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Dog Food Allergy vs. Intolerances and Sensitivities

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Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances are widespread in pets and can result in digestive issues and skin problems. We often think of them as the same things and need help understanding the differences. 

In this buying guide for the best allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance testing kits for pets, we compared prices, features, and user reviews to help you choose the best option for your pet. We’ve also discussed the differences between all three to help you best understand food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances in pets.

Testing for these is essential so you can work with your veterinarian to apply the correct treatment. Treatment for allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities are very different, so it’s key to understand which of these conditions your dog or cat may have.

VCA Animal Hospital explains that the term food allergy (or food sensitivity) is most accurately applied when the immune system creates the signs and symptoms that result.

VCA says that adverse food reactions in dogs often resemble food allergies because there are only a certain amount of ways that the body can react to a problem with food.

In addition, VCA explains that food intolerances do not involve the immune system. An example of food intolerance is that it occurs right after the initial exposure to a food or food additive.

What is a dog allergy test?

A dog allergy test determines what your dog is allergic to, like food or environmental allergies. It is essential to get your dogs tested for allergies with a pet allergy test because it can help improve your dog’s quality of life. Dogs can have different allergies, including food, environmental, and contact. 

The most common symptom of an allergy in dogs is itching, but other symptoms may include ear infections, hot spots, digestive problems, and respiratory difficulties.

If your pup displays any of these symptoms, it is important to take them to the veterinarian to get a diagnosis. There are four ways of testing for allergies. These include the following:

  • Hair strand test
  • Saliva test
  • Skin prick test (also called intradermal dog allergy testing)
  • Blood test (also called a RAST test or radioallergosorbent test)

Healthy diets

Many cases of allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, and skin issues stem from inappropriate ingredients in commercial pet food. While causes of chronic skin issues are challenging to identify, and there are many possible culprits, one of the best things you can do is test for allergies and sensitivities. 

These kits test for reactions to more than many different potential allergens and can be a helpful way to identify hidden sensitivities that may be affecting your pet’s health.

If your pet struggles with skin issues, reach out to your veterinarian to discuss the best food options. Many commercial pet foods contain fillers and unhealthy ingredients that can contribute to skin problems.

There are various ways to switch your pet’s diet, including homemade meals, limited ingredient diets, and raw diets. The best diet for your pet will depend on their individual needs, so it’s essential to work with your veterinarian to find the best option.

What is a food allergy in dogs, and what are the symptoms?

A food allergy is an abnormal immune system reaction to a food or ingredient normally tolerated. The signs of a food allergy can vary significantly from dog to dog, and they may even be different each time your dog is exposed to the allergen. 

The most common symptoms include:

  • Digestive problems (vomiting, gurgling belly sounds, diarrhea, gas).
  • Skin problems (itching, hair loss, hot spots).
  • Respiratory problems (sneezing, wheezing, coughing).
  • Constant ear infections
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Lack of appetite or general pickiness
  • Excessive licking of paws or skin
  • If you think your pup may have a food allergy, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian. They will work with you to determine the cause of the allergy and develop a treatment plan that is best for your pet.


For example, a veterinarian can tell you whether your pet has environmental allergies versus food allergies. Both of these have the same gastrointestinal and skin symptoms. Food intolerances mainly result in gastrointestinal symptoms.

Allergies and the immune system

The key thing you can do for your pup is to purchase an allergy testing kit. When selecting the best diet for a dog with allergies, you should consider your dog’s life stage and health. This is because the immune system of each pet is different, and every animal will respond differently to the proteins in his diet. 

If your pet’s immune system reacts to chicken meal, you must change diets to ones that will not instigate the immune system. If you’re a multi-pet household, you should consider feeding several different diets if your pets have allergies. The most common allergens include the following:

  • Chicken
  • Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Beef
  • Lamb


When switching to novel proteins, you should consider the following:

  • Ostrich
  • Kangaroo
  • Venison
  • Rabbit
  • Alligator


You can also consider fresh pet food delivery if you want to avoid cooking fresh meals home for your pet. Allergy testing kits for pets and a dietary elimination trial can help resolve food allergies and intolerances. Limited ingredient novel protein diets can also benefit a healthier cat or dog.

