Dietary Intolerances in Dogs: What to Know & How to Help

Dietary intolerances can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms in our furry friends

Dogs are not just our faithful companions. They’re our best friends, family members, sometimes even soul mates. As such, we are always on the lookout for ways to keep them healthy and happy. One critical aspect of their health? Their diet, which can sometimes lead to dietary intolerances in dogs.

Dietary intolerances can cause a range of uncomfortable, even painful, symptoms in our furry friends. With this in mind, it’s important to get educated about the various types of food intolerances dogs might experience – and learn how to manage them effectively.

Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances

First things first, let’s differentiate between food allergies and food intolerances.

  • Food allergies involve the immune system’s response to certain proteins in the diet, triggering an allergic reaction.
  • Food intolerances are non-immune responses that result from the inability to digest certain components of food.

While allergies are relatively rare, intolerances are more common and can affect a dog’s overall quality of life.

1. Gluten Intolerance

Gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, can cause gastrointestinal discomfort in some dogs. An intolerance to gluten can lead to the following symptoms:

  • diarrhea,
  • vomiting, and
  • abdominal pain.

Switching to gluten-free dog food can often alleviate these issues.

2. Lactose Intolerance

Just like some humans, certain dogs lack the enzyme lactase needed to properly digest lactose, the sugar in milk and dairy products. This leads to symptoms like:

  • gas,
  • diarrhea, and
  • stomach upset.

Opting for lactose-free or dairy-free alternatives can help mitigate these problems.

3. Protein Intolerance

Some dogs might show difficulty digesting specific animal proteins, such as chicken or beef. This intolerance can manifest as:

  • digestive issues,
  • skin problems, or even
  • chronic ear infections.

Rotating protein sources and choosing novel protein diets can be beneficial in such cases.

4. Grain Intolerance

While grains themselves are not inherently bad for dogs, some individuals may experience digestive upset due to these ingredients. Grain intolerance is often associated with ingredients like:

  • corn,
  • soy, and
  • wheat.

Choosing grain-free or limited-ingredient diets can provide relief for dogs with grain intolerance.

5. Artificial Additive Sensitivities

Artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives found in commercial dog food can trigger sensitivities in some dogs. These additives may lead to symptoms like:

  • itching,
  • gastrointestinal issues, and even
  • behavioural changes.

Managing Dietary Intolerances in Dogs

Identifying and managing dietary intolerances in dogs requires patience and careful observation. If you suspect your dog is struggling with any kind of dietary intolerance, consult your veterinarian. They can recommend the treatment plans and dietary changes that will be most effective in giving your dog relief from dinner time woes. It is also a great idea to keep a detailed journal of your dog’s symptoms, diet changes, and responses to help your vet in the diagnostic process.


Dr. Omer Rashid earned his veterinary degree in 2002 from University of Agriculture Faisalabad, and quickly followed that with a Master’s degree in Parasitology. He worked for several years in veterinary practice with small animals, as well as horses and livestock. He studied advanced pharmacology at Charles Darwin University in Australia, and discovered his love for writing while working as a science writer for a research company with clients such as Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge universities. Along the way, Dr. Rashid developed an interest in integrative veterinary health, and he joined Redstone Media Group as Associate Editor of IVC Journal and veterinary content developer in 2022.