Food Sensitivities in Dogs

Food sensitivities can be difficult to diagnose in your dog, and they can make life unpleasant for both you and your dog until they are resolved.

Causes of Canine Food Sensitivity

Your dog can be sensitive to a food or an ingredient in a food. Some of the most common ingredients in dog food that cause sensitivities include grains, such as corn, soy or wheat, or meats, such as beef or chicken by-products. In some cases, the problem is breed-specific, such as the case of 13 Irish setters in the United Kingdom that have gluten-sensitive enteropathy, which means they cannot digest grains that contain gluten. Affected dogs had diarrhea and lost weight until their diets were changed to exclude grains.

Canine food sensitivity is caused by your dog’s inability to tolerate or digest a food. It’s a little different than a food allergy, although the signs can be similar, in that your dog will have an immediate reaction to a food he’s sensitive to, while an allergy may take months or even years to develop.

Signs of Canine Food Sensitivity

In most cases, dogs that are food sensitive have digestive problems, such as diarrhea, frequent bowel movements or vomiting, as immediate reactions to the food that they cannot tolerate. In long-term cases, dogs may also have hair loss or itchy skin that is caused by a dietary deficiency because their bodies are not able to receive complete nutrition because of their intolerance of their current diet.

Exclusion Diets Help Determine Canine Food Sensitivity

The first step in treating your dog’s food sensitivity is to determine what food or foods are causing the problem. To do this, your veterinarian may recommend placing your dog on an exclusion diet for up to 12 weeks. This diet will feature sources of protein and carbohydrates that your dog has never eaten before. Your veterinarian will monitor your dog’s clinical signs while he’s on the diet.

After your dog eats the exclusion diet, your veterinarian will begin adding back elements of your dog’s former diet. You’ll know which foods your dog has a sensitivity to when he experiences digestive upsets.

Look for Easy-to-Digest Diets

After you’ve determined what foods are problematic for your dog, you may want to purchase foods that are easier to digest, such as those that contain chicken meat, cottage cheese, rice, oatmeal or sweet potato. Some commercially prepared diets are marketed to owners of dogs with sensitive stomachs, so look for those types of foods at your local pet supply store.

Your food-sensitive dog may benefit from a hydrolyzed protein diet. These diets contain specially treated proteins and carbohydrates that have been made into tiny molecules. Their small size ensures that they provide nutrition without causing an allergic reaction in sensitive pets.

The Homemade Diet Option

To help keep your dog healthy, you will need to monitor his diet closely. You may have to pay closer attention to portion control to help him not overeat, and you will need to select his diet with food sensitivity in mind.

Some dog owners opt to create a home-cooked diet for their dogs. Here are some ingredients to include in a homemade diet for a food-sensitive dog:

  • Bone meal
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Chicken
  • Cod liver oil
  • Lamb
  • Peanut butter
  • Rice
  • Spinach
  • Tuna