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How do I know if it’s an allergy?

Recognizing allergies tends to be a difficult task for some people, especially if the pet presents with atypical symptoms. The simplest way to differentiate between the different causes of itching is to look at the skin, especially the inside of the ears. If the skin is red, enflamed, and breaking out in hot spots, or there is swelling in the face, those may be signs of an allergy, as are hives [2]. If your pet presents with greying of the skin, black buildups in the ears and a general mouldy smell those may be symptoms of yeast candida. Click HERE for our article on yeast candida. If the skin looks dry and flakey that could be signs of a vitamin or mineral deficiency, or a lack of omega 3 in their diet. Some other causes of itching are anxiety, chemical reactions (ie flea drops, household cleaners, etc) and hormonal imbalances. If the symptoms don’t clearly point to any one thing and you want to rule out allergies the simplest way is to give them an antihistamine and see if the symptoms lessen. If you give them an antihistamine that effects both the H1 and H2 receptors and nothing happens then it’s not an allergy and you can move on through the process of elimination to try to find the source.

What’s causing their allergy?

Allergies are either caused by food or the environment. Some environmental allergies will affect them year round where as others will only affect the animal during specific seasons. One thing to note is that animals are not born with allergies, they are developed. This means your pet cannot be allergic to something they’ve never come across, with the exception of related species in severe cases. That means if the chicken allergy is severe enough it could cause an allergy to turkey as well. Many people get allergy tests done that tell them their pets are allergic to all kinds of things they’ve never encountered. This is because allergy tests throw a lot of false positives [1]. According to the Food Allergy Research & Education 50-60% of allergy tests throw false positive results [1]. They can however be intolerant to things they haven’t come across which would just mean they struggle to digest it causing symptoms like the runs [2].

How do I deal with food allergies?

Food allergies are developed by proteins slipping through the intestinal lining which causes the body to recognize those proteins as a threat and become allergic to them. The more processed a protein is the smaller it is making it more likely to pass through the intestinal lining. Some people will notice that although their pet is allergic to a lower quality chicken based food they may not be allergic to a piece of raw chicken. This is because the raw chicken protein is easier to digest compared to the heavily processed chicken.

The first step is to determine what the animal is allergic to. Many people panic and go to an extreme like a vegetarian diet or something like kangaroo. The problem with this is that dogs and cats do not process carbs or plant-based proteins very well and obviously those are the major components of a vegetarian diet. As for novel proteins like kangaroo there is nothing wrong with using different meats, however they also tend to be significantly more expensive. This leads to the company either needing to charge an arm and a leg more for the rare meat diets, or putting in as little meat as possible, making it essentially a flavouring, not the base of the food.

The most common allergies in pets are chicken, corn and wheat [3]. Beef and grains as a whole are also relatively common, but not as common as the first three I mentioned. The reasons for this are that corn, wheat and chicken by-product are the most common ingredients in heavily processed foods. Also, vaccinations are typically grown on a medium made of chicken protein which can cause a chicken allergy. This is why many puppies don’t have any allergies until they go in for their vaccines [4].

Once you’ve determined what causes the allergy it is simply a matter of not feeding them anything with that ingredient in it. I don’t recommend switching to limited ingredient diets as that simply means they don’t add fruits and vegetables which are not likely to be an allergen in the first place as they do not contain a significant amount of protein. If your dog is allergic to chicken or beef, just feed a fish or lamb-based food. If they are allergic to all grains, feed grain free. Even if they are not allergic it is recommended not feed foods that are corn or wheat-based they are not as digestible. Don’t forget though that this applies to treats as well. Many people make the mistake of feeding a good food and then giving the pet treats they are allergic to.

How do I deal with environmental allergies?

Environmental allergies are significantly more difficult then food allergies as you often can’t change the environment. This means you will have to put them on an antihistamine whenever they are going to be in contact with the allergen. In some cases this will only be a couple of months a year, but in others it will be every day.

How are allergies treated typically?

