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Wheat Allergy and Your Canine Companion

Wheat Allergy in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments

Wheat allergy in dogs is sensitivity to wheat. Dogs are sensitive to the complex array of proteins in wheat or gluten, the leading wheat protein. 

Grain allergy differs from wheat allergy. Dogs allergic to wheat are safe to eat grains such as rye and barley. Dogs sensitive to gluten are safe to eat gluten-free grains like oats, quinoa, and amaranth. 

The exact cause of wheat allergy is unknown, with genetics suspected to play a role. The main types of wheat allergy in dogs are stomach upset, itchiness, poor coat condition, foot chewing, chronic ear infections, and weight loss. 

Diagnosing wheat allergies is challenging and requires feeding a strict diet for two months. The process is called a food trial and helps identify grain allergy in dogs. 

At-home saliva and hair tests for food allergies are available but are generally inaccurate and must not be used as a mainstream diagnosis. 

Eliminating wheat from the diet is the treatment for dogs with wheat allergies. Anti-itch medications, antimicrobials, and topical soothing treatments are recommended until the dog wheat allergy symptoms resolve. 

What is Wheat Allergy in Dogs?

Wheat allergy in dogs is sensitivity to wheat or wheat gluten. Dogs are sensitive to wheat as a whole or gluten specifically. Wheat contains different proteins, including gluten.

A dog allergic to wheat is not always allergic to gluten, but all gluten-intolerant dogs are allergic to wheat. Wheat allergies are rare compared to other food-related kind of allergies in dogs.  

Wheat is responsible for 13% of food allergy cases in dogs, according to a study, “Critically Appraised Topic on Adverse Food Reactions of Companion Animals (2): Common Food Allergen Sources in Dogs and Cats,” published in BMC Veterinary Research in 2016. 

The study found that beef, dairy, and chicken are more common food allergy culprits, causing reactions in 34%, 17%, and 15% of cases, respectively. 

What Caused Wheat Allergy in Dogs?

Wheat allergies in dogs are caused when the immune system misidentifies the proteins found in wheat as a threat. The dog’s immune system then produces antibodies and attacks the wheat protein. 

The exact reason why the immune system mistakenly triggers an attack is unidentified. Genetics is believed to play a role since dog wheat allergy is often inherited. 

Human studies have demonstrated that malnutrition contributes to wheat allergies. A significant association between allergic diseases and malnutrition was reported in a study, “Contribution of Early Nutrition on the Development of Malnutrition and Allergic Diseases in the First Year of Life: a Study Protocol for the Mother and Infant Cohort Study (MICOS)” published in BMC Pediatrics in 2018. 

The correlation between wheat allergy and dog malnutrition needs to be better studied. Puppies with wheat allergies experience poor nutrient absorption, which results in malnutrition.  

Does a wheat allergy mean that the dog is also allergic to all types of grains?

No, a wheat allergy does not mean that the dog is also allergic to all types of grains. A wheat allergy means the dog is allergic to wheat-containing grains and products. 

Examples of wheat include bran, farro, bulgar, couscous, semolina, durum wheat, kamut (spelt), modified starch, and cereal binder. 

Non-wheat grains with gluten, such as barley and rye, are safe for dogs allergic to wheat. Dogs allergic to wheat gluten must stick to non-wheat and gluten-free grains.  

Nonwheat, gluten-free grains include quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, oats, corn, and brown rice. 

What are Different Grains are Not Good for Dogs with Grain Allergy?

The different grains that are not good for dogs with grain allergies are listed below. 

  • Wheat: Wheat is a cereal grain containing gluten. Dogs are sensitive to wheat proteins in gluten, one of the several proteins found in wheat. 
  • Corn: Corn is a cereal staple. The main allergenic protein present in corn is called zein. Dogs sensitive to zein are allergic to fresh corn and corn-based products. 
  • Barley: Barley is an edible grass family member that contains gluten. Dogs with grain allergies react to barley itself or the gluten content present in the barley cereal. 
  • Rye: Rye is a gluten-inclusive grain that contains several types of allergens, such as secalin, profilin, and alpha-amylases/trypsin inhibitors. 

Can Dogs Have Ear Infection Because of Wheat Allergy?

Yes, dogs can have ear infections because of wheat allergy. Ear infections occur in 65-80% of dogs with underlying food allergies, according to a report on “Ear Infections in Dogs” by VCA Hospitals. 

Allergies disrupt the normal skin barrier and cause inflammation. The bacteria and yeast in the dog’s ears are balanced. Yeasts multiply when the skin barrier is damaged, and inflammation occurs, causing dog ear infections

The medical term for ear infections in dogs is otitis. The ear infection triggered by allergies is called allergic otitis. 

