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The most common dog food allergens and how to spot them

The fact that, like us hoomans, doggos can be allergic to food ingredients can be downright scary and disheartening. Even worse is that they often get mistaken for simple intolerance to the food ingredients, even among some vets. Let’s discuss the most common dog food allergens (ingredients that cause allergies) and how to tell actual dog food allergy from mere dog food intolerance.

Doggo, why you no eat food!?

Dog Food Allergy vs Dog Food Intolerance

It is really easy to confuse dog food allergies with dog food sensitivity. Even some vets might conflate the two. Rest assured, they are very different.

A food allergy means a rapid (almost immediate!) adverse reaction from the immune system.

Food allergies

  • For example, anaphylactic shock from being stung by a bee or eating something with peanuts in it.
  • Food allergies can restrict the ability to breathe and can even be life-threatening.
  • In their less severe form, they look like things like hivesfacial swelling, or itchiness.

Poor pupper doing a scritch scrotch.

  • Food allergies sometimes come with vomiting or diarrhea, but not always.

Food Sensitivity

  • Unlike with food allergies, food sensitivities are not caucommsed by the immune system not liking the food.
  • Think lactose intolerance in humans.
  • Food sensitivity is a chronic condition.
  • It often looks like diarrheawith or without vomitingthe next day.
  • It can also look like skin problems or itchy coat.
  • Also be on the lookout for chronic foot/ear infections. 

OK, but what are some common food allergens?

There are roughly seven possible allergy-inducers to keep an eye on:

  1. Beef
    1. This ingredient is common in most pet foods, which is probably the reason why it is a common possible allergen. Also, proteins are common allergens.
    2. Feeding the pet the same ingredients for years straight can increase the likelihood of them developing allergies to those ingredients. Hence, you might want to look into rotating the ingredients periodically.
  2. Dairy
    1. In most cases, this is just a plain intolerance (literally lactose intolerance)!
    2. However, it may also be allergy.
      1. If your doggo faces immediate skin itchiness (or something similar), the doggo might have dairy allergy.
      2. Lactose intolerance is purely about indigestiondiarrhea, and/or vomiting
  3. Wheat
    1. Contrary to popular belief, allergies to meat are much more common than allergies to wheat. In fact, wheat allergies are probably as rare as a serious problem from a vaccine.
    2. You should avoid cutting wheat out of your doggo’s diet via a grain-free diet unless you’re 100% certain that wheat is causing allergy in your doggo.
    3. Check with your vet or pet nutritionist about this, as allergens are diagnosed best on an individual basis.
  4. Eggs
    1. It’s the proteins in the yolk that would be causing this allergy
    2. This allergen is easy to avoid. Just check the food label.
  5. Chicken
    1. Same rules apply here as with beef and lamb.
  6. Lamb
    1. Most commercial dog foods were made with beef and chicken.
    2. Hence, lamb was considered an allergy-free alternative to beef and chicken based dog foods.
    3. Sadly, it may also cause allergies. The best way to find out is by trial and elimination.
  7. Soy


    1. Not a very common allergen but an allergen nonetheless

Oh my god, I’m scared to feed my dog ANYTHING now!!

Don’t be. For one, food allergies are very rare. Your doggo is much more likely to catch an allergy from fleas or the environment than from dog food. Amongst the food allergy cases, animal proteins are the most common allergen, but that’s likely because meat is the most common ingredient in dog food. That being said, there is no diet you can feed your doggo that is 100% devoid of any chance of allergy. However there are some foods that carry less risk than others. You’ll just have to trial different diets with your doggo, teasing out culprits, and discuss those with your vet or pet nutritionist. In fact, common practice is to rotate chickenbeef, and lamb, feeding the doggo nothing but a diet based on that ingredient, to find out which ingredient(s) to avoid.

You might see people out in the wild advertising that they have tests that can tell you right away what the allergens are (if there are any at all). Don’t fall for them. They are ripoffs. We will NEVER promote such bullshit.

OK, but which allergens are most common?

According to the available research, there are four allergens that are most common. They are: chicken, beef, dairy, and egg.

Your doggo’s probably going to be OK

Dog food allergies can and do happen, but they are very rare. No one dog food is 100% free of any risk of allergy, but that’s OK, because of how rare dog food allergies happen. It’s also quite easy for something that looks like dog food allergy to be something else completely: dog food intolerance. That being said, we can help you find the brands and types of dog food that are least likely to induce allergic reaction!

Mike Warren

4 Comments

  1. Hi Mike, my dog had a bad reaction when I changed her dog food brand. Like you mention here, I will presume that she must have had an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients. Do you have suggestions on how to overcome this in the future? I bought a 55 lb bag of dog food and it would be a shame to waste it. Any help would be very much appreciated, thank you!

  2. This is an interesting post. I know that I always say my dog is allergic to everything. Anytime she eats anything outside of her normal diet she starts to itch more than normal. However, I think her skins is just sensitive because she is a golden retriever.

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