthy diet that agrees with their body is to know the signs and symptoms of food intolerance.

There are a number of potential diets for dogs, but it can be hard to determine which one is best for your four-legged friend. – RSPCA

What to Do if You Think Your Pup Has an Intolerance

What to Do if You Think Your Pup Has an Intolerance

Start by asking yourself “Is it food intolerance or is it allergies?”. The two can often overlap, but allergies are relatively rare. Allergies provoke a response from your dog’s immune system, and the reaction will typically develop after a dog has been exposed to the food multiple times.

If your dog has severe, life threatening reactions (such as swollen face or trouble breathing), the culprit is probably allergies and you should seek professional help immediately.

Common dog food intolerance symptoms include the following:

  • Ear infections
  • Gassiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy skin


The trouble, of course, is that many of these symptoms can manifest from allergies as well. However, the good news is that the general approach to diagnosis and management is the same whether your dog suffers from food intolerance or food allergies.


How Do You Know If Your Dog Has a Food Intolerance 1

When your dog has a food intolerance, this means that they are not able to properly digest an ingredient in their food. This results in gastrointestinal upsets like vomiting, increased flatulence, and diarrhoea. Food intolerance is quite a common issue with 1 in 3 dogs suffering from digestive disorders. –


Importance of Identifying Intolerances

If a dog’s food intolerances go unaddressed for a long period of time, the health implications range from mild to severe, depending on how your dog reacts to their diet.

The most common concern is simply a reduced quality of life. A pup who is regularly uncomfortable from digestive issues and itchy skin simply isn’t living their best life. As a result, they may become moody, disobedient or anxious.

When food intolerance presents itself as a skin rash, your dog is likely to respond by biting or scratching. Over time, if the rash persists, your dog might break the skin, causing wounds that could become infected.

In rare cases, food sensitivity can cause ear infection. An article from the Canadian Veterinary Journal reports that persistent, untreated infection of the outer ear in dogs can lead to secondary infections and end-stage ear disease, such as fibrosis and calcification in the ear canal.


A pup who is regularly uncomfortable from digestive issues and itchy skin simply isn’t living their best life
A pup who is regularly uncomfortable from digestive issues and itchy skin simply isn’t living their best life


Managing Dog Intolerances

Once you have identified that your dog is suffering symptoms related to food intolerance, you can take steps to manage them. The most common way to do this is to use a 12-week elimination trial to determine the specific foods that your dog is sensitive to.

12-week Feed Elimination Trial

If you are working with your vet, they will likely suggest an elimination diet. However, there is no reason you can’t start the process on your own, as long as you follow the right protocols.

Eliminate the old diet

An elimination diet involves completely changing your dog’s diet for roughly twelve weeks. This means setting aside their usual pet food and treats completely. Twelve weeks is long enough for any intolerable foods to work their way out of your pet’s system.

Introduce novel foods

Instead of their usual food, you will feed your furry friend on a strict diet of novel foods. These are foods that your dog has not eaten before. For example, most commercial dog foods use beef, chicken and grains. If this is the case with your dog, then novel foods could include things like fish, venison and kangaroo.

However, you should be sure to carefully check the ingredients of your dog’s usual foods. This will ensure that you can feed them truly novel foods. When choosing novel foods for an elimination diet, it is best to pick whole foods so that you know your dog isn’t reacting to any fillers or preservatives.


dog food intolerance

It may take months or years before your dog develops an allergic response to a particular food. However, once he’s allergic, he will almost always have a negative reaction to that food. –


Monitor symptoms

As your pup progresses into their 12-week elimination, keep a log of the frequency and severity of their symptoms. If their old diet was indeed to blame, you should see a reduction in adverse reactions overtime until, hopefully, they go away completely. If this is not the case, you will need to try a different novel food to determine that your dog isn’t intolerant to the new diet as well.

Gradually reintroduce foods

Once your dog is relatively symptom free, you can slowly add old foods—one at a time—back into the diet. For example, if your pup has been living healthily on kangaroo meat for 12 weeks, you can try giving them chicken. Keep a close eye on their symptoms for a week or two. If the symptoms don’t come back you can assume that your dog can tolerate chicken. If symptoms do return, you have identified a food that your dog will need to avoid for the foreseeable future (maybe forever).

Saliva Testing

Because of the difficult and time-consuming nature of elimination diets, many pet owners turn to saliva tests that are meant to determine pet food allergies. However, the accuracy and reliability of these tests is questionable.

In one study on their accuracy, the researchers concluded that saliva tests were just as likely to identify allergies in healthy dogs as they were in dogs with known allergies. These results are confirmed in an article for Tufts University by veterinary nutritionist Dr. Cailin Heinze, who warns that saliva tests can easily result in false positives.