Ear infections are often a secondary symptom of underlying allergies, states a study, “Aetiology of Canine Otitis Externa: A Retrospective Study of 100 Cases,” in Veterinary Dermatology in 2007. 

What are Dog Wheat Allergy Symptoms?

The dog wheat allergy symptoms are listed below. 

  • Stomach Upset: Diarrhea, mucus in the stool, loose stool, vomiting, gassiness, bloat, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain are signs of stomach irritation. Stomach upset is one of the most common dog wheat allergy symptoms. 
  • Skin Irritation: Intense itching and scratching are typical in dogs with food allergies. The itching is destructive and disrupts the dog’s everyday activities. Flaky and dry skin riddled with rashes and bumps is widespread. 
  • Poor Coat Condition: Dogs with wheat allergies do not absorb nutrients from the food properly, resulting in poor coat quality. Signs include dull, broken, and lackluster coats. The intense scratching contributes to coat damage and unkempt appearance. 
  • Foot Chewing: A telltale sign of wheat or gluten intolerance in dogs is paw pad inflammation. The paw pads get itchy, red, and swollen, and dogs obsessively lick or chew their paws to soothe the irritation. 
  • Chronic Ear Infection: Wheat and gluten consumption in sensitive dogs triggers yeast build-up, resulting in chronic or frequent ear infections. Head shaking and dark, smelly wax are signs of ear infections or otitis. 
  • Weight Loss: Poor nutrient absorption in wheat-allergic dogs causes weight loss. Wheat allergies are likely if the dog eats its usual food portion but rapidly loses weight. The stomach upset episodes contribute to weight loss. 

How to Know if a Dog Has a Grain Allergy?

To know if a dog has a grain allergy, follow the instructions below. 

    1. Monitor the Dog. Keep a close eye on the dogs and carefully look for signs of food allergy. Stomach upset episodes, recurrent ear infections, itchiness, and paw chewing are common red flags. 
    2. Check the Dog Food Label. Read the dog food label to check if the formula includes specific types of grains. Pay special attention to whether the grains in the dog food contain gluten. 
    3. Conduct a Food Trial. Feed the dog a strict diet for eight weeks. Monitor the dog to see if the symptoms subside, then re-introduce the old food to determine if a food allergy is the culprit. 
    4. Consult the Veterinarian. Different types of allergies co-exist in the same dog in many cases. Consult the vet and ask for additional tests to determine if other sensitivities complicate the dog’s food allergy.  

How does Wheat Allergy Affect your Dog?

Wheat allergy affects your dog by making it uncomfortable and interfering with daily activities. 

Stomach upset and poor nutrient absorption cause poor coat condition and weight loss. Puppies experience growth stagnation and have trouble putting on weight. 

The skin irritation and itchiness make the dog scratch itself or chew on its paws. The effects of itchiness range from disruptive to destructive. 

A dog that wakes up to scratch itself has a disruptive effect. The scratching damages the skin, increasing the risk of secondary skin infections, which has a destructive impact on the dog’s immune system. 

How to Diagnose Wheat Allergy for Dogs?

To diagnose wheat allergy for dogs, follow the instructions below. 

  1. Create a Food Spreadsheet. Make a spreadsheet of all the dog's regular foods. The list must be detailed, including treats, supplements, homeopathic remedies, and mainstream medications. 
  2. Find an Alternative Diet. Consider hydrolyzed or novel protein diets for the food trial. Hydrolyzed diets contain proteins broken down into tiny pieces that the dog’s immune system is unable to register. Novel diets comprise exotic proteins the dog has never tasted, like kangaroo, alligator, or ostrich. 
  3. Avoid OTC Diets for Allergies. Do not use over-the-counter formulas when conducting food trials. Food labels are misleading and fail to represent the entire ingredient list. “In 9 of 10 over-the-counter diets, DNA of one or more animal species other than declared on the label was identified,” reports a study, “Detection of DNA from Undeclared Animal Species in Commercial Elimination Diets for Dogs Using PCR,” published in Veterinary Dermatology in 2017. 
  4. Follow the Elimination Process. Choose between a hydrolyzed protein diet and a novel protein diet and follow the plan. The elimination process lasts around 8 weeks. Over 80% of dogs show improvement in skin issues by week 5 of the elimination diet, according to a study “Critically Appraised Topic on Adverse Food Reactions of Companion Animals (1): Duration of Elimination Diets” published in BMC Veterinary Research in 2015. 
  5. Stay Consistent with the Plan. Stick to the feeding plan and do not give the dog anything other than the elimination diet. Refrain from giving treats, table scraps, dental chews, flavored supplements, and flavored medications, such as dewormers and anti-flea chews. 
  6. Reintroduce Suspected Allergen. Give the dog a small amount of the suspected wheat allergen. A flare-up in the dog’s allergy symptoms following the wheat challenge confirms the wheat allergy diagnosis. The reintroduction of suspected offending foods into the food trial is called the challenge phase. 
  7. Do Not Use At-Home Food Allergy Tests. Do not waste money on at-home (hair and saliva) tests for food allergies in dogs. Hair and saliva testing should not be used to diagnose allergies and is not a substitute for veterinary-directed allergy evaluation and diagnostics,states a study, “Hair and Saliva Test Fails to Identify Allergies in Dogs,” published in The Journal of Small Animal Practice, in 2018. 

