Every once in a while, we have a customer ask us if gluten could be an issue for their dog. While occurrences are rare, it is possible for your dog to have a gluten sensitivity. More often than not, however, the reason the customer asks this question is because they’re considering putting their dog on a gluten free diet similar to their own. The same can happen with some vegans or vegetarians—they want their dog’s eating habits to be based on the owner’s beliefs or lifestyle. However, dogs have their own dietary needs that may or may not be similar to their human’s! In this article, we will explore what gluten is and what to do if your dog does have an intolerance or allergy. Find out how to kick the wheat out of his meat. Keep the barley away from Farley. Say “goodbye” to the rye. . . . Ok, I’ll stop!
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other cereal grains. Some examples of grains containing gluten include the following: Wheat Rye Barley Oats (if processed in the same facility as wheat or other gluten-containing foods) However, it’s important to realize that some grains are gluten-free, such as these: Corn Quinoa Rice Amaranth Millet Gluten can come from natural sources as well as genetically modified (GMO) sources. You probably hear a lot about GMOs these days; it is thought that GMO glutens likely cause more health problems than those that are found naturally. Check the label of your dog food bag to see what sources of gluten are in your dog’s food.
What are signs of a potential gluten sensitivity in dogs?
These are some symptoms that can tip you off that your pup may have an intolerance:
- Dull, poor coat
- Frequent diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Chronic ear infections
- Red, itchy paws
- Constant chewing or licking of paws
If your dog displays these characteristics, you may want to consider exploring a gluten-free diet for your dog. To find out about other causes of skin irritation, check out these articles.
Why should you identify possible gluten intolerances early?
Over the long term, bouts of battling gluten intolerances or allergies can cause damage to your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Your dog’s immune system essentially attacks his GI tract and as a result, his body may not be able to process and absorb nutrients like it’s supposed to.
Testing your dog for gluten intolerances
Here’s what to expect if you decide to test your dog for a gluten intolerance at the vet. Your vet will ask some questions and inspect your dog for signs of allergies or intolerances, such as runny eyes, itching, dry skin, etc. S/he will rule out other common medical conditions first that may be causing the symptoms. Your vet may run a blood test or ask for a fecal sample to eliminate other problems such as internal parasites or bacterial issues. A radiograph (x-ray) may also be recommended to give the vet a proper look at your dog’s Insides! Once s/he’s examined your pup, the vet may recommend further testing.
For an allergy test ask your vet if they will perform one or recommend someone else to do it. Allergy tests measure reactions and responses to certain stimuli. A true food allergy (as opposed to intolerance) causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. You can also have an intolerance test done. Unlike allergy tests, intolerance tests DO NOT test the interactions with your dog’s immune system. Here’s the difference: An allergy can cause real harm to your dog and may be severe to life-threatening. An Intolerance is less serious and often limited to digestive issues. Food intolerances account for most physical reactions to certain foods or ingredients and are more common than true food allergies. You can run a food intolerance test only, or kill two birds with one stone and test for both food and environmental intolerances. The investment could be worth it to save you the guesswork and hone in on a solution.
Finally, you could opt to DIY and test pup yourself for a gluten intolerance! You can try an elimination diet for your dog by removing common gluten-containing ingredients from her food (see the list above) and watch to see how she reacts. Start with minimal ingredients and monitor your dog. Slowly add in an ingredient or supplement, and monitor some more. Tip: After you’ve removed ingredients, try adding them back to your dog’s food SLOWLY. It can take days or weeks for symptoms to subside or to appear, so be patient. Check out JDWS.com for more information. (Full disclosure, JDWS is a sister company to Just Dog People.)
Recovery from gluten intolerance symptoms and next steps Removing gluten from your dog’s diet should allow for a speedy recovery. If you notice that going gluten-free hasn’t worked and his symptoms remain, it’s time to look elsewhere. Revisit the elimination diet. It may take a few attempts to isolate the right ingredient, so if removing one gluten source makes no difference, try another. If you haven’t already, try an intolerance test. We often find that environmental intolerances can cause similar symptoms as gluten issues:
- Poor coat or fur
- Lackadaisical spirit
- Constant itching or licking
- Weight loss from avoiding foods that are causing the discomfort
You can also try avoiding dairy (milk, cheese, whey, casein, etc.) as dairy is a common sensitivity in dogs. If you are still unsure, please visit your vet or specialist ASAP! Conclusion Sometimes it’s a challenge to find what is causing your dog so much discomfort, which is tough. Be persistent and methodical. The best way to narrow down the problem is through an elimination diet. Removing common sensitivities can be the MOST EFFECTIVE method for discovering what your dog is allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to and helping her find relief!