Read time: 8 mins
21 Dec 2019
Food intolerances can present themselves in lots of different ways. Your dog might be itchy, sneeze more than usual, have rashes on their skin, have a dull coat or start biting or licking themselves excessively. Intolerances can also cause vomiting and diarrhoea – which can be a pretty uncomfortable time for your furry friend, and upsetting for you too.
Some breeds are more prone to intolerances than others – German Shepherds or English Bulldogs, for example. But all dogs can develop an intolerance at one point or another. As a pet parent, you'll be trying to ease your dog's discomfort by figuring out what the issue is. But the question is where to start?
When humans and dogs alike have particular physical reactions to certain foods, it is quickly branded food allergy. However, this is often confused with food intolerance, as the symptoms of both can be very similar.
A food allergy can have detrimental effects on the immune system. Thankfully, unlike peanuts ingested by a human with an allergy, it won't be fatal for dogs. A food intolerance, on the other hand, may affect the skin or digestive system. Whilst intolerances should still be taken seriously, the lack of clarity between the two can cause a spread of misinformation that dogs have certain ‘allergies’.
If you notice your dog displaying any of the following symptoms, they could have an intolerance to a particular food that they’re eating or certain environmental factors (such as dust and pollen).
• Excessive or foul smelling gas
• Runny nose
• Red eyes (with frequent itching)
• Red, inflamed skin (or rash)
• Constant licking
If you consider their ancestral history, dogs went from being undomesticated and wild animals, to vital cogs in the hunting wheel, to full-time cuddle companions. Their evening meal once consisted of whatever they could get their paws on during a scavenge.
Fast forward to now and they’ve become food connoisseurs, even turning their noses up at some dishes. This change in evolutionary eating habits have meant that dogs can be more susceptible to food intolerances, as their immune systems no longer have to build up defences to a diet of forest finds.
Some common food intolerances found in dogs today are:
It is worth noting that a lot of these intolerances are born out of lack of variety. If you opt to feed your dog the same single-source protein for years, for example dog food containing chicken, and then suddenly introduce beef into the mix, it is likely that they will display symptoms of intolerance. This is because their body does not yet have the knowledge of how to break this food down.
Introducing new foods gradually in small amounts is less likely to trigger side effects.
Historically, dogs weren’t known to chug down a pint of milk with their evening meal. Nor were they partial to a snack of cheese and crackers. For this reason, their bodies have not needed to evolve to break down the proteins found in dairy products. Puppies also lose the ability to digest or break-down lactose soon after weaning. As dogs have become more domesticated, humans have been introducing these products into their diet.
Similarly to humans, dairy products can provide some benefits to dogs, such as boosting calcium intake for the maintenance of strong bones. However, where we differ is in volume. If dairy products are included within a dog’s diet, the portion sizes should be very small.
We would generally recommend avoiding feeding your dog dairy products yourself, instead opting for a dog food that is specially formulated to include dairy products in controlled amounts.
Lactose intolerance can vary among different dogs, with some showing major signs of intolerance and others remaining fairly unaffected by its consumption.
Depending on what you currently feed your dog, there could be a few things causing the problem. Here are three steps to help you and your dog find food harmony.
• Find the cause of the intolerance by working closely with your vet and dog food provider to establish an elimination diet plan
• Test new hypoallergenic foods to explore ingredients which don’t trigger intolerance symptoms (ensure to do so gradually, as introducing new foods too quickly can cause nasty side effects)
• Medication may be required for extreme cases where symptoms, such as inflammation, are not subsiding
You might have seen dog food labelled as ‘hypoallergenic’, but what does this mean? Well, it refers to food that’s designed to reduce the chance of allergic reactions.
Hypoallergenic foods stay away from ingredients like wheat, corn and soy. These ingredients are really commonly used as ‘fillers’ in commercial dog food but can be difficult to digest. In particular, dry kibble tends to contain lots of carbohydrates, as this helps the pellets stick together. Dry food may also contain another, invisible allergen in the shape of storage mites. These tiny creatures only live on dry foods, never on fresh, and can cause a reaction in your dog.
