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By Ness Bird RVN
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:
1) Food Allergy / Food Hypersensitivity – this is a true allergy which is defined as an immune response to
an ingredient (usually a protein source).
2) Dietary or Food Intolerance – this is an adverse reaction due to non-immunologic mechanisms.
Diagram 1: Different types of adverse reaction to food
By Ness Bird RVN
Food anaphylaxis = an acute allergic reaction to an ingredient, usually manifesting in swelling of
the face, lips, ears, tongue and throat. Hives (skin weals) may also be evident.
Dietary indiscretion = describes an adverse reaction to food resulting from scavenging, overeating or ingestion of indigestible material.
Metabolic food reaction = an adverse reaction to a food or food additive as a result of the effect
of the substance on the animal’s metabolism; e.g. lactase deficiency.
Food idiosyncracy = an abnormal response that resembles a food allergy but does not involve
immune mechanisms.
Pharmacologic food reaction = an adverse reaction to a food or additive as a result of a naturally
derived or added chemical that produces a drug-like or pharmacologic effect in the animal.
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 / antiinflammatory 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.
By Ness Bird RVN
With adverse food reactions your dog may exhibit one or more of these signs : Gastrointestinal Symptoms Loose stools / diarrhoea*
Increased frequency of passing motions*
Increased stool volume*
Vomiting *
Bad breath
* may also be indicative of over-feeding
Skin Conditions Skin inflammation (especially ears, face, feet, armpits and / or groin)
Hair loss
Scaly, dry skin / dandruff
Changes in the skin pigmentation
Oral ulceration
Behavioural Problems Eating unusual objects (e.g. stones, excessive amounts of grass, sticks, tissues)
Coprophagia (i.e. eating faeces)
Lack of concentration and difficult to train
Over-excitement and taking a long time to calm down
Irritability for no apparent reason
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
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.
By Ness Bird RVN
Treatment of Adverse Food Reactions
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.
By Ness Bird RVN
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.
Antioxidant Preservatives
Butylated Hydroxyanisole – BHA*
Butylated Hydroxytolulene – BHT*
*Often listed as EU or EC permitted antioxidants or preservatives
Antimicrobial Preservatives
Sodium nitrite
Propylene glycol
Colouring Agents / Preservatives
Azo dyes – Tartrazine, Sunset yellow, Allura red
Nonazo dyes – Brilliant blue, Indigotin
Flavours / Flavour Enhancers
Monosodium glutamate
Avoid any artificial
flavourings and
Emulsifying Agents / Stabilisers / Thickeners
Seaweed extracts – Carrageenan, Alginates
Seed gums – Guar gum
Note: These additives have been known to cause adverse dietary reactions in humans, but there are is no documented
evidence that they cause the same reactions in animals.
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 recommends 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.
Wheat gluten
Dairy Products
Feed only hypoallergic dog food
and treats
Note: Avoid pet foods listing ‘cereals’ as an ingredient as these usually chiefly contain wheat
By Ness Bird RVN
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 since many
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 pork and beef sausages) also contain high histamine levels and
therefore should be avoided.
Milk, fermented cheeses and yoghurt
Liver (especially pigs’ liver)
Tomato, spinach & avocado
Tinned / processed fish
Sardines (fresh or canned)
Dishes containing spices (e.g. curry, chilli)
Processed meats; especially pork and beef sausages
Grapes, chocolate and onion – these are TOXIC to dogs
Your dog may love human food but make
sure you are not giving inappropriate foods
that can upset the digestion
It is a common myth that dogs allergic to chicken protein are also allergic to chicken fat or oil.
This is not the case since a true food allergy is an immune response to a protein. The high
quality poultry oil in Arden Grange pet foods is easily digestible and acceptable to even the
most sensitive digestion.
By Ness Bird RVN
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.
It is not unusual for the skin to become very scurfy during the initial phase of exclusion. This is a sign that
the body is detoxifying itself from the ingredients it is unable to digest and properly metabolise. 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.
Some final handy tips
Adverse dietary reactions can be exacerbated by stress and over-excitement, since
the immune response is impaired when an animal is suffering from stress. Try to keep
your dog to a routine and provide a calm environment particularly during feeding
A small meal is more easily digestible than a large one. Arden Grange recommends
the feeding of several small meals throughout the day if an animal is suffering from
symptoms that may be associated with an adverse food reaction.
Excess fermentation can occur in food stuffs that are improperly stored. It is
especially important that animals suspected to be suffering from adverse dietary
reactions are fed food that has been stored correctly. Arden Grange pet foods should
be stored in airtight contains in order to prevent them from becoming moist from
humidity or condensation.
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.
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.
For more information about the Arden Grange Range, please contact:
Tel: +44 (0) 1273 833390
Email: [email protected]
Copyright © Ness Bird RVN for Arden Grange, Leander International Pet Foods – June 2006