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Food Allergies & Gut Health in Dogs

Allergies are one of the most common reasons dog owners seek out the assistance of their vet and they appear to becoming more and more prevalent in our pets. 

Food allergies in particular can be a challenging issue to deal with in any dog and can leave many dog owners feeling frustrated and hopeless. 

We teamed up with Animal Naturopath Lyndall Pinchen from Canine Vitality to learn more about food allergies and natural approaches to gut health.

What are food allergies and how to diagnose them?

While statistics show that currently around only 0.2% of dogs suffer from a food allergy - which may not seem like a lot, for those dogs who do have food allergy problems, the road ahead can often seem a long one. 

Traditional veterinary treatments are focused on allergy testing, medications such as antihistamines and immunosuppressive drugs along with prescription hypoallergenic diets

And while all of these may helpful and in some cases, essential at least in the short term, seeking out the underlying causes is key in managing any allergy state.

To best be able to treat or manage a food allergy, let us firstly define what a food allergy is and why this occurs in your dog’s body. Food allergy is one of the most common allergies or hypersensitivities known to affect dogs. 

In a dog that has a true food allergy, their immune system overreacts and produces antibodies to substances that it would normally tolerate. 

In an allergic reaction to a food, antibodies are produced against some part of the food, which is most often a protein or complex carbohydrate

For an allergy to develop, antibodies are required to be produced so food allergies tend to show after the body has been exposed long term to one particular brand, type or form of food.

Typical signs and symptoms of food allergy include itchy skin or digestive disturbances such as vomiting or diarrhoea

Other more subtle changes including hyperactivity, weight loss, lack of energy and even aggression can occur. 

Common food allergens tend to be foods such as proteins, especially those from dairy products, beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, soy or gluten (from wheat). 

Each time a pet eats food containing these substances, the antibodies react with the antigens and symptoms such as those mentioned occur.

Conventional treatments for food allergies

For dog owners with a dog that suffers from food allergies (or any allergy to be honest), it can be a very frustrating and challenging process. 

The conventional reliance on medications such as steroids, Apoquel and other immunosuppressive drugs is aimed at reducing the overactivity of the immune system in its heightened state. While these drugs may suppress the symptoms of the food allergy, unfortunately they are very harsh on a dog’s immune system, essentially ‘disabling’ it. 

This leaves the immune system unable to keep a check on other harmful invaders such as viruses, bacteria and even cancers. So these drugs can mean your dog is paying a high price in terms of the health of their immune system.

In addition to drugs, allergy tests and subsequent special hypoallergenic allergy diets are often prescribed. These usually come in the form of processed commercial products that can contain ingredients that may actually make things worse. 

For example, a popular prescription brand that is marketed for dogs with allergies contains ingredients such as brewers yeast, soya oil, split peas, pearl barley and pork flavouring. These are often foods that I would NOT recommend for any dog particularly if I am dealing with any gut/immune issues. The high level of starch in many of these products in particular can lead to further gut issues.

Many times I have had clients come to me over the years that have been following these regimes long term with their dogs, and feeling like they are making limited or no progress at all. And often this comes at enormous financial cost, not to mention the stress involved for the dog and owner/s. 

Now please don’t get me wrong… Getting a proper diagnosis for your dog’s allergy issue through your vet is essential and as I mentioned earlier, conventional treatments are an important part of the process. But we really need to address the underlying imbalances and not just focus on treating the symptoms if we are to gain positive long term results.

A more natural approach: the role of gut health

Let me first say, when it comes to food allergy (or any allergy for that matter)
that the more your dog is being exposed to that particular food, the more this will trigger an allergic reaction. 
So ultimately, we need to remove the offending foods to allow symptoms to abate and this is where elimination diets can be helpful and indeed, often essential for a period of time. 

Such a diet involves not feeding several foods known to cause symptoms to your dog. Over time, your dog can resume eating these foods, one by one, until it can be determined whether any has caused or worsened their symptoms. They can then avoid these foods going forward. 

However, for some dogs, the restrictive nature of elimination can lead a dog to exist on minimal food choices. 

For example, I have a new client I have just started working with whose dog is named Archie (above), that is suffering from food allergy issues and has been eating a diet (originally prescribed from her vet) based on fish and green beans for months!! 

Needless to say, Archie had not only lost a lot of weight but is also agitated and hungry most of the time. Fortunately, he is now on his way to being able to introduce a greater variety of foods.

So while restricting foods is important, let’s look at what I believe is one of the most important considerations in allergy and that is the role that the gut plays in terms of the immune system response

In our dogs, as with humans, around 70% of the immune system is housed in the gut. Today we are hearing more and more about the benefits of a healthy gut for us as humans. And indeed the same also applies to our pets. One of the most common gut issues we are seeing in both people and pets today is something known as leaky gut syndrome and this is something I regularly treat with my canine clients.

What is leaky gut and how is it linked to food allergy?

To squarely answer this question, we’ll need to pop on our biologists' hats. Inside your dog’s stomach exists the intestinal mucosa – a lining that acts like a strainer for bacteria and toxins. At the same time, it channels digested nutrients from the stomach into the bloodstream. Put more simply, it keeps out the bad stuff while bringing in the good.

Damage to this mucosal lining can lead to your dog’s gut losing this buffer. Inflammation can stretch the junctions of the mucosa, which allows toxins, pathogens, and undigested food particles to pass straight into the bloodstream. 

