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What causes allergies in dogs?

Does your dog have the itchy scratchies? How about sneezing and runny eyes? An upset stomach and indigestion? Your dog may have allergies. Canine allergies are a complicated business and can be caused by a multitude of factors. Hopefully this guide to allergies can help resolve some of the questions you have around what causes allergies in dogs and how to deal with them.

What are allergies?

Allergies are the result of the body reacting to a foreign substance or allergen. Once a dog is exposed to an allergen, its immune system freaks out towards the otherwise harmless molecule and expresses an antibody-immune reaction. This triggers an inflammatory reaction, resulting in histamine being produced and simulated. The inflammatory reaction results in what we observe as allergy symptoms, whether that’s as skin dermatitis, digestive issues or anaphylaxis. If you’d like to learn more about allergies, click here for a more in depth overview. 

Yawning brown French Bulldog dog with mouth white open and tongue and teeth showing in front of white spring flowers blooming on apple tree outdoor dog photography allergies dog stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

What are some common allergens that dogs react to?

Allergies can be caused by almost anything and can be quite tricky to narrow down. Surprisingly food is not the most common allergy in dogs but instead environmental factors or a combination of food and the environment. Below are some of the more common allergens in dogs:

  • Certain ingredients in their food
  • Grass
  • Pollen
  • Bees, fleas, other insect bites/stings
  • Mold and mildew
  • Cleaning products or other chemicals
  • Prescription medications

What are the most common food allergens that dogs react to?

If you suspect that your dog may have a food allergy, consider what it is about their food that is causing a reaction. It is usually specific ingredients or a combination of ingredients that dogs are allergic to. 

The most common food allergens in dogs are as follows:

  1. Beef
  2. Chicken
  3. Fish 
  4. Corn
  5. Wheat
  6. Dairy products
  7. Soy

What do I do if I think my dog has allergies?

With so many possible allergens, it can sometimes be tricky to narrow down exactly what it is that’s causing the reaction. Some things you can do to determine the cause of an allergy is to take note of what your dog comes in contact with and which of those things initiate a reaction. 

A veterinarian can also perform a skin prick test to observe a local inflammatory reaction to a specific allergen. If it’s food that your dog is allergic to, a feeding test can be performed either on your own or with the help of a veterinarian. This will narrow down the problem ingredient and allow you to eliminate it from their diet.

Man at Veterinarian Wearing Dog Cone A man and his puppy dog sit in the waiting room at a veterinary clinic, both of them wearing a dog cone collar to prevent from scratching and itching at fleas.  Retro styled room and clothing.  Horizontal image with copy space. dog itch stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

If you are unable to identify a specific allergen or suspect that there are multiple allergens, there is the option to try hypoallergenic food. This type of food is specially formulated for dogs who are allergic to the common food allergens. Hypoallergenic diets contain limited ingredients and alternative protein sources like duck, bison or venison. When exposed to these ingredients, an allergic dog’s immune system will not recognize the diet as a threat and is less likely to attack it.

A study by researchers at the University of Helsinki has also shown that feeding pregnant dams and puppies a diet low in processed carbohydrates can potentially reduce the risk of developing canine atopic dermatitis during adulthood. The scientists found that there is potential to prevent the development of canine atopic dermatitis in adult dogs by feeding them and their mothers non-processed diets like fresh cooked pet food, during critical pre and post natal periods.

Ultimately, allergies are a complicated health problem. If you know that your dog has a specific food allergy, a hypoallergenic diet may be an excellent and safe solution to try!


Dog itching
Dog itching

View Sources

Mayo clinic “allergies” 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/symptoms-causes/syc-20351497#:~:text=Allergies%20occur%20when%20your%20immune,produces%20substances%20known%20as%20antibodies

Silva, M. Rocha E. "Concerning the mechanism of anaphylaxis and allergy." British medical journal 1, no. 4762 (1952): 779.

Jensen-Jarolim, Erika, Lukas Einhorn, Ina Herrmann, Johann G. Thalhammer, and Lucia Panakova. "Pollen allergies in humans and their dogs, cats and horses: differences and similarities." Clinical and translational allergy 5, no. 1 (2015): 15.

Hill, Peter. "Diagnosing cutaneous food allergies in dogs and cats-some practical considerations." In practice 21, no. 6 (1999): 287-294.

McDaniel III, Lawrence, Dorothy P. Laflamme, Steven S. Hannah, and Robert M. Stuckey. "Hypoallergenic pet food." U.S. Patent 6,403,142, issued June 11, 2002.

Thomas, Carla, and Amy Randall. "Hypoallergenic animal food." U.S. Patent Application 11/592,024, filed May 17, 2007.

Hemida M, Vuori KA, Salin S, Moore R, Anturaniemi J, Hielm-Bjo¨rkman A (2020) “Identification of modifiable pre- and postnatal dietary and environmental exposures associated with owner-reported canine atopic dermatitis in Finland using a web-based questionnaire.” PLoS ONE 15(5): e0225675.https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225675 


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