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Adverse Food Reactions in Pets

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Adverse food reactions in dogs


Many dogs suffer adverse reactions to food, but such conditions are often very difficult to diagnose and treat. As manufacturers of super premium, hypoallergenic pet foods, we receive many enquiries regarding this subject. This fact sheet has been written to help you to provide optimal nutrition for dogs suffering from adverse dietary reactions .

Adverse food reactions cannot be ignored as they can cause a variety of challenges to your dog’s health and well-being ranging from skin and gastric disorders to behavioural problems .

Whilst nutrition is a complex science, a simple understanding of the dog’s digestion and making the appropriate adaptations to the feeding regime and eliminating the reaction-provoking ingredient / s will help to restore peak health and vitality.

What is an adverse food reaction?

There are 2 main types of adverse food reaction:

  • Food Allergy / Food Hypersensitivity – this is a true allergy which is defined as an immune response to an ingredient (usually a protein source).

  • Dietary or Food Intolerance – this is an adverse reaction due to non-immunologic mechanisms.




Signs of Adverse Food Reactions


How do I know if my dog has an adverse food reaction?

Adverse food reactions may manifest in a variety of different ways. They can affect dogs of any age. True food allergies tend to arise after prolonged exposure to an ingredient, and these are most common in animals aged from 1 – 5 years. However, the incidence of adverse food reactions as a whole is highest in dogs that are less than a year of age, accounting for one third of reported cases.


Although there is no conclusive proof that certain breeds are more susceptible, the highest incidence of adverse food reactions manifesting in gastrointestinal symptoms have been noted in the Shar Pei and German Shepherd. The Shar Pei and German Shepherd are also commonly affected by adverse reactions manifesting in skin problems, alongside the Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Westie, Wheaten Terrier, Boxer, Dachshund, English Bull Terrier, Dalmatian, Lhasa Apso and Golden Retriever. There is evidence that the Irish Setter is frequently affected with gluten induced enteropathy.


The symptoms of an adverse food reaction are often similar to those affecting dogs with a range of other conditions. Skin problems often imitate those arising from bacterial or parasitic causes, whilst gastric problems may mirror those arising from viral, bacterial or medical causes. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that you seek veterinary advice in order to rule out other causes of the symptoms, and especially so if your dog is vomiting, lethargic and / or appears in discomfort. Antibiotic / anti-inflammatory therapy may be needed to treat secondary infection and inflammation.


Some dogs may suffer other symptoms including the ingestion of unusual items (e.g. excessive grass consumption, eating stones or faeces). Some may lack concentration making them over-excitable and difficult to train. Unfortunately, the tests used to diagnose an adverse food reaction are not particularly reliable. Blood tests, endoscopic food testing and intradermal skin testing may be helpful in some cases but it is widely believed that a dietary trial excluding the suspected reactive ingredient/s is the most effective means of diagnosis. A faecal sample may be helpful to rule out bacterial causes.


Your dog may exhibit one or more of these signs : -

A young dog with poor skin and / or bilateral ear infection (affecting both ears) passing 3 or more bowel movements a day is a classic case where an adverse dietary reaction is the most likely cause of the problems.

Dogs that have already been diagnosed with irritable bowel disease may be more susceptible to adverse food reactions (usually dietary intolerance rather than true food allergy) since the inflamed bowel mucosa is likely to be more sensitive to certain ingredients. Dogs with this condition should avoid gas producing foods and those with an excessive fat content.


Dogs with chronic colitis (an inflamed lower bowel) or malabsorption (an impaired digestive ability) may also benefit from dietary trials and avoidance of potentially reactive ingredients.



Treatment of Adverse Food Reactions


How do I treat my dog’s adverse food reaction?


Step 1: Keep a Food Diary - The first thing to do is to closely scrutinise exactly what your dog eats each day. If necessary, keep a food diary for a period of a week.

You must include absolutely everything that your dog ingests, and this includes things that he does eat, even if he isn’t supposed to; e.g. stealing cat food, raiding bins etc.