In the case of food allergies people are usually recommended by their vet to feed one of the hypoallergenic prescription pet foods which are typically either vegetarian or potato and a non-chicken protein. The problems with that are that as stated earlier pets don’t process high carb foods like these very well. Instead of simply switching to a good fish-based food like the following:

Fresh pacific salmon, fresh pacific cod, salmon meal, ocean whitefish meal, peas, sweet potatoes, Pacific Cod Vita Cube, flaxseed, salmon oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid), tomato pomace, natural flavour, cod liver, salt, calcium carbonate, yeast culture, dried Saccharomyces cerevisiae fermentation extract, chicory root extract, kelp meal, L-carnitine, blueberries, carob, cranberries, ginger root, apples, dried Lactobacillus fermentation extract, yeast extract, elderberries extract, rosemary extract, thyme extract, Yucca Schidigera extract, carrots, spinach, pumpkins, dehydrated Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dehydrated Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dehydrated Bifidobacterium bifidum thermophilum fermentation product, dehydrated Streptococcus faecium fermentation product, glucosamine, chondroitin, zinc sulphate, ferrous sulphate, vitamin E, zinc proteinate, iron proteinate, niacinamide, calcium pantothenate, copper sulphate, manganous oxide, vitamin A, copper proteinate, riboflavin, thiamine mononitrate, manganese proteinate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin D3, calcium iodate, folic acid, sodium selenite, vitamin B12, green tea extract, turmeric root, fennel, paprika, cayenne [7].

Something like this is usually recommended instead:

Corn starch, hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate [feather meal], coconut oil, soybean oil, natural flavors, potassium phosphate, powdered cellulose, calcium carbonate, sodium silico aluminate, chicory, L-tyrosine, fructooligosaccharides, fish oil, L-lysine, choline chloride, taurine, L-tryptophan, vitamins [DL-alpha tocopherol (source of vitamin E), inositol, niacin, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), D-calcium panthotenate, biotin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavine (vitamin B2), thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), vitamin A acetate, folic acid, vitamin B12 supplement, vitamin D3 supplement], DL-methionine, marigold extract (Tagetes erecta L.), histidine, trace minerals [zinc proteinate, zinc oxide, ferrous sulfate, manganese proteinate, copper proteinate, copper sulfate, manganous oxide, calcium iodate, sodium selenite], rosemary extract, preserved with natural mixed tocopherols and citric acid [8].

The first food would require a 66lbs dog to eat 2 cups per day whereas the second food would require a 66lbs dog to eat 4 ¼ cups per day. Although this may help with the allergy it will cause more strain on the digestive tract, more unhealthy weight gain, etc. An allergy does not mean you have to sacrifice product quality.

Most dogs with allergies, either food or environmental, are prescribed steroids or Apoquel. Apoquel isn’t technically a steroid, but it behaves like one. It is being prescribed as a safer alternative because it has less short-term side effects, however the side effects compound the longer the animal is on it making them more and more likely to see side effects over time. This is because it is an immune suppressant [5]. This means that it will help deal with the symptoms of allergies, such as itching, but will also leave the animal less protected against other potential pathogens. For example, Apoquel is not recommended for dogs under 1 year of age because pneumonia was seeing at an alarming rate in young dogs on Apoquel [5,6].

My massive issue with these treatments is that they aren’t treatments for allergies. For any of you that have allergies this shouldn’t come as a surprise. When humans have allergies we take antihistamines because they block the allergens from binding in the body and causing damage. Steroids just mask the symptoms, so the damage is still being done. I have never gotten an explanation as to why vets don’t prescribe antihistamines very often. Even if you look at it from the financial perspective the pet owners would still have to come back for the antihistamine, so I don’t understand this bizarre treatment choice.

How do I recommend dealing with allergies?

In the case of food allergies I simply recommend feeding good food and treats that don’t contain any ingredients your pet is allergic to. If you need any help figuring out if a food is good or bad please feel free to email us anytime. We stand to gain nothing from recommending a good brand and we have a lot of “behind the scenes” on brands that would be hard to get outside the industry.

As for environmental allergies this is where I do my shameless self-advertising. We make an Allergy Relief product that is an antihistamine that effects both the H1 and H2 receptors. This is similar to Reactin in humans, but the plants we use don’t have any side effects, where as the chemical ones do. Our product can be given to dogs with food allergies to help with the symptoms while you make the change to a different food, but the diet change is by far the most crucial part.

Thank you for reading. This was my first attempt at an article as Julia was very busy. I hope my writing style is fluid and understandable.

Bobby Marr


[2] Food Allergy in Dogs and Cats: A Review,

[3] ELISA testing for common food antigens in four dry dog foods used in dietary elimination trials,

[4] What are the ingredients of vaccines?,

[5] My clinical experience with Apoquel (oclacitinib),

[6] RE: NADA 141-345 APOQUEL® (oclacitinib tablet),

[7] Valens Canine Fisher,

[8] Royal Canin Canine Anallergenic Dry Dog Food,

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