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9 Ways To Help A Cocker Spaniel With Food Allergies

Digestive issues, ongoing diarrhea, and chronic ear inflammation are some signs of a Cocker Spaniel with food allergies. Dogs who are allergic to one thing are usually allergic to other things as well. Cocker Spaniels have sensitive immune systems, and they tend to be on the lists of breeds most prone to food allergies.

A Cocker Spaniel with food allergies is not uncommon and can be very challenging for a pet parent. It is imperative to determine if your Cocker is sensitive to food or if the allergy is actually caused by environmental factors, contact dermatitis, or a combination of all three.

Food allergies in dogs are quite rare, as world-renowned veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds clarifies most dogs suffer from food sensitivities or food intolerances. The first step in providing relief to a Cocker Spaniel with food allergies is to accurately identify the offending food culprits.

The symptoms of dog food allergies can be confused with other disorders or occur in conjunction with a food allergy, which is why it is imperative to get a proper diagnosis first. Fortunately, veterinary advances are being made all the time, and there are many at-home and veterinarian-approved options to help a Cocker Spaniel that is affected by food allergies.

how to help cocker spaniel allergies

Reality Of A Cocker Spaniel With Food Allergies

These days, most people, including many in the veterinary community, say food allergy when they actually mean food sensitivity or food intolerance. More about that shortly, but for the sake of this article, we’ll refer to them as food allergies.

My first Cocker Spaniel was affected by food intolerances, which at the time were called a food allergy. I had no idea back in the mid-1990s that my dog’s yellow bile vomiting, sometimes loose stools, and frequent itchiness could be related to her food.

We also didn’t learn about a rotational diet or have quality dog food back then. My Cocker Spaniel lived to be one week shy of her 15th birthday. I will always believe she was a victim of the chicken jerky poisonings. Remember when dogs were getting sick and dying from chicken jerky bought in big box stores? Those were her favorite treats.

Brandy Noel was officially diagnosed with canine irritable bowel disease, and I wrote a five-part series on the topic. Looking back over the years, I believe her food allergies contributed to the disease and her demise. Despite testing, specialists, prescriptions, acid-reducers, fiber-filled pills, and various concoctions nothing could save her. If our love and efforts could have saved her, she’d have survived.

Brandy visited specialists over the years for suspected food allergies, but her formal diagnoses were made after undergoing a colonoscopy, endoscopy, and gastric biopsy. Since food allergies can be the start of or confused with IBD, definitive testing is necessary for a properly diagnosed dog.

Brandy
Brandy Noel, forever loved and missed.

Dog Food Allergy Vs. Dog Food Sensitivity

There is a huge difference between food allergies and food sensitivities in dogs, including Cocker Spaniels.

Food Allergies

Food allergies reflect a more immediate immunological response, according to Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, who has spent more than five decades as a clinical research veterinarian.

Food allergies cause a more immediate response to the dog’s immune system. Dodds’ uses the example of a person with a food allergy who has an anaphylactic response to peanuts. As soon as a person or animal comes into contact with a specific allergen – in this case, the peanuts – and their airway closes up.

Rashes, hives, and swollen red marks are also classic signs of an allergic reaction, although less severe in nature. Dodds says results of a specific blood panel show “antibodies to immunoglobulins E (IgE) and G (IgG) working together with immune complexes.”

The veterinary community often confuses the terms food allergy with food intolerance and food sensitivity. Sadly, as long as this continues, dogs may not receive the proper diagnosis and will continue to exhibit signs suffer from the symptoms.

True food allergies are potentially life-threatening, so if your dog exhibits an anaphylactic reaction to any product, treat, food, or substance, seek emergency veterinary treatment.

Food Sensitivity and Food Intolerance

Food sensitivities and food intolerances are what most veterinary professionals and pet parents are referring to when they say “food allergies.” For the sake of this article, we will call them food allergies because that term has become the norm.