If you are interested in saliva testing, you should work directly with your vet, who will have access to the latest science and most up to date methods. At all costs avoid at-home allergy saliva tests that you can order online.


dog food intolerance 2


Treats to Trial for an Elimination Diet

Just because your pup is on an elimination diet, they can still love what they are eating. If you are looking for novel foods to treat your pup with during the dieting period, here are some of our freeze-dried favorites.

These freeze-dried seafood treats are adored by furry friends for their strong flavours (and smells!). The only thing to keep in mind is that some commercial dog foods do include fish, so you just need to be sure that none of these include ingredients that you are eliminating. The good news is that they are all single-ingredient treats, so it should be pretty straightforward:

These freeze-dried novel proteins are all likely from animals that were not in your dog’s old food. They are a great way to reward puppers for the hard work of changing diets.


treats to trial dog food intolerance

It is important to distinguish between a dog’s adverse reaction to something he has eaten versus involvement of the immune system and a potential food sensitivity. Food sensitivity or food allergy typically results in skin and GI signs that require a comprehensive approach to restore the body to a state of balance. –


Seeking Veterinary Assistance

Whenever undergoing major health or lifestyle changes, it’s always important to consider if and when you need the assistance of a professional veterinarian. While you are certainly able to try an elimination diet on your own, there are some instances in which you want to seek out your vet.

When to See the Vet If Your Dog Has a Food Intolerance
There are some instances in which you want to seek out your vet

When to See the Vet

Make an appointment with a qualified veterinarian if…

  • You aren’t comfortable planning and tracking an elimination diet on your own.
  • Your dog’s symptoms have not improved even after a 12-week elimination.
  • Your dog’s symptoms are moderate to severe, significantly impacting their health or quality of life.
  • You suspect underlying issues not related to food sensitivity, such as problems with your dog’s gut-wall lining or microbiome.

Importance of Veterinary Guidance

While many pet owners are able to reduce dog food intolerance symptoms simply by changing diet, it is important to realise that only a licensed vet is qualified to diagnose specific food intolerances, allergies or similar conditions. Your vet is there to help you find the best way to manage your dog’s specific health issues. Always defer to their professional assessment when it comes to your furry friends.


dog food intolerance vet



How Gut Health Influences Food Sensitivities in Dogs

One of the challenges of diagnosis and treatment of food intolerance in dogs is that it is just easier to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. Unfortunately, this means that your dog may suffer needlessly as you and your vet try a combination of medications, elimination diets, and more.

However, a cause that might be overlooked is your dog’s gut health. Gut health refers to the general balance of your pup’s microbiome—the bacteria and other microbes that live within their  body. Poor gut health can lead to adverse immune response, which often presents itself as itchy skin, digestive issues, or other symptoms associated with food insensitivities.

The good news is that gut health can be improved simply by changing your dog’s diet. And often (though not always), balancing your dog’s microbiome could eliminate or reduce the severity of many food intolerances. This is such a big deal that we have put together an entire guide on How To Improve Dog Gut Health.


dog food intolerance - gut health

The best advice is to go to your vet if you notice anything off with your dog, especially because it’s so difficult to tell if your dog’s responses are food intolerance symptoms or dog allergy symptoms. –


Common Dog Food Intolerance Questions

Difference Between a Food Allergy and an Intolerance

The key difference is that a true allergy is when your dog’s immune system recognises a food as a threat. When this reaction is especially strong, it can lead to very dangerous outcomes such as anaphylactic shock.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, does not actually trigger the immune system. It is simply when a dog suffers some sort of negative symptoms after consumption. Allergies are relatively rare, and many food intolerances are mistakenly diagnosed as allergies.

Common Intolerants or Allergens

The most common foods that dog’s react poorly to include the following:

  • Dairy
  • Egg
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Fish

The best hypoallergenic dog treats will avoid these ingredients, while also steering clear of fillers. These treats are ideal if you know your dog has an allergy or if you are attempting an elimination diet.


dog food intolerance vs allergy



Clarification Regarding IBS Symptoms

The relationship between Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and food intolerance is complex, and there is little scientific data, especially when it comes to dogs, that can be used to draw conclusions. However, some research suggests that the consumption of intolerable foods (especially carbohydrates) will lead to the worsening of IBS symptoms or may even cause onset of IBS.

What this could suggest is that if your dog suffers from IBS, it is especially important to discover the source of their food intolerances. Otherwise, their diet may exacerbate their IBS.

Our Opinion on Food Intolerance in Dogs

We have seen that food intolerance in dogs can lead to a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. However, we have also seen that a properly conducted food elimination can help you identify specific food sensitivities and create a diet that will keep your pup happy and healthy. The key is feeding them nothing but novel foods for approximately 12 weeks, and working closely with your vet if you are concerned at any stage of the process.

Food intolerance in dogs can be painful and inconvenient. But with the proper diagnosis and management of symptoms, your furry friend can overcome the challenges.

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