Dogs can also be intolerant to certain meat, including poultry, beef, lamb and fish. Lots of commercial dog foods are made from meat meal or rendered meats and may contain a variety of proteins. This can make it quite difficult to figure out what exactly it is that your dog’s stomach disagrees with.
The best way to rule out sore stomachs is to provide food that includes only one meat protein. At Butternut Box, we use human-quality meat – just high-quality chicken, beef, lamb or turkey. We’re also careful about cross-contamination, so we clean our kitchen when we go from cooking one meal to another.
In fact, we're a bit obsessive about this – going so far as to take DNA swabs between each meat meal preparation to rule out crossover. So if it turns out your pooch has an allergy to chicken, we'll never send you our Chicken You Out. Besides, there are lots of other options on the menu to choose from.
Butternut Box has been carefully created to avoid known allergens – including all the nasties that can wreak havoc on your dog's digestion. Instead, we stick to simple but tasty ingredients like freshly prepared meat, nutritious veg, lentils, quinoa, flaxseed and minerals. There’s lots of lovely fibre in there to make your dog’s tum happy, and some complex carbs to keep their energy up.
If you’ve decided to make the switch to limited ingredient food like Butternut Box, take things slowly. A gradual transition is much better for your dog’s stomach, especially if they’re the sensitive type. Getting used to fresh meals can take some time, so it helps to mix your pet's old and new foods together for a week or so until they’re eventually only eating our tasty and healthy meals. That way, you’re less likely to cause stomach upsets. Skipping the treats during this time will also help you confirm that any positive changes are due to the food.
To help you out during this process, we include a handy guide to transitioning in your first Butternut Box. This contains lots of helpful pointers on how to manage the dietary change while keeping your dog's tummy happy and their tail wagging.
Here at Butternut Box, we are very wary of using the term ‘allergy’. This is because allergies typically mean that certain foods have to be eliminated from a dog’s diet. Some common ‘allergies’ include certain veg, as well as beef and chicken, two incredibly beneficial sources of protein which provide much need nutrients of a dog’s diet.
We got a little bit curious about the customers that reported to us that their dog had particular allergies to things like peas, a common nutritious ingredient found in dog food. Most of these customers had found out about these allergies by conducting an at-home allergy testing kit.
Eager to find out more, we decided to try them out. Our in-house vet Ciara was already aware of negative speculation among the professional community regarding the validity of these tests. Our test was simple. We took one of our loyal customers Lucy, a Cavapoo with no known allergies, a stuffed teddy bear and plain water, all three of which would provide samples for allergy testing. Yes, we know it sounds strange to test a teddy bear and plain water for allergies, but they are exactly what we needed to confirm our suspicions.
The test results revealed that Lucy’s fur had several food intolerances, including beef, broccoli and bran. A strange result given that Lucy has never displayed any symptoms of intolerances (diarrhoea, itchiness) when eating these foods previously.
Even more strangely, the teddy bear’s fur also showed several intolerances, including beef, turkey, lamb liver and quinoa. The test also suggested that the teddy bear had multiple environmental intolerances, such as dust, wasps, clover, beech trees and wool. A teddy bear can’t have intolerances.
The strangest of all, even the plain water had intolerances, including rosemary, green peas, salmon, corn and wheat. Plain water definitely can’t have intolerances.
These tests were conducted using two of the UK’s largest pet allergy testing sites, both of which come at a price point of between £50 and £100.
Results which flag intolerances in dogs can cause worry and anxiety in owners. Given the results of our testing, we would urge pet parents to avoid these allergy testing kits. They are producing inaccurate test results which are leading to the elimination of certain foods in dog’s diets which actually provide key nutrients.
Rather than disregarding foods in their entirety, we suggest that pet parents try to introduce foods gradually to a dog’s diet to minimise the risk of nasty symptoms. If they are still showing signs of intolerance you can work with your vet, or dog food provider (such as Butternut Box) to establish an elimination diet plan.