Gluten Allergy in Dogs

Gluten allergy can be a fairly common allergic condition in dogs. The condition is also known as celiac disease, and it presents with numerous symptoms, with the most common being skin or digestive problems. Let’s look at how gluten allergy can develop in your dog, what the disease looks like, and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

The Causes of Canine Gluten Allergy

Gluten is a type of protein that’s found in many flours, including wheat, rye and barley. It takes its name from the Latin word for glue, and it’s what holds a dough together as it rises and gives some baked goods their chewy texture. 

Dogs with gluten allergies are physically unable to tolerate the gluten protein, which causes irritation in the animal’s small intestine. Over time, the interior lining of the intestine is destroyed by the allergy, which limits the amount of nutrients an affected dog can properly absorb from his food. Gluten allergy also causes colitis in the dog’s large intestine, which accounts for the frequency of digestive problems seen in dogs with the condition.

Canine Gluten Allergy Symptoms

As noted earlier, a common symptom of canine gluten allergy is digestive problems, such as

  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • mucus-laden stools
  • vomiting

Other symptoms of gluten allergy can include dry skin, fatigue, hair loss, itchiness, weakness and weight loss. If left untreated, the disease can lead to recurring ear infections and secondary skin infections.

Diagnosing and Treating a Canine Gluten Allergy

Your veterinarian may recommend one of several tests (a blood test, an exclusion diet or an intestinal biopsy) to test your dog’s gluten sensitivity and to rule out other possible causes for his symptoms.

The most commonly used test has been the exclusion diet, which requires that a dog be fed a unique source of both protein and carbohydrates for about 12 weeks to determine which ingredients in his former diet cause an allergic reaction. If the dog is symptom-free on the exclusion diet, ingredients from his former diet are gradually re-introduced until an allergic reaction is achieved. The ingredient that triggers the reaction is the allergen, which must be eliminated from the dog’s diet going forward.

Blood tests are a newer diagnostic test for gluten allergies. Veterinarians look for the presence of certain antibodies that a dog’s immune system creates in response to the perceived threat presented by the presence of gluten.

Intestinal biopsies are sometimes recommended in dogs to evaluate intestinal damage and screen for other possible causes, such as internal parasites. They can also detect changes in the intestinal wall that reverse themselves after the dog is placed on a gluten-free diet. 

Once a diagnosis has been made, your dog’s diet will need to be changed to eliminate the glutinous products that are causing his allergic reaction. This will require vigilance on your part to ensure that your dog doesn’t eat anything that contains gluten, so you’ll need to become a careful ingredient reader. 

Some dog owners opt to create homemade diets for their pets, while others choose to purchase gluten-free foods at their pet supply store or veterinary clinic.