Common Pet Food Allergies: How a Rotational Diet Can Help

Food allergies are a common pet ailment that can lead to a whole list of symptoms that will bother your pet.  According to, food allergies account for about 10% of all allergies in dogs and cats and are responsible for 40% of itchy skin in dogs and over 55% in cats.

Some of the more common symptoms of food allergies include:

  • Digestion problems including gas or diarrhea
  • Itchy skin
  • Red, irritated eyes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Swollen paws
  • Hair loss

Common Pet Food Allergens

In 2006, Verlinden A., Hesta M., Millet S., et al reported on the most common pet food allergies. Their results are shown in the table below.  It is interesting to note that the most common allergens are also the most common pet food ingredients and ones that are served repeatedly to pets over the course of their lifespans.

Common Pet Food Allergies

Dogs ( sample = 198)

Cats (sample =89)

Beef (36%)

Beef (20%)

Dairy (28%)

Dairy (14.6%)

Wheat (15%)

Fish (13%)

Egg (10%)

Lamb (6.7%)

Chicken (9.6%)

Poultry (4.5%)

Lamb (6.6%)

Wheat (4.5%)

Soy (6%)


Source: 2006, Verlinden A., Hesta M., Millet S., et al. Food allergy in dogs and cats: A Review

As common as food allergies are, in most cases, your pet was not necessarily born with sensitivities to specific foods.  Rather, they can develop a food reaction over time.  According to Dr. Karen Becker, “If your pet has been eating the same food every day for months or years, there's a good chance she's developed an allergy to it.”  Like us, Dr. Becker is a proponent of providing your pet with a variety of foods over their lifetime as opposed to feeding your pet the same food for long periods of time.

A diverse diet consisting of varied proteins and food brands and recipes is critical to keeping your pet healthy and allergy free.  First of all, by rotating the protein sources in food, you can reduce the risk of your pet developing an allergy to it.  Secondly, by switching recipes and brands, you can ensure that your pet is receiving a diversified assortment of nutrients over time.  Commercially available pet food is formulated to meet minimum AAFCO nutritional requirements but this does not guarantee that a specific food is right for your pet!

Rotating a protein source and food recipe every 2-3 months (which is the same period of time used for elimination diets that are used to isolate food allergies) is a strategy that makes sense.  But beware of the potential food label traps.  For example, if you are moving your pet off of a chicken based diet, you will need to read the label of the replacement food to make sure that there is no chicken in the replacement.  We examined dog food recipe names and compared them to the full ingredient lists and found that while 24% of all dog food recipe names contain “chicken”, a full 69% of all foods contain some form of chicken.  Choosing a food based on the name alone will not guarantee that you will eliminate an ingredient from your pet’s diet.

References and Further Reading:

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