Dodds says food sensitivities are at least 10 to 15 times more common than food allergies. For a Cocker Spaniel who is scratching frequently or has chronic bowel problems, he’s probably suffering from a food sensitivity and not a food allergy.

A food sensitivity or food intolerance builds up over time and does not produce an immunologic response in dogs.

Food sensitivities “show up in saliva or feces as antibodies to immunoglobulins A (IgA) and M (IgM). By detecting IgA and IgM antibodies, food sensitivity testing is able to clearly identify the specific food(s) causing the sensitivity or intolerance. It can also differentiate between food sensitivity and food allergy.”

Common signs of a dog with food sensitivity include, but are not limited to:

  • Gastrointestinal issues similar to those associated with irritable bowel disease (IBD)
  • Chronic itchy skin
  • Ongoing burping and gas
  • Chronic infections of the skin, ear, and paws, especially including yeast infections

Food intolerance can produce similar outward signs as a dog food allergy, but an immune response is not involved. One example is lactose, contained in milk products, which can upset a dog’s digestive tract. Many adult dogs are unable to process dairy products since they are lactose intolerant.

Dogs who drink milk, eat cheese, or have regular access to dairy products such as ice cream or cream cheese may develop loose stools, diarrhea, bloating, gas, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Eventually, the high-fat content in dairy products can lead to pancreatitis in dogs, which is very serious and life-threatening.

Sometimes, food allergies are genetic. In this case, the problem may or may not be ongoing. Sometimes foods are identified and eliminated, but the dog has a reaction to others. We’ve got a perfect at-home test for that later in this article.

Understanding A Dog’s Digestive System

Dogs process foods differently than we do. People use their teeth to grind food, moisten it with saliva, break it down with oral digestive enzymes, and swallow so digestion can begin.

A dog’s digestive process begins in the stomach. Dogs don’t have digestive enzymes in their saliva, which is totally fine because they can’t grind food anyway.

Here are a few ways a dog’s digestive system is different than a human’s. Understanding these differences will help a Cocker Spaniel with food allergies.

Dog Digestive SystemHuman Digestive System
Can only move their jaws up and down – they don’t grind and chew their food like humans, they gulp itCan move their jaws up and down AND side to side
Have sharper, pointed teeth designed to crush and gnawHave mostly flat (and some sharp) teeth to grind up food before swallowing
No digestive enzymes in the salivaDigestive enzymes in saliva
Antibacterial properties in the saliva (can kill off harmful bacteria from things like eating feces)No antibacterial properties in our saliva
The stomach is 10 to 100 times more acidic to digest food that may still be in chunks The stomach is much less acidic than a dog’s
Shorter digestive tract as they are primarily carnivores (meat-eating)Longer digestive tract (helps us digest things like fiber)
Are generally not affected by high cholesterolHigh LDL (bad cholesterol) can lead to heart attacks, heart disease, etc.
Food moves through the GI tract in 6 to 8 hoursFood moves through the GI tract between 20 and 30 hours
Not designed to process bulking agents like wheat in many commercial dog foods – thus producing more stoolAble to process a variety of bulking agents

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9 Ways To Help A Cocker Spaniel With Food Allergies

The first step in providing the proper relief to dogs with food sensitivities is to accurately identify the offending ingredient(s). With the proper information, you can begin feeding your dog a diet that agrees with his body, and he can get back to doing what he does best – being a dog.

Here are the ways to help your Cocker deal with food allergies followed by a description of how to make it happen:

  1. Determine if your Cocker Spaniel has a food allergy or food sensitivity.
  2. Determine if your Cocker Spaniel has an environmental or contact allergy.
  3. Invest in the Nutriscan at-home testing kit.
  4. Feed the right food for Cocker Spaniels with food allergies.
  5. Use Zymox topical products for itch relief.
  6. Seek the services of a veterinary dermatologist if needed.
  7. Consider rotating the dog’s diet in the same line.
  8. Add supplements for overall dog health.
  9. Consider dog treat selections.

1) Determine if your Cocker Spaniel has a food allergy or food sensitivity.

