Unlike atopy, there is no breed predisposition linked to food allergies. It can equally affect dogs of both sexes and whether neutered or intact. Food allergies can occur in labrador puppies as young as five months and in older dogs as late as 12 years old. However, it has been observed that a majority of the cases affect dogs with ages ranging between 2 to 6 years old. Most dogs suffering from food allergies also suffer from a concurrent inhalant allergy or atopy.
There is a need to draw a concrete line between food allergy and food intolerance for they are two distinct conditions. Food allergies are manifested by itching and other skin problems. On the other hand, food intolerances are often manifested by an upset stomach or diarrhea as a result of eating food which does not agree with the dog’s stomach such as spicy or fried foods. Food intolerance does not create typical allergic responses.
Even if food allergies and food intolerance are two separate conditions, they can be prevented by ensuring a diet which is free from any offending agents.
The most common culprits of food allergies in dogs include meat and meat products including beef, dairy products, poultry, lamb, fish, eggs and plant products such as corn, wheat and soy. If you go through the list again, these common offenders are actually the most common ingredients present in dog foods.
Food allergies are primarily manifested by itchy skin that commonly develops in the face and ears, forelegs, feet, armpits, and around the anal area. A dog may also suffer from recurrent ear infections, hot spots, loss of hair, excessive scratching, and skin infections that respond to the application of antibiotics but flare-up again when antibiotic therapy is discontinued. Dogs with food allergies may also suffer from increased bowel movements. Normally, the average bowel movement of dogs per day is around 1.5 but some dogs suffering from food allergies were observed to have 3 or more bowel movements per day.
Since food allergies share similar physical symptoms with atopy and other forms of allergies, it is often difficult to distinguish the ultimate cause of the hypersensitivity reactions. However, a dog with food allergies may also suffer from persistent ear problems linked to yeast infections. Other signs that may indicate food allergies include moderate or severe skin problems in very young dogs, a year-round allergy with symptoms that start to appear around winter, and very itchy skin that does not respond to steroid medication.
Since food allergies share similar symptoms with many other problems that a dog can suffer, it is very important to properly identify the problem before treatment is given. Often, there is a need to rule out all possible causes before you end up with food allergy. Performing a food trial can often help establish the root cause of the food allergy.