What is a food intolerance in dogs, and what are the symptoms?

Food intolerance is an inability to digest and properly absorb specific nutrients in food. This can lead to various symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. 

Food intolerances differ from food allergies, which are caused by an immune reaction to specific proteins. Intolerances are more common than allergies and often occur when a dog is exposed to a new protein or ingredient.

If you suspect your dog has a food intolerance, it’s essential to work with a veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment. However, with proper management, most dogs can live happy and healthy lives despite their intolerance.

A common carbohydrate reaction in dogs is lactose intolerance. The signs include diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal discomfort after ingesting cow’s or goat’s milk. Food additives can also be problematic for some pets, so it’s key to test for them with intolerance testing kits for pets.

How do you know if your dog has a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity?

While all dogs require a diet that provides them with the nutrients they need to stay healthy; some dogs may also have food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities. 

The most common signs of a food allergy are itching, skin irritation, and gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea. Intolerances and sensitivities typically cause similar symptoms, but they are less severe.

If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult your veterinarian to determine if a food allergy is the cause. In addition, they will likely recommend a food trial, during which your dog will be fed an allergy-free diet for several weeks to see if their symptoms improve.

What is the difference between an allergy, intolerance, and sensitivity?

Allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities are all conditions that can cause adverse reactions in dogs. However, there are some key differences between these conditions. 

Allergies are caused by the immune system’s response to a foreign substance, like pollen or dust mites. Common environmental triggers include fleas, dust mites, molds, and pollens from trees, grasses, weeds, and even flowers.

Immunoglobulins (Ig) are small protein-based molecules that our dog’s body produces in response to threats such as bacteria and viruses. These immunological proteins help fight off infections but can also cause sensitivities or allergic reactions if they’re not working correctly due to being sensitized from previous exposure (such as pet dander).

Intolerances are caused by the digestive system’s inability to properly break down food or ingredient. Sensitivities are reactions to a food or ingredient that is not necessarily harmful to the dog but may cause G.I. distress.

Diet and lifestyle changes can manage allergies and sensitivities, but intolerance often requires medication or other medical intervention. Ultimately, it is essential to work with your veterinarian to determine the best treatment for your dog.

How to treat a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity in dogs?

If your dog has a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, it’s important to work with your veterinarian to create a treatment plan. The first step is to identify the offending food or foods with one of our top picks. You can also follow through with a process of elimination, in which different foods are eliminated from the diet one at a time and then reintroduced to see if there is a reaction. 

Once the offending food or foods have been identified, they should be removed from the diet entirely. Your veterinarian can help you create a balanced diet that meets your dog’s nutritional needs. In some cases, additional supplements may be necessary.

It’s also important to watch for other potential allergens, such as environmental allergies or contact allergies.

Overall best pick for dual testing via hair samples

This is a popular pet food and environmental intolerance test. This kit tests up to 380 commercial pet food ingredients and everyday environmental items. It uses a 10-15 strand hair sample to provide an extensive report that takes 5-7 days to process. This test requires 100% interaction to see any improvement in your pet.

The 5 5Strands Pet Standard Package tests for intolerances to proteins, grains, additives, preservatives, fruits, seafood, meal, grass, chemicals, plants, fabrics, etc. The results will create an instant elimination guideline, identifying temporary imbalances and saving you time and money!

Your pet does not have to have ever consumed or encountered any of these items (both food & environmental) to register a response. This is the work of 5Strands. Intolerances can manifest from the body lacking the digestive enzymes or the overconsumption/overexposure of an item. 5Strands does not provide an immune system allergy test.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive pet food and environmental intolerance test, the 5Strands Pet Standard Package is an excellent option. This product has over 800 positive reviews and is a must-have pet food and environmental testing kit for every pet-friendly household.