Keep a log of all of your dog’s symptoms, reactions to food, and any symptoms that appear. I highly recommend the DogMinder Canine Health and Wellness Journal which I created for under $10. You can purchase it on Amazon here.

Discuss symptoms and reactions with your dog’s veterinarian. Many pet parents seek the services of a veterinary dermatologist to help identify the problem. Many Cocker Spaniel moms, including Danielle Powdrell, have had great success with a veterinary dermatologist and allergy shots.

prize holiday dog photo contest prize

“Pippa went for a check up after being on new meds” Danielle shared. “The dermatologist said Pippa’s ears are responding well after 1 week. My regular vet has been working on her ears for a year with no help. So don’t drag your feet, take your baby to a dermatologist, they’re worth it.”

You must identify the cause of your dog’s issues and that starts with observing, journaling, and even taking photos and video to show your veterinarian. If you don’t feel your dog’s vet has enough experience with nutrition, keep looking, and read on for other helpful tips.

2) Determine if your Cocker Spaniel has an environmental or contact allergy.

Environmental allergies are exactly what they sound like: a reaction to something in the dog’s environment. This can include grass, mold, dust mites in the home, ragweed, tree pollens, cigarette smoke and tar, and mildew.

Dogs with environmental allergies may sneeze, have a runny nose, and even bronchitis. Your Cocker Spaniel may rub his face, feel itchy, lick his feet, and scratch at his underarms. A veterinary dermatologist can help, but there are also other options. I’ve had Cocker Spaniels for close to 30 years and have yet to use a veterinary dermatologist. I would if I felt the need.

Contact allergies happen when the dog comes in contact with an offending object, chemical, substance, or item. This can include, but are not limited to:

  • Flea and tick topical medication
  • Plastic bowls
  • Items of clothing and bedding, such as wool
  • Carpeting (and many homes and apartments have carpeting)
  • Sand
  • Synthetic materials like pillows

A reaction from a flea or tick chemical-based medication can also cause other systemic problems. I know many Cocker Spaniel parents whose dogs had a negative reaction to chemical spot-on flea and tick preventatives. If your dog has a reaction, which may include seizures, seek immediate veterinary care.

My first Cocker Spaniel had a serious contact allergy and reaction to a chemically-based flea and tick preventative spot-on purchased at the vet’s office. At the time, we used Frontline on her. Her skin flared up to a reddish color, the hair burned off, and it never grew back down the length of her back.

We aren’t fans of kibble, and we recommend a less-is-more dog food that you prepare at home.

3) Invest in the Nutriscan At-Home Testing Kit

The Nutriscan kit tests for up to 112 ingredients to provide pet parents with a complete assessment of their dog’s food intolerances or sensitivities. Test results are sent to the pet parent within a few weeks of receiving your dog’s saliva sample.

If you suspect your Cocker Spaniel has food intolerances and want to get an easy, quick, and accurate assessment of what he should not eat, purchase the Nutriscan test kit. You perform the test at home, and despite its higher price tag, it’s worth it. I know because I purchased the kit and it helped me identify the foods my Cocker Spaniel should not be eating.

Pros of the Nutriscan test kit for dog allergies

  • Performed at home
  • Easy saliva collection device
  • Measures antibodies to 24 primary foods and a total of 112 related food ingredients in dog 
  • Skin testing used to be considered the “gold standard” of allergy testing. Aside from being unsightly and requiring that a large patch of skin be shaved, these tests are costly and do not always identify the true source of allergic reactions.
  • Saliva testing can reveal the latent or pre-clinical form of food sensitivity, as antibodies to food ingredients appear in saliva several months before the clinical or bowel biopsy diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease or “leaky gut syndrome” is made.  
  • Nutriscan’s saliva test now includes 24 primary foods and is patented in the United States and internationally

Read case studies on the Hemopet website.

nutriscan test for dog food allergies

Cons of the Nutriscan test kit for dog allergies

  • Pricey (but worth it)
  • Repeat testing is recommended every 12-18 months in healthy pets, and every 4-6 months in food reactive pets.

