Why grain-free food isn’t the answer for allergic dog

Q: We have a mutt named Olga who is allergic to her dog food. She has skin problems and stomach problems. Our veterinarian wants us to feed her an expensive prescription diet or cook for her. Neither option sounds good to me. What do you think about grain free diets?

A: The supermarket aisles are chock-full of foods making myriad claims regarding the healthfulness of their ingredients. Most of these assertions are questionably useful, at best. In most cases, they’re marketing devices designed to drive up your perceived value of the item.

And that’s just the “people” food. The pet food aisles are just as fraught with declarations and exhortations that seem aimed to confuse the enlightened into making questionably effective decisions. At least that’s how I feel whenever I’m forced to walk down aisles and aisles of pet food.

It’s overwhelming. I get it. So it makes sense that you might want to try something you’ve heard is better for dogs. Unfortunately, most grain-free fare doesn’t cut it. Here’s some background:

Food allergy is a very common condition, affecting the majority of dogs who suffer from excessive foot licking issues and recurrent ear infections. Hair loss, generalized itching, sores and scabs are common, too. Some pets’ gastrointestinal symptoms can also be chalked up to allergies, but this is a less common scenario.

In either case, the afflicted pet’s immune system will overreact to one or more proteins and/or carbohydrates in their diets. The result is inflammation that affects a specific part of the body.

Here’s why grain-free alone doesn’t usually work:

▪  Dogs are typically allergic to proteins over carbohydrates. Studies suggest that beef and dairy are their most common allergens. Corn, by contrast, is way down on the list.

▪  In fact, soy, corn and wheat are not considered common allergens in dogs.

▪  Turns out plenty of pet foods may say they’re grain-free — when they’re not.

▪  Loosely regulated as they are, pet foods often contain ingredients not listed on the label.

▪  In one study almost half of more than 50 diets sampled included protein sources not listed on the label.

All of which explains why when it comes to diagnosing and treating food allergies, you’re always better off with a diet or recipe specifically designed for pets with food allergies. Anything less, and you may be saving on dog food but spending a whole lot more at the vet’s.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to