There’s little doubt that dogs are quite resilient and hardy creatures. Despite that, there’s a select portion of the population that are predisposed to various types of allergies—the two most common canine allergies stemming from foods and seasonal triggers.
Unfortunately, food and environmental allergies can cause similar unpleasant symptoms. And to make matters even more complicated, there are a handful of conditions that can also mimic the same bodily responses. Knowing this, it’s important that you monitor your dog’s behavior and keep an eye out for the signs of pet allergies.
Below, we’ll review so you can tell the difference between seasonal allergies vs. food allergies in dogs.
Seasonal Allergies vs. Food Allergies in Dogs
A dog’s immune system is programmed to help it stave off disease and infection. It does so by identifying harmful foreign bodies and then eliminating them via antibodies. In Layman’s terms,
allergies are the result of a body having a hypersensitivity to an everyday substance—whether a type of a food or an environmental element such as pollen or mold.
We call these allergens.
Your dog’s immune system identifies the allergen as a hostile germ. It then releases histamines and other chemical substances to try and eradicate the allergen, which lead to allergic reactions such as sneezing or rashes.
It’s important to note that there is also some overlap in dogs that experience both conditions. Per Dr. Joseph Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine:
They [seasonal and food allergies] do overlap, however, and approximately 30 percent of pets with food-responsive disease also have seasonal allergies or allergies to fleas, he said. Many of these pet allergies present themselves either with skin problems like itchiness, recurrent infections, ear infections or hair loss, and/or gastrointestinal signs like vomiting, diarrhea or decreased appetite.
Although human seasonal allergies are typically triggered via inhalation, dogs tend to absorb seasonal allergens through their paws and/or skin. This type of allergy most often occurs at certain times of the year, but it depends upon where you live. If you are somewhere like California that doesn’t really experience the seasons, your pup may have allergies all year round, whereas if you’re on the east coast, your pup’s allergies will likely peak in the spring when common allergens are in abundant. In addition, older dogs are more likely to have year-round allergies since the more exposure they have to an allergen, the more sensitized they become. Both seasonal and year-round allergies can cause skin irritation, itchiness, sneezing, hair loss, and a number of different skin problems on your dog’s body.
That said, common allergens include:
Symptoms of seasonal allergies include:
- Excessive paw licking
- Inflamed skin
- Lesions on paws
- Licking the hindquarters
- Repeated ear infections
- Respiratory problems
- Secondary skin infections
Although the symptoms of food and seasonal allergies can be similar, the latter occur far more frequently. According to Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, chances are your dog doesn’t have a food allergy:
Suspected food allergy is a common reason people come to the nutrition clinic at Tufts. By the time they get here, they’ve often tried five, six, seven different diets. But if they all have different ingredients and the dog is not any better, it’s probably not a food allergy. Of those dogs whose owners think they may have a food allergy, perhaps only 10 percent or less actually do.
Dog owners often wrongly conclude that if their dog has gastrointestinal symptoms, they’re allergic to the food, but the truth is that GI symptoms are far more likely to be the result of:
- A food intolerance
- Food hypersensitivity
- The percentage of fat in the food
- The way the food was prepared
- The percentage of fiber in the food
Food sensitivities can be quite common, especially if your dog’s diet consists of low-quality pet food. Per Dr. Karen Becker, the world’s foremost veterinary expert, “Pets with food allergies typically have symptoms such as itchy skin, skin and ear infections, and sometimes, vomiting and diarrhea. Unlike humans, who almost always have gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms with a food allergy, dogs and cats are much more likely to develop skin problems first.” This is especially true if you feed your dog the same meal every day, since food hypersensitivity can take years to develop.
That said, common signs of food allergies are:
- Lesions covering the body
- Recurrent ear infections
- Hot spots
If you suspect that your dog has a food allergy, it’s vital that you take him in for a proper examination with his vet. From there, your vet will likely recommend putting your dog on an elimination diet. An elimination diet helps to identify any triggers that are causing your dog’s body to overreact. If your dog is allergic to a certain ingredient that has been eliminated, he should begin to show improvement overtime.
Diagnosing Skin and Food Allergies
Due to the fact that the signs and symptoms of seasonal allergies vs. food allergies in dogs can be similar, treatment will likely require trial and error and a trip to the vet. Once in the hands of a professional, your pup will be tested properly to eliminate possibilities in his diet or environment and pinpoint the culprit.
In all likelihood, your dog doesn’t have food allergies. While there are several common food allergens that may be the culprit, normally the immune system overreacts to environmental allergens. Thus, if your dog is exhibiting symptoms of an allergic reaction, it’s probably a seasonal allergy. Knowing this, speak with your vet about preventative measures you can take to limit your dog’s exposure to allergens.
- Pet MD. Food allergies vs. seasonal allergies in dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/food-allergies-vs-seasonal-allergies-dogs
- Tufts Veterinary Medicine. Chances are it’s not a food allergy for your dog. tuftsyourdog.com/issues/19_6/features/Chances-Are-Its-Not-a-Food-Allergy-for-Your-Dog-253-1.html
- American Kennel Club. Dog Allergies: Symptoms and Treatment. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-allergies-symptoms-treatment/
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.