In order to collect the saliva, simply place a bit of tempting food in front of the dog’s nose to stimulate salivation, but don’t let him actually eat the treat.

Of special note, Dexter is NOT sensitive to beef, but he does have issues with chicken but not turkey.

4) Feed The Right Food For Cocker Spaniels With Food Allergies

Of all the questions I am asked as a dog journalist, what food do you feed your dog ranks amongst the highest. For Cocker Spaniels with food allergies and for general overall good health and well-being, I always recommend feeding a whole food without fillers that is actually good for the dog.

I’ve been a brand ambassador of the Dr. Harvey’s line of products for a few years and my Cocker Spaniels have been consuming their products for close to two decades. I firmly attribute control of my dog’s food intolerances to the Dr. Harvey’s line of food and supplements.

If you are new to the Dr. Harvey’s line or thinking of switching, you can read all about why I recommend and use this food for my own dog here.

Dr. Harvey’s Allergy is their newest whole food product for dogs. Dr. Harvey’s believes in ongoing relief from the inside out, and that means avoiding kibble, processes foods, and anything with chemicals. For pet parents who are concerned about starches, Dr. Harvey’s recommends their Paradigm formula.

Cocker Spaniel with Allergy food
Dexter proudly poses.

Dr. Harvey’ Allergy is available in two formulas: fish and turkey. It is a limited-ingredient diet that is created for dogs with skin, stomach, and environmental sensitivities. Simply add warm water, wait about 10 to 12 minutes, and your dog has a fresh, whole, meal that contains prebiotics and probiotics for gut health and a strong immune system.

The folks at Dr. Harvey’s eliminated the ingredients most dogs are “allergic” to such as beef, chicken, wheat, and corn, etc. The Allergy formula does contain nutritious ingredients like spinach, butternut squash, pumpkin, green beans, and cabbage. It smells as good as it looks, too.

“Highly processed pet food makes your dog’s digestive system work overtime, often causing an adverse immune response. Allergic reactions like hot spots, itchy ears, and red, itchy skin are merely symptoms of a bigger problem.”

Dr. Harvey

One caveat: For dogs with cancer, pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney issues, or other ongoing specific health problems, Dr. Harvey’s does NOT recommend their Allergy formula. They do, however, recommend one of their other formulas, which you can discover here.

Order a free sample of Dr. Harvey’s Allergy formula for your dog or purchase a bag here. Use discount code FDRLUV5772 for 10 percent off and free shipping over $59 at Dr. Harvey’s website.

You can also purchase Dr. Harvey’s products on Amazon here.

5) Use Zymox Topical Products For Itch Relief

Food allergies in dogs can manifest in many ways, including itchiness and skin issues. For everything from hot spots to itchy skin conditions, I use  Zymox Topical Spray and Zymox Topical Cream contain 0.5% hydrocortisone.

There are no antibiotics in these products yet they work on bacteria, yeast, and fungi, which flare up in Cockers Spaniels.

6) Seek The Services Of Veterinary Dermatologist If Needed

A veterinary dermatologist specializes in helping dogs with benign and malignant disorders of the skin, ears, hair, and nails.

For dogs with more than one allergy, success comes in identifying the offenders and then eliminating them from the dog’s life. Working with a dermatologist from the American College of Veterinary Dermatology (ACVD) is a good place to start in finding a specialist.

A holistic veterinarian is also a fabulous option for those who want to try supplements, herbs, and nutraceuticals as tools in solving a dog’s allergies. Make sure all treating specialists are on the same page so the dog’s health isn’t compromised by the addition or removal of medications or plans.

7) Consider Rotating The Dog’s Diet In The Same Line

Food allergies are often managed, and sometimes dogs can become so accustomed to one protein source that their bodies develop a sensitivity to it.

If you’ve ever heard the expression “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing,” it applies to dogs who get the same source of protein throughout their lives. That doesn’t mean all dogs should have their proteins rotated, but I like rotating my Cocker Spaniel’s diet from foods in the same line from the same brand.

