Food allergies under investigation

Itchy skin, upset tummy, weight loss? These can all be symptoms caused by diet – although there could be many other reasons why your pet is out of sorts and you should always ask your vet for advice. But if you suspect food could be the issue, where do you start? Food allergies and food intolerance are two different conditions
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4th September 2019

Itchy skin, upset tummy, weight loss? These can all be symptoms caused by diet – although there could be many other reasons why your pet is out of sorts and you should always ask your vet for advice. But if you suspect food could be the issue, where do you start?

Food allergies and food intolerance are two different conditions which often have similar symptoms. While they are both examples of adverse food reactions, food allergies involve the animal’s immune system while food intolerances do not. 

Food allergy or hypersensitivity

This occurs when a particular component of food (usually a protein) triggers the susceptible animal’s immune system to react, for example, cells may release histamine which causes itching.

Food or dietary intolerance

This occurs when something in the food doesn’t agree with the animal’s body but does not trigger the immune system to react. For example, a dog may not be able to digest cow’s milk well.

Some common signs of adverse food reactions

Digestive upsets and Itchy skin (also known as pruritus) are the most common symptoms of an adverse food reaction, although ear problems can also occur in some dogs. However, it’s important to remember that these are all symptoms that can also develop from non-food allergies as well. 

Itchy skin is a prime example. People often assume it’s caused by a food allergy, but, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA), true food allergies in cats and dogs are relatively rare. They are responsible for only 1% of all skin diseases in dogs and are only the third most common occurring skin allergy after flea-allergy and atopy (sensitivity to an environmental trigger such as grass, dust or pollen).


Keep a close eye on your pet’s appetite, energy level, stool quality and body condition. If you notice any changes, speak to your vet. Some pets may have special nutritional needs, or develop one at some stage of their life, for which special diets might be available. 

Elimination diet trial

Allergies and intolerances in animals can be difficult to pin down and gaining an accurate diagnosis may take time. If your vet suspects your pet suffers from an adverse food reaction, they will put a plan of action together for you to work through together to try and find out what the cause is. 

This will likely include an elimination diet trial, which will remove suspected food allergens from the diet for an extended period of time. The overall aim is to identify the suspect food so you can avoid feeding it to your pet. Keeping a food diary and recording changes in your pet’s condition is an important part of the diagnosis process. The final step of an elimination diet trial is ‘challenging’ your pet with a food allergen to see if a reaction occurs. 

Types of elimination diets

There are a few options and your vet can help you decide which is the most appropriate:

  • Hydrolysed diets are supplied by your vet and are composed of very small protein molecules. The aim is for these small molecules not to be recognised by the immune system, reducing the risk of an allergic reaction.
  • Novel protein diets include a single protein source which the pet has never eaten before and therefore hasn’t developed an allergy to. Examples of novel proteins include salmon, venison and whitefish, or even kangaroo.
  • Home-made diets are another option to control the ingredients in your pet’s food. Preparing these can be time consuming and difficult to balance, meaning they frequently provide inadequate long-term nutrition. For this reason, home-made diets are often used as a temporary measure until the right pet food product is identified.


Prepared pet foods are designed to meet the nutritional needs of the species they are aimed for and are subject to stringent legislation to ensure quality and safety. At Burgess, all our pet food is produced in line with FEDIAF (the European Pet Food Industry Federation) nutritional guidelines. 

Always seek the best nutrition advice

Food allergies and intolerances can be serious medical conditions, affecting the health and wellbeing of your pet, therefore it’s essential to seek professional veterinary advice. It’s also important to read your pet’s food labels carefully. To understand your pet food labels, check out the PFMA Labelling Factsheet.

Have you tried our Sensitive Dog Food range?

Burgess Sensitive is available for adult dogs from 12 months and puppies and is made from the finest ingredients to ensure excellent quality and taste. We use simple, highly digestible proteins to keep your pets healthy on the inside and out. Our unique recipes are free from the usual ingredients that can upset your dog's stomach making it ideal for those with a sensitive digestion. Free from artificial flavours and colours and with no added preservatives, it contains rich sources of Omega 3 help maintain a healthy digestion, healthy skin and shiny coat.

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