Chicken Allergy in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know
Want to learn more about chicken allergy in dogs? Although food allergies are much less common than other types of allergies in dogs, pups affected by food allergies can experience uncomfortable symptoms like skin rashes or digestive upset that affect their quality of life.
So, how do you know if your pup has allergies—or more specifically, if your dog is allergic to chicken, a common dog food ingredient? And what can be done about it? We've got answers.
Can Dogs Be Allergic to Chicken?
Just like human beings, it’s possible for dogs to be allergic to just about anything in their environment or any ingredient in their food. So, yes, it’s possible for a dog to be allergic to chicken.
However, symptoms of allergies can look very similar regardless of what your dog is allergic to (whether it’s food, pollen, perfume, or anything else). Also, allergies carry similar symptoms to other diseases (such as parasite infestations) that require different treatments.
Therefore, it’s important to go through the process of diagnosing your dog with allergies rather than assuming they have a sensitivity to chicken or any other ingredient in their food.
While diagnosing allergies requires some patience, it’s usually the fastest and most effective way to get to an ideal treatment plan.
Symptoms of Chicken Allergy in Dogs
The most common signs of chicken allergy in dogs show up on the skin or via the digestive tract — or both.
Skin issues are very common with environmental and food allergies alike. Symptoms could include red or itchy skin (especially on the paws, abdomen, groin, face, and ears), rashes, fur loss, or hives. Skin and ear infections commonly occur. And wounds or “hot spots” may develop due to trauma from a dog repeatedly licking or chewing their skin.
Digestive symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, gas, or other gastrointestinal issues. Affected pups may also experience anal gland issues, which causes them to scoot their backside on the floor.
Anaphylactic reactions (facial swelling, sudden vomiting or diarrhea, difficulty breathing, tremors, collapse, and potentially even death) are possible with any allergy. This would be similar to a human who has a severe peanut allergy and needs medical treatment if they are exposed to even a small amount of peanut residue. Fortunately, this is extremely uncommon with food allergies in dogs. But should you ever notice these symptoms, your pup would need veterinary care right away.
What Causes Allergies in Dogs?
Allergies are an inappropriate overreaction of the immune system. So, if there is a chicken allergy at work, their body treats the chicken protein (allergen) as if it were a threat — as if it were an invading viral or bacterial infection.
This immune system’s attack results in inflammation as collateral damage. As described above, these inflammatory effects commonly show up on a dog’s skin or present as digestive issues.
Allergies tend to have a genetic or inherited basis, and as such they are difficult to avoid. Some breeds (Bulldogs, Chinese Shar-Peis, Retrievers, Terriers, Shih Tzus, and Lhasa Apsos) are more commonly affected, although any breed can develop allergies.
How Common Are Food Allergies in Dogs?
The most common causes of allergies in dogs are environmental/seasonal allergies (pollen, etc.) and flea-bite allergies.
Food allergies certainly do occur, but they are much less common than many pet parents believe them to be. Experts report that food allergies account for merely 10% of allergies in dogs. The most common causes of food allergies in dogs are proteins found in beef, lamb, chicken, soy, egg, dairy, or wheat.
Sometimes, pups don’t have a true food allergy despite having digestive symptoms. They may just have a food sensitivity or intolerance, meaning they have difficulty digesting one or more ingredients but the immune system is not involved.
Whether a dog has a true food allergy or a food intolerance, it’s beneficial to figure out which ingredient(s) they are sensitive to and then to find a dog food that works well for their body.
Diagnosing Dog Chicken Allergy
Discovering a chicken allergy in dogs (or any food allergy) involves going through a process of elimination, which requires patience. But it can lead to the best possible treatment option for your pup by getting an answer as quickly as possible.
If you notice symptoms of a poultry allergy in your dog, it’s best to schedule a veterinary visit. After that, the process commonly follows these steps…
- Your vet will take a history on your dog, meaning they will ask you questions about your dog’s symptoms, their diet, and anything they could have been exposed to. They’ll also do a full physical exam.
- Other causes of your pup’s symptoms must be ruled out. A common first step is an ear swab or light skin scrape to look for bacteria, yeast, and microscopic parasites. If your vet suspects an underlying medical issue (such as a hormonal imbalance) they may also recommend diagnostics such as blood tests.
- If your pup’s symptoms persist, an allergy workup may be recommended.
- An allergy workup usually starts with a food trial, also known as an elimination diet. This means a strict diet on a new type of food for 1-3 months. Your vet team can explain this process in detail, including how to select an appropriate food and acceptable treat substitutes.
- If a dog shows significant improvement on a food trial, they may continue the new food long-term. Your vet can explain how to gradually add in other items (such as treats) to see if they trigger symptoms. This process can help determine which foods a dog can or cannot tolerate.