You will need to include: -

  • The main daily diet (i.e. the proprietary dog food used)

  • Human food given, such as left-over meat and vegetables from dinner, a piece of toast etc…

  • Dog treats given (all types, including soft treats, biscuits and chews)

  • Dietary supplements such as homeopathic remedies / toothpaste

  • Access to other food-stuffs; e.g. garden vegetation, cat food or food intended for other pets in the household, scavenging and stealing

Please ensure that everything possible is included in your list regardless of the quantity consumed. One small dog biscuit a day may not seem much, but it would be enough to trigger a reaction in a sensitive animal. Even flavourings and preservatives in toys and pet toothpaste may be of relevance. Some animals do have a threshold – whereby they may be able to digest small quantities of a potentially reactive ingredient with symptoms only becoming evident after a certain volume is consumed. However, during the initial stages of investigation, you will need to exclude ALL the prime potential triggers from the diet.


Once you have created your list, take a look at the items over-leaf and see if any of the common triggers of adverse food reactions are included. You may be surprised…


Next, we advise that the food items most likely to cause an adverse reaction are eliminated from the diet.

Supplemental and complimentary pet foods (i.e. treats) can be stopped immediately, however you will need to bear in mind that any sudden change to a routine can be detrimental. Therefore, if your dog has always been used to a food reward for good behaviour during training, then stop the potential offending food item, but replace it with a hypoallergenic dog treat (such as Arden Grange Crunchy Bites), a ration of the normally daily food allowance (weighed out and put by specifically for this purpose) or a very small portion of fresh meat (not beef or liver). Most of our reported incidences of adverse food reactions are as a result of ingredients found in non-hypoallergenic commercial dog treats, and often simply by substituting these with more suitable alternatives, the symptoms are alleviated.


Step 2 :Ensure that your dog is fed only pet food and treats that are preserved naturally - Arden Grange use a combination of mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E) and rosemary extract.


Step 3 :Ensure that your dog is fed a hypoallergenic food such as Arden Grange that is free from the ingredients that are most likely to trigger an adverse reaction. Beef, wheat and dairy accounted for more than 65% of reported cases of adverse food reactions in 10 studies! It is never a good idea to suddenly change onto another diet however, and Arden Grange recommend a gradual introduction of the new food over a period of several days.


The food should also contain a top quality protein source that is easily digested. An incompletely digested food protein has the potential to incite an allergic response because of residual antigenic proteins and large polypeptide molecules. Arden Grange diets use only the highest quality ingredients that are easily broken down into the building blocks necessary for all the structural and metabolic functions within the body. None of these ingredients are genetically modified.


Step 4: Be careful what other food-stuffs your dog has access to ; be these human foods, food intended for other pets, vegetation from the garden and other sources. Dogs with robust digestions can usually eat a variety of foods, but special care needs to be taken with the potentially reactive dog whilst you are working to establish the possible triggers of adverse food reactions.

Dairy products (especially milk, fermented cheeses and yoghurt)
should be avoided sincemany dogs are lactose intolerant, as their levels of lactase (responsible for the digestion of milk sugar) decreases with age.


Many dogs love fish, but Arden Grange do not recommend the feeding of tinned fish such as tuna and mackerel. This is because it contains high levels of histamine which may provoke an allergic response.


Processed meats (particularly beef sausages) also contain high histamine levels and therefore should be avoided.



Your dog may love human food but make sure you are not giving inappropriate foods that can upset the digestion


Future Management


The good news is, that whilst you will need to be extremely strict whilst identifying the cause of the reaction, you can then start to reintroduce other food stuffs back into the diet one by one on a trial basis. If symptoms return, then avoid that ingredient or food stuff in future.


In cases of dietary intolerance, an improvement to your dog’s general health and demeanour may become noticeable very quickly. True food allergies take longer to rectify and it may be that it takes a couple of months before a visible improvement is noted.


Arden Grange diets are a sensible choice for dogs with suspected adverse food reactions since they are hypoallergenic and free from artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives. Safe supplementation with Arden Grange hypoallergenic Crunchy Bites dog treats ensures that your dog doesn’t go without reward during the food trial.


Our nutrition advisers can offer advice on the best product for your dog and help you with any queries that you may have regarding any aspect of your dog’s nutrition. Simply call us on 01273 833390.


Please note that this information has been written with the potentially reactive dog in mind. Many dogs are able to successfully digest and metabolise a variety of different ingredients. More information is available on request.



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