What are Treatments for Dog Wheat Allergy?

The treatment for dog wheat allergy is removing wheat and wheat-inclusive products from the diet. Food allergies cause secondary symptoms that require proper treatment. 

For example, itchiness takes up to three months to resolve. Dogs need an anti-itch solution to manage symptoms during that time. Popular anti-itching solutions include Atopica, Apoquel, and Cytopoint. 

The veterinarian prescribes antibiotics or antifungals if the excessive scratching disrupts the skin barrier and causes secondary skin infections. 

Topical treatments, like shampoos, sprays, and ointments, are used to soothe skin irritation, and ear drops and cleansing products to manage ear infections. 

Supplements like CBD oil and probiotics are important aspects of treating food allergies in dogs. CBD oil helps soothe irritation, and probiotics promote nutrient absorption. 

Are Wheat Allergies Common for Most Types of Breeds?

No, wheat allergies are not common for most breeds. The principal wheat protein is gluten. Gluten allergies are highly prevalent in Irish Setters and Border Terriers. 

Dog breeds generally susceptible to food allergies are predisposed to wheat allergies. Examples of dogs prone to wheat allergy include Labrador Retrievers, West Highland Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels. Wheat allergies develop in all dog breeds with a lower incidence. 

What Dog Breeds Mostly Have Wheat Allergy?

The dog breeds that mostly have a wheat allergy are listed below. 

  • Irish Setters: Irish Setters are genetically allergic to gluten, one of the proteins found in wheat. Typical allergy symptoms in the breed include appetite loss, chronic diarrhea, and weight loss. Irish Setter puppies with wheat allergy experience retarded growth.  
  • Border Terriers: Border Terriers have a specific type of gluten allergy or syndrome known as paroxysmal gluten-sensitive dyskinesia (PGSD). The condition manifests with self-limiting episodes of abnormal movement during which the dog is conscious. 
  • Labrador Retrievers: Labrador Retrievers are the most affected breed regarding dog allergies. Food allergies, including wheat, are widespread among breed members and frequently coexist with canine atopic dermatitis. 
  • West Highland White Terriers: Food (wheat) allergies are widespread in older Westies. Over 25% of the breed population has allergies, according to the article “Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals,” issued by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in 2011. 
  • Cocker Spaniels: Cocker Spaniels are generally prone to allergies and are particularly sensitive to food and environmental allergens. Considering the breed’s ear anatomy, ear infections are the most common allergy sign in Cocker Spaniels.    

How can CBD Oil Help Wheat Allergy in Dogs?

CBD oil can help wheat allergy in dogs by modulating immunity, reducing inflammation, and soothing skin irritation and itchiness. 

Taking CBD orally modifies the dog's immune system and relieves itching. CBD soothes the irritation and reduces inflammation in dogs when applied topically on sore skin. 

CBD manages the dog wheat allergy symptoms, but a veterinarian must approve its use. Pets undergoing food trials are not allowed to take supplements, including CBD oil for dogs allergies.

Dog CBD is safe to use before the food trial begins for symptom relief and after the trial ends to promote overall wellness.  

Are Wheat Allergies Only Common for Puppies?

No, wheat allergies are not common only for puppies. Dog food allergies do not have an age limit. Wheat allergies in dogs manifest in puppyhood, adulthood, or during the dog’s senior years. 

Grains, including wheat, are a common ingredient in dog food. Dogs are gradually exposed to excess amounts of grains over time. Wheat allergies develop at any age based on eating habits.  

For example, it is possible for a dog to eat wheat-inclusive dog food for five years without an incident and then develop a wheat allergy at the age of five.