A little scratching here and there is to be expected from our canine companions, but at what point should you be concerned? If your pet’s itching, scratching and even biting himself to such an extent that he’s pulled out fur and his legs are so raw that it’s only a matter of time before he tears through his own skin, then it may be a sign of something more serious than your everyday annoying itch. Food allergies could be to blame.

Mid-scratchIncessant dog scratching can often be the result of an allergic reaction, particularly the type caused by certain ingredients in dog food. If your dog is suffering from skin issues, you’ll want to ascertain the cause as soon as possible so you can do what you can to alleviate his distress. According to T.J. Dunn, JR., DVM, food accounts for 10% of allergy cases in dogs, and it’s the third most common cause of allergic reactions after flea bites and inhalants.

How do I deal with dog food allergies?

Hypoallergenic dog food reduces the risk of allergic reactions in dogs, by limiting the number of ingredients incorporated into the feed, or by using ingredients that aren’t standard fare in commercial dog foods. For example, the dog food could be composed of buffalo or pheasant meat, as opposed to chicken or beef.

The foods most likely to trigger allergic reactions in dogs include beef, chicken, lamb, fish, dairy and wheat. With most of these ingredients, it’s not because dogs are naturally allergic to them, but rather because they’re exposed to them so frequently that they become sensitized to them.

If your dog turns out to be allergic to certain foods, you can switch to a prescription diet or a raw food diet. They contain fewer allergens and provide balanced nutrients for your pet. Some raw food manufacturers create special diets for certain allergies, so chat to company about your pet’s needs.

Don’t experiment with a dog food recipe of your own design. While you  have greater control over what your dog eats, you can’t be certain he’s getting the required nutrients.

How do I know it’s the food?

Potential causes of dog allergies fall into six categories, with the food-related variety being just one. The others include environmental factors, parasites, infection and nutritional issues. They could be neurogenic, which means the allergy has to do with nerves or nerve tissue.

Food allergies?

Your veterinarian can perform tests to determine what the triggers might be. These tests will include a full physical exam and an evaluation of your pet’s medical history. In the case of food allergies, the best place to start is diet elimination and if that doesn’t work there are blood tests.

Take your dog off his usual food and feed a prescription diet or something bland (boiled chicken and rice). Once the symptoms have worn off (around 12 weeks), introduce ingredients to his meals to see if any of them cause a reaction. Remember, it will take several weeks (perhaps months) for symptoms to return, so be patient.

More signs of a food-related allergy

  • They occur all-year round as opposed to certain seasons
  • The dog’s itching skin does not respond to steroid treatment
  • Your dog is very young

Bear in mind that food allergies are distinct from food intolerance. Intolerance results when the immune system reacts to a perceived threat. Food allergies include digestive issues that occur when your pet ingests a particular ingredient. Symptoms of food intolerance include diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms of food allergies include itching and scratching.

Dog Food Advisor has a list of some of the best quality hypoallergenic dog food brands. Always consult your veterinarian before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet. And always monitor your dog’s response and report any unusual behavior to your vet. A good diet is the best way to take care of your pet’s long-term health.