The result is a domino effect within your pup’s body: the liver, ever a paragon in the war against toxins, is the first to succumb to the wave of invaders. Once its defences fall, the immune system takes over but in its overly zealous attempt to protect the body, it can actually start to attack the body itself along with those toxins as it becomes confused by these foreign undigested food particles. 

This can lead to the development of an autoimmune disease and patterns of inflammation. But more to the point, leaky gut can trigger a whole range of food allergies. With no way to prevent the flow of undigested food particles into the bloodstream, your dog’s body may come to view all food as intruders. This pattern can lead to an array of symptoms, including skin rashes, inflammatory bowel disease, and aggression and many others.

Even more confusing is that food allergies can further trigger leaky gut issues so the connection becomes circular. One tends to contribute to the other.

Contributing factors to leaky gut/damaged mucosal lining:

From my perspective and clinical experience there are five main contributing factors that can lead to leaky gut syndrome and these include: 
  • Vaccinations
  • Processed foods
  • Drugs such as antibiotics
  • Chemical parasite products
  • Stress 

A dog may be exposed to one or all of these at various times or all at once. Typically I see dogs that have at least 3 or 4 of these, so it is easy to see how so many dogs are having issues with their gut and subsequent problems. 

A dog exhibiting food allergies will almost certainly have a leaky gut as the majority of dogs today are impacted by such a wide range of chemicals and other toxins. The good news is that while this might all sound challenging (and it can be!), a leaking gut can be healed using a natural approach.

How to treat leaky gut in dogs

While a full explanation of this protocol exceeds the limits of this article, healing a leaky gut consists of three main components and is usually carried out over a period of 8-12 weeks depending on the dog.

Step 1. Remove – time to weed the garden! 
Firstly we need to look at removing the contributing factors that are leading to this tissue damage as this will allow for healing to start. 

In working with clients I offer natural alternatives to these chemical products such as flea, tick and worming products along with appropriate diet advice and stress reduction and other recommendations to reduce the chemical load.

Canine Vitality - Gut Health Booster
Step 2. Repair
– once we have removed those offending items, we can then work to repair damaged tissues by using specific herbs and nutrients including Marshmallow root, Calendula, Licorice root, Glutamine, Mastic gum, Aloes, Slippery elm, Zinc, Collagen and digestive enzymes

It is important to allow the lining of the gut time to heal properly and continuing to avoid any triggers during this process.

Step 3. Rebalance 
 finally it is time to feed the garden after weeding! Once we have removed triggers and have now worked to heal and repair the damage, we want to start to rebuild the levels of good bacteria and other bugs in the gut (referred to as the microbiome). 

This is where pre and probiotics along with fermented foods such as kefir and fermented veggies come into play. 

In regards to probiotics, even once the gut regime has been completed, it is still a great idea to keep your dog on some type of probiotic especially if they are allergy prone.

Now we have the gut healed and rebalanced, we will see that inflammation can resolve, digestion improves and the immune system is no longer being triggered by those leaking food particles as the gut lining is now able to keep this in check once again. 

At this point, I find that many dogs are now able to tolerate foods that they once were allergic too and a more normal eating pattern can commence. 

And we are also then seeing a resolution in many of those skin, digestive, behavioural and other symptoms that had been so prevalent.


We still have much to learn about gut health and its role in keeping our dogs healthy. When it comes to allergy, there is never one magic bullet. 

But when we rely on treatments that focus only on treating the symptoms themselves, we limit the results for our dogs. 
As with any health issue, true healing comes from treating the root underlying causes and rebalancing the body from this perspective. 
In the case of food allergies, it is imperative to start from gut to make sure that it is in a balanced and healthy state.

Tips in moving forward:

✔️ Always work with your vet to gain an initial diagnosis of your dog’s allergy condition.

✔️ Remember that while conventional drugs can be very beneficial in the short term, they are not the answer long term.

✔️ Seek out the help of a qualified holistic animal Naturopath ( or Vet ( who can help you work with gut and other underlying issues in a more natural way.

✔️ The gut is involved in all food allergy states so this is where treatments must be focused. Think Remove, Repair and Rebalance.

✔️ And finally, know that there is help out there and you are not alone. If you are not happy with the current progress in your pet’s condition, don’t be afraid to seek another opinion or go down a different path.

Long term relief from allergies is possible… so go with your gut!

written by Lyndall Pinchen from Canine Vitality (September 2021) for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

About our writer

Lyndall Pinchen was born in Sydney and grew up with a strong passion for all animals, particularly dogs! She qualified as a Naturopath in the early 90’s and worked with humans over the ensuing 20 years. A move to Queensland 15 years ago saw her make the decision to study Animal Naturopathy and follow her dream of working with animals.

Canine Vitality, naturopathic service for dogs was set up 11 years ago with the aim to increase awareness and educate dog owners about the many health benefits of naturopathic treatments and raw feeding methods..

As the service’s popularity has grown, so has her schedule – she now treats many dogs naturopathically from far and wide, both in her Brisbane clinic as well as her online/phone consultation service and her online herbal store. 

A member of SAENA (Small Animal & Equine Naturopathic Association), Lyndall has been a regular writer for regularly for Nature and Health Magazine as well as guest blogging and guest podcast shows. In the last 8 years she has also teamed up with Jenny Golsby from The Complete Pet Company (where she also consults) and together, they are working to educate dog owners on natural, ethical and holistic methods of regaining or maintaining the health of our canine friends.

Visit to book a consultation and learn more about herbal remedies, including natural flea tick and worming options to treat a wide range of common doggie ailments. 

Follow her on Facebook at and on Instagram @caninevitality or her Happy Healthy Dogs YouTube channel for educational videos.

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