Food Allergies In Dogs And Cats

Updated March 26, 2021

Reactions to food are a major concern to many pet owners. Here’s what we know about food allergies,  which foods cause most of the problems, and what you can do about it.

What Is A Food Allergy?

Strictly speaking, we call them Adverse Food Reactions, including:

  • Food allergy
  • Food intolerance
  • Non-allergic food hypersensitivity

I’ll keep using both ‘food allergy’ & AFR to mean all these things.

What Does Food Allergy look Like?

Food allergies in dogs and cats cannot be distinguished from other allergies. You need your vet to help you decide the cause of your pet’s symptoms. Food allergies aren’t as common as most people think.

Dogs show a range of symptoms including:

  • Itchy skin. Especially armpits, groin, ears and feet.
  • Chronic diarrhoea, vomiting or weight loss (follow the links for other causes).
  • Urticaria (‘hives’) & angiooedema (facial swelling)

Cats with food allergy usually have the following signs:

  • Hair loss from the flanks and belly.
  • Itchy faces (with nasty infected scratch wounds in cats)
  • Pinpoint skin crusts (miliary dermatitis).
  • Chronic diarrhoea, vomiting or weight loss.

Symptoms usually start early in life and are less responsive to treatment than other allergies. Importantly, the cause can be a food that previously was well-tolerated, not necessarily a new food.

Click here to read about non-food causes of allergy in dogs and cats.

Which Foods Are Dogs & Cats Allergic To?

This table shows a summary of many studies on AFRs in dogs and cats (Mueller et al, 2016). There doesn’t appear to be a major culprit. Dogs and cats appear to be reacting to the ingredients already found in their foods, such as beef, chicken, wheat, fish and dairy.

Food% of 297 AFR Dogs% of 78 AFR Cats
Dairy products174
Kidney Bean0.3

Now visit this page for how to test your pet for a food allergy.

Study data used under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

Further Reading

Mueller, R. S., Olivry, T., & Prélaud, P. (2016). Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC veterinary research, 12(1), 1.

Proverbio, D., Perego, R., Spada, E., & Ferro, E. (2010). Prevalence of adverse food reactions in 130 dogs in Italy with dermatological signs: a retrospective study. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 51(7), 370-374.

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.