Food Sensitivity in Dogs

Food sensitivity in dogs is a slightly different problem than a food allergy. The good news is that food sensitivity is often easier to treat than food allergy, especially if observant owners know the symptoms to look for in their pets.

How Food Sensitivity Affects a Dog

Although food allergies and food sensitivities can show some similar symptoms, a food intolerance has a more immediate cause-and-effect chain of events than a food allergy. In most cases, your dog will show symptoms of a food sensitivity within an hour of eating. It is caused by your dog's inability to digest a food properly.

Food sensitivities can be caused by a brand of food or by an ingredient in a food. The most common foods that dogs can be sensitive to include grains and meat byproducts.

In the United Kingdom, a breed-specific food sensitivity called gluten-sensitive enteropathy has been identified in some Irish setters. These dogs cannot digest wheat and other glutinous grains properly, which makes them unable to obtain certain vitamins and minerals from their diets. Once the dogs were put on grain-free diets, their symptoms disappeared.

Symptoms of Canine Food Sensitivity

Unlike food allergies that take repeated exposures to an allergen before symptoms occur, a canine food sensitivity affects a dog within an hour of eating. You can compare this condition to situations in people you know who are lactose-intolerant or who cannot tolerate spicy foods.

Food-sensitive dogs suffer from flatulence and diarrhea, or they may vomit after eating. Untreated cases of food sensitivity can result in hair loss from repeated scratching because the dog's skin becomes itchy. His body is unable to process the nutrients he needs from his diet to keep his skin moisturized.

Treatments for Canine Food Sensitivity

Sometimes food sensitivities are easily treated by changing the method in which you feed your dog or the type of food he eats. Dogs that wolf down their food can have their consumption rate slowed by raising the food bowl to shoulder height, and dogs that eat canned food may find their sensitivity symptoms reduced by eating the same diet in a dry form.

To help your dog's food sensitivity, make sure you're feeding the correct brand of food and the proper portion for your dog's weight and age. You may need to find a grain-free food, or you may need to select one that does not contain meat byproducts to help alleviate your dog's symptoms. Keep treats and table scraps out of your dog's regular diet, because these can aggravate a sensitive canine stomach.

If these steps don't help resolve your dog's food sensitivity, you may need to put him on an exclusion diet trial for about 12 weeks. This special diet, recommended by your veterinarian, will help eliminate potential problem foods. It can also help determine whether your dog's problem is a food sensitivity or an actual food allergy.

The exclusion diet is tested at the end of the 12-week period by reintroducing ingredients from the dog's former diet, to try to elicit an allergic reaction. Ingredients that cause a reaction should be eliminated from your dog's diet. Once the results are known, your veterinarian can recommend a new diet for your dog.