Dog food sensitivity or allergy? What every dog owner must know

Dog food sensitivity is different from allergies and arises from difficulties in digestion, not immune responses.

When a dog’s food sensitivity is triggered, it might appear the same as an allergy. So, distinguishing between the two conditions can be challenging.

But it is necessary to know the differences because the treatment for both differs. Any improper handling could further worsen your dog’s condition and lead to fatal health issues.

In this post, we’ll deeply explore dog food sensitivity vs. allergies.

We’ll learn what differentiates them, how you can identify them, and determine how best to treat your dog.

Understanding dog food sensitivity


Dog food sensitivity, often referred to as food intolerance, is a complex physiological reaction that occurs when a dog’s digestive system struggles to process specific components in its diet.

Unlike allergies, which involve the immune system, sensitivities primarily revolve around digestion difficulties. It’s important to note that sensitivities are not immune responses. But instead, they stem from an inability to break down specific food elements properly.

Some of the common food ingredients that trigger food sensitivities include:

  • Proteins
  • Grains
  • Dairy
  • Artificial additives

Common symptoms of dog food sensitivity

When a dog experiences food sensitivity, it shares a range of symptoms. The following are three common categories of signs that can indicate dog food sensitivity:

Gastrointestinal issues

  • Vomiting: Dogs with food sensitivity may vomit shortly after eating or hours later. Undigested or poorly digested food can trigger an inflammatory response in the stomach lining.
  • Diarrhea: Loose stools or frequent bowel movements are a telltale sign of digestive issues. Diarrhea can result from irritation in the intestines due to the presence of undigested particles.
  • Gas: Increased gas production is often a result of undigested carbohydrates fermenting in the intestines. This can lead to excessive flatulence, causing discomfort for the dog and its human companions.
  • Abdominal discomfort: Dogs may show discomfort or pain in the abdominal area, such as restlessness, pacing, or a hunched posture.

Skin problems

  • Itching (Pruritus): Dogs may incessantly scratch, bite, lick, or rub their skin, often leading to redness, inflammation, and hair loss in affected areas.
  • Redness and rash: Sensitivity reactions can result in red or irritated patches of skin, commonly referred to as rashes. These rashes can be localized or spread across various parts of the body.
  • Hot spots: These are areas of intense itching and inflammation that can develop rapidly. Dogs often compulsively lick, scratch, or chew these hot spots, exacerbating the issue.

Chronic ear infections

  • Ear scratching: Dogs with ear sensitivity may repeatedly scratch or paw at their ears to alleviate discomfort.
  • Head-shaking: Frequent head shaking can indicate irritation or inflammation in the ear canal, often caused by an immune response triggered by food sensitivity.
  • Ear discharge: A brown, waxy, or foul-smelling discharge from the ears can indicate an underlying sensitivity-related issue.

How to diagnose food sensitivity

To diagnose food sensitivity, consider implementing elimination diets by gradually removing potential trigger ingredients from your dog’s diet and monitoring their response.

But if that does not help or you’re witnessing severe symptoms, immediately seek veterinary guidance. Professionals can provide expert insights, perform necessary tests, and ensure a comprehensive approach to managing your dog’s food sensitivity.

Chronic ear infections in dogs may be caused by an underlying food sensitivity.

Differentiating dog food allergy

Dog food allergies represent an intricate immune system response to specific proteins in the diet. Unlike sensitivities that primarily involve digestive challenges, allergies provoke the immune system to produce antibodies against perceived harmful substances. This heightened immune reaction sets allergies apart from sensitivities.

Key differences from sensitivity

Immune response to specific proteins

One of the fundamental differences between food allergies and sensitivities is the immune system’s role. In allergies, the immune system recognizes specific proteins as threats and releases antibodies, such as immunoglobulin E (IgE), to neutralize them. This immune response triggers a series of reactions that lead to the manifestation of allergy symptoms.

Manifestation of symptoms

Dog food allergy symptoms resemble food sensitivity symptoms (such as gastrointestinal distress and skin problems). However, the timing and severity of symptoms often differ. Allergic reactions tend to occur shortly after ingesting the problematic food. Plus, the symptoms can be more acute and intense compared to sensitivities.

Common symptoms of dog food allergies

Here are the common symptoms of dog food allergies. Although they appear similar to sensitivity symptoms, they are different if you observe closely.

Skin reactions

  • Itchy skin (Pruritus): Intense itching is a hallmark of food allergies. Dogs may scratch, bite, or chew their skin excessively, leading to redness, inflammation, and potential hair loss.
  • Hives (Urticaria): Raised, red bumps on the skin resembling hives can develop as an immediate response to allergenic proteins.
  • Ear infections: Chronic ear infections, often characterized by redness, foul odor, and excessive ear scratching, can indicate a food allergy.

Gastrointestinal distress

  • Vomiting: Allergic reactions can lead to vomiting, which may occur shortly after eating the problematic food.
  • Diarrhea: Loose stools or increased frequency of bowel movements can be triggered by the body’s immune response to allergenic proteins.
  • Gas: Just like sensitivities, gas production can increase due to the fermentation of undigested food.

Respiratory symptoms

  • Coughing: Allergic reactions might trigger coughing or other respiratory distress.
  • Sneezing: Dogs could exhibit sneezing, nasal discharge, or other respiratory signs.

How to diagnose dog food allergy

Initially, consider eliminating any doubtful foodstuffs. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to take your dog to the vet, who’ll recommend specialized tests and treatments for the allergy. You can make alterations to your pup’s diet accordingly.

Final thoughts on dog food sensitivity vs. allergies

Before we sign off, here’s a tip: try rotating your dog’s protein sources and opting for limited-ingredient diets. This can help reduce the likelihood of developing sensitivities while providing balanced nutrition.

Always keep in touch with your veterinarian to tailor a diet that keeps your furry friend thriving and content!

Arslan Hassan is an electrical engineer passionate about writing, designing, and anything tech-related. His educational background in the technical field has given him the edge to write on many topics. He occasionally writes blog articles for Dynamologic Solutions.


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