For example, my dog eats a combination of Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health, Healthy Weight, and Veg-to-Bowl fine ground, the latter to which I add cooked organic low-fat ground beef.

8) Add Supplements For Overall Dog Health

Dogs don’t need supplements for the sake of simply adding them to the diet. They should, however, take supplements if they promote his overall health.

My Cocker Spaniel has the following supplements in his diet:

Dogs should never receive too many supplements, as some can do more harm than good, especially inferior products and administering too many.

For dry skin, itchy dandruff, and excessive shedding, we love the Dr. Harvey’s Salmon and Krill oil added directly to food.

9) Consider Dog Treat Selections

In tandem with identifying dog food allergies, there are ingredients in dog treats that can cause problems. Aside from things like sugar and unnecessary chemicals, dogs can develop a sensitivity to any number of treat ingredients.

For example, my first Cocker Spaniel was a number of pills later in her life, and we were giving her Pill Pockets in which to hide the medication. We didn’t realize at the time, but some of the ingredients in the Pill Pockets were actually causing her gut to flare up.

All family members and friends who have access to your dog should be aware of what he can and can’t eat to avoid flare-ups.

What About A Food Elimination Diet?

Many veterinarians will often recommend a food elimination diet to pet parents to try and figure out what is causing their dog’s symptoms. While this is a noble idea, it is a bit of an antiquated way of figuring out the culprits. It doesn’t make it wrong, but it does make it longer and harder on the dog and equally frustrating for the dog mom or dad.

Our vet tried a food elimination diet on our first Cocker Spaniel. Despite our adherence to the diet, we were never able to accurately pinpoint her food sensitivities.

Because many dogs are intolerant to protein sources like chicken, beef, lab, and even eggs, and carbs like corn, barley, rice, and wheat, a vet might start your dog on an elimination diet.

All foods the dog currently consumes are removed from his diet, and he is placed on a prescribed home-cooked or prescription diet that contains one unique or novel protein and one unique carbohydrate. By unique, we mean a protein and a carb the dog has never consumed.

These diets often involve exotic proteins like kangaroo or venison along with carbs such as oats. In other cases, the dog is prescribed a hydrolyzed diet, which by definition “have been molecularly altered to be below the allergenic threshold.”

My Cocker Spaniel wanted nothing to do with the cereal-like bag that contained her hydrolyzed diet. She’d just as soon starved herself before she’d eat that. Elimination diets are usually fed given for six to 12 weeks to assess the effect on the dog. If the symptoms remain, it’s onto another novel diet. The process can become unnerving and frustrating for everyone.

For some Cocker Spaniels, a food elimination diet may be successful. Dr. Dodds notes if your dog is placed on lamb and potatoes, one will never know if the allergen is the protein or the carb. If the food is not fed exclusively with no cheating or extras, the test wont be valid. This includes any chewable tablets or heartworm medications the dog is on prior to starting the trial. Always talk to your vet before making any changes.

Clinical signs of delayed sensitivities can take up to five weeks to be noticeable. For instance, you introduce beef in week five and chicken in week six. At the end of week six, your companion animal’s itchy skin starts again but you would not know if it was the beef, the chicken, or another protein.

Dr. Jean Dodds
How to help a Cocker Spaniel with food allergies

Food Allergies In Dogs

A food allergy can develop in dogs at any age. A dog can also have several types of allergies including environmental and contact in addition to food.

Dogs who get a lot of table scraps or “people food” can develop an intolerance which even the best dog mom or dad may overlook.

Dogs can develop behavioral issues from food allergies, including frequent shaking of their ears or head, biting at their paws or tail, lack of appetite, becoming restless, and even disinterest in their food. Imagine how awful it feels to the dog if he is suffering in silence.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this article, it has beneficial ideas, and I have learned so many things with the help of this blog, I’m appreciating you did a good job keep posting like this kind of topics.

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