- If a pup does not improve on a food trial, the next step is to evaluate for environmental allergies. Usually, this is done via a blood test that is sent to a laboratory for analysis. While blood tests are not accurate for food allergies, they can be very helpful for determining which environmental allergens a pooch is sensitive to.
Treatment for Chicken Allergy in Dogs
Unfortunately, allergies cannot be cured. But allergic symptoms can be managed or minimized to keep a dog happy and comfortable.
Once a pup is showing symptoms, they often need medications to break the inflammation cycle and return their skin or intestines to normal. This commonly includes allergy medications such as steroids, antibiotics to treat secondary skin infections, wound care, or medications for diarrhea and digestive upset.
But allergic dogs also need long-term prevention with the right diet — one that agrees with their body.
The good news about food allergies is, they are usually much easier to manage than environmental allergies. While it’s difficult to avoid things like pollen, it’s possible to completely avoid any food or ingredient that triggers your pup’s symptoms.
It’s common for pups to be affected by more than one type of allergy, though. So, if your dog has both a chicken allergy and a pollen allergy, they may need long-term management for their environmental allergies in addition to a special diet for food allergies.
And even with a controlled diet, some dogs with food allergies occasionally have flare-ups — especially if they snag a table scrap off the floor or chew on something they found on the ground during their walk.
Allergic dogs may also develop additional, new food allergies over time.
So while an appropriate dog food will greatly manage a dog’s food allergies, don’t be discouraged if your pup still needs the occasional treatment to relieve their allergy symptoms. With knowledge, monitoring, and a good management plan, most dogs with food allergies can have their symptoms greatly reduced and live normal, happy lives.
When do allergies develop in dogs?
Most commonly, allergies develop when a dog is between six months to three years of age.
Symptoms that occur earlier than six months are unlikely to be allergies, since puppies’ immune systems are still developing. Allergies can develop in older dogs, though, so being older than three years doesn’t rule out allergies.
What are other foods that commonly trigger allergy symptoms?
Despite the belief that grains are a big allergen for dogs, most commonly, dogs are allergic to a type of protein in their diet. The most common culprits are proteins found in chicken, beef, lamb, soy, egg, dairy, and wheat. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these ingredients, as they can all be healthy sources of protein and other nutrients in dog foods.
While these ingredients are most common, dogs may be allergic to any ingredient in their food or treats (or table scraps or anything else they digest). As such, there is no dog food that is truly hypoallergenic, and the “best” dog food will vary between individual pets.
If my dog is allergic to chicken, is he also allergic to poultry like turkey?
This answer may vary from dog to dog, depending on how sensitive their immune system is.
In general, it’s probably best to do a food trial with a totally unrelated protein, such as substituting venison for chicken or other types of poultry (or poultry products such as eggs). Your vet can guide you through this process and help you select the best food for your individual pooch.
What can I feed my dog if they’re allergic to chicken?
A protein source that is very different from chicken (such as beef or a less common protein like rabbit or venison) is usually a good bet for a food trial. However, it’s important to check ingredients carefully, as many dog foods contain chicken meat, organs, or broth, even if it’s not a primary ingredient. Also, even foods that don’t contain chicken as an ingredient may get contaminated if they are processed in a facility that also manufactures chicken-based dog foods.
For all these reasons, many vets recommend using a prescription allergy food. These diets contain either a novel source protein (like rabbit or venison), or a ‘hydrolyzed’ protein (one that is processed in a way that the body is less likely to recognize it as an allergen).
For prescription allergy dog foods, the facility will demonstrate excellent quality control, even shutting down and thoroughly cleaning the equipment to prevent cross contamination. Because of this, prescription diets are usually a great choice as a first step, to get the most accurate results from a food trial for allergies.
Is it possible for a dog to suddenly develop a food allergy?
However fast or slow they develop in the body, allergies may appear to onset suddenly because it’s only at a certain breaking point (when symptoms occur and cause discomfort to a dog) that allergies become apparent.
No matter how slowly or quickly allergic symptoms develop, it’s a good idea to bring your dog for a vet visit.
Should I avoid dog food made with chicken?
Unless your dog has known food allergies, there’s no benefit to avoiding some of the more common food allergens. Usually, allergies develop over time to something a dog is commonly exposed to, whether that’s chicken, beef, rabbit, kangaroo, or any other ingredient.
In other words, feeding a rabbit-based diet to avoid chicken allergy in dogs won’t necessarily prevent food allergies. Instead, the dog would develop an allergy to rabbit rather than chicken.
The best bet in preventing and treating food allergies is to avoid switching diets or exposing dogs to a wide variety of ingredients. That way, if they ever develop a food allergy, there will be more options for ingredients they’ve never tried before, to use for the food trial and for longer-term feeding.