Canine Skin Problems Caused by Food Allergies

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

Where we live remotely in the Sangre de Cristo mountains (9,800-feet elevation), we have to be constantly aware of our surroundings, especially when it comes to our four German Shepherd dogs. Our veterinarian is 45 miles away, so we need to be familiar as laymen with ailments and conditions that may impact our fur family.

We have had numerous situations over the years where they have needed to be treated professionally for various conditions, such as sebaceous cysts, sudden blindness, teeth extractions, plus the subject of this blog post: skin issues caused by food allergies.

Testing for Allergies in Dogs

Perhaps the most confounding and difficult issue we have had to deal with is food allergies. We have gone through numerous foods over the years and our Bozwell’s skin will clear up and then suddenly he will begin itching, biting, and licking himself again. Dealing with food allergies is a real roller-coaster ride with its ups and downs.

We have had the rather expensive allergy tests done as well as skin scrapings and all came back negative for allergies. When his allergies happen, it is usually after a period of tranquility where he has enjoyed normal life temporarily and then the allergies start all over again.

Food Allergies are Perplexing

We have gone through numerous foods from the most expensive brands to the grocery store variety. He will do well for a while and then serious scratching, licking and hot spots start to manifest again. Food allergies are probably the most perplexing problems of canine ownership we have dealt with. We don’t like to see our fur friends constantly itching or with hot spots and discomfort.

Only one of our four (Bozwell) has food allergies, and it is almost a full-time job to keep him free of the discomfort associated with them.

Dog Food Package Labels are Difficult to Read

Canines seem to manifest irritable symptoms on their skin when they have food allergies. We learned that putting a pinch of oregano on his food once a day helps eliminate his irritation, but it doesn’t totally resolve it. To further compound his food allergies, we are totally confused by the labels on food bags.

In checking his current kibble, it has 57 specific ingredients, including chicken, brown rice, peas, kelp, spinach, carrots, yucca extract, glucosamine, and 49 other seemingly harmless ingredients. It is when I read the multitude of ingredients that I can not pronounce or understand that I get concerned. His allergy tests came back negative for most of the target ingredients but clearly something in his food is causes his problem.

When we read down through the ingredients, I also see metals like zinc, copper, plus several sulfates, so when trying to compare ingredients from bag to bag, my eyes start spinning, along with my mind. Our veterinarian recommendations have been tried along with several other types and brands — all with limited success. Raw or natural feeding is not an option, because of where we live. Our canine family are all inside family members, so we are with them 24/7 and we notice when any scratching or licking becomes abnormal.

Treating Flare Ups

We have had success in treating the affected area topically with neem oil and washing the affected area twice a day with warm, clear water. We also use Vetericyn spray on the real raw areas and other topical sprays like Solarcaine spray with aloe to relieve itching.

These methods all are effective and give Bozwell relief for the symptoms but do not resolve the root cause. If the symptoms are really bad, we treat topically and also with antibiotics prescribed by our veterinarian. We get dazzled by the labels and their multiple ingredients as we seek a new brand of kibble. Changing his diet may work for a few months, but then he starts with the symptoms all over again.

Patience and Persistence

It is a long and difficult process where we are always hoping to find the right product that will provide him lasting relief. It takes patience and perseverance and just when we think we have a solution, the symptoms seem to resume again. Allergy tests cover the most common known food allergies but not all of the components listed on the food ingredient labels. We have eliminated nervous itching or itching from boredom as he is neither. We have been working with our veterinarian throughout regarding this problem, but no permanent solution has been found yet.

The entire purpose of this blog topic is to inform readers that when dealing with food allergies in the canine species there doesn’t seem to be any quick fix short of a miracle. It is a long trial and error process that requires patience and persistence. Oregano helps, but only with the symptoms and not the root cause. For the cause the solution is to change food but additionally not all dogs like all foods which doesn’t make the challenge any easier.

Some Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs

Symptoms of food allergies can be skin irritation, ear infection with frequent head shaking, gastrointestinal upset with vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence and weight loss. Some breeds are predisposed to food allergies and others, like Bozwell, don’t seem to get them until they reach adulthood.

Bozwells symptoms are deep red irritation and rash in the genital area and on his flanks (see photo). His ear tips also become slightly crusted. One veterinarian diagnosed his problem as mites, but we had him checked for those and found he did not have them.

Any canine that has the symptoms of food allergies should have that suspicion confirmed by a veterinarian and start the long process that will give the dog some relief and a better quality of life. Don’t be discouraged when hopeful solutions don’t work, but be willing to persist until you find the one that does work.

I have not had to deal with food allergies in canines before, but as I have gone through various stages of success and failure, I have picked up some insight into the problem. It can be a long haul to find your canine some relief and give them a better quality of life. It is easy to become discouraged while trying to find a resolution, but persistence will be appreciated by your canine fur friend.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lives in the Sangre de Christo mountains of southern Colorado, go to their blog They live in a small cabin with their four German Shepherd Dogs at 9,800 feet elevation. Read all of Bruce’s remote-living blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.

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