Best hair analysis pet food intolerance testing kit

If you want to test for pet food intolerance, then this is the intolerance test for your furbaby. Priced at only $88, the 5Strands Pet Food Intolerance Test offers instant identification of ingredients, saving you time and money. 

We like this test because it tests up to 275+ commercial pet food ingredients. This includes proteins, grains, additives, preservatives, fruits, seafood, meal, and vegetables.

All you need is your pet’s hair sample. This test uses bioresonance testing and gives you an instant elimination guide to identify intolerances so you can rid your pet of discomfort.

Whether itching, licking paws, wiping eyes, eye boogers, or hair loss, you’ll be able to reduce or eliminate all your pet’s discomforts with their bioresonance technology to determine the food items creating an imbalance in the gut microbiome.



This sensitivity test checks for 150 allergens and is one of the best ways to find out what your dog is sensitive to! This at-home test will provide a full report on everyday foods, household cleaners, and supplements. 

Unlike any other fur test, this measures protein in the saliva. It takes less than two weeks from the start date (including easy-to-learn recommendations based on the best food choices). We like this allergy test for pets because it’s easy to use and doesn’t cause pain or stress.

The results come back with information about which allergens may affect your pet’s well-being so you can make informed decisions when shopping or caring for them – including how certain items could irritate an already delicate system. The takeaway with this kit is that it’s affordable and gives you a detailed report on your dog’s sensitivities. This product has over 600 positive reviews.



The list of things that can make your dog unhappy or trigger reactions is long. Problems with such uncomfortable allergens are the #2 reason for visiting the vet! 

The $104 Easy DNA Dog Allergy Test is among the best choices for multi-pet households needing allergy testing. It uses a three-tier ranking system: strong intolerance, mild intolerance & no sensitivities, making it easy even if you’re not an expert in Lab work!

The website adds that you will receive detailed information about your pup tested positive for allergens. It will include dietary and lifestyle guidelines such as corticosteroids, elimination diets, topical treatments, supplements, probiotics, and Omega-3 oils- and much more.

Plus, they offer detailed information about what your pup tested positive too, with their comprehensive guide on how to make changes in their diet if needed based on this result alone, as well as other things like household products that seem safe but aren’t.



Nutriscan is a widespread pet food intolerance and sensitivity test that’s internationally patented. This test can be used to predict a developing or latent food reaction. 

It alerts you to your dog’s sensitivities in two different types of antibodies: IgA & Mg limitless; this test will measure how many foods are potentially harmful to their health without any risks involved with hair testing or serum measurements–it only requires saliva samples!

The testing applies to healthy pets and those with known or suspected food reactivity because saliva testing can reveal the latent or pre-clinical form of food sensitivity before a clinical or bowel biopsy.

The Gold Standard 300 Foods List includes 24 ingredients from all over, including meat products like beef and unprepared raw meals -perfect if they have sensitive stomachs. We like this test because W. Jean Dodds, DVM, developed it. It’s the most clinically reliable test for sensitivities with robotic automation. Here’s the takeaway:



This is the most affordable testing kit for cats and dogs that also analyzes hair via strands. We like this kit because it’s easy to use and accurate. Ucari also features bioresonance technology, which measures the electromagnetic signals captured from your pet’s hair sample.

In addition, this product uses a Florida-based lab to compare the electromagnetic signals from the sample against an encyclopedic database to identify possible intolerances. The first step is to consult your veterinarian if you think your dog may be allergic to something in their environment. 

They will likely recommend testing, which can be expensive and time-consuming. The good news is that the Ucari pet sensitivity and intolerance test offers a much more affordable and convenient option that can be done in the comfort of your own home with a few strands of your pet’s hair.

The entire testing process is fast with this company, and 24-48 hours after your sample is received back in the mail from the USPS, you’ll receive a text message or email notifying you that the results are ready for review. You’ll get color-coded results for easy reading so that you can work on an effective nutrition plan and a wellness and medical program for your cat or dog. This product has close to 300 positive reviews.

Here’s the takeaway:



Final thoughts

We’ve all been there with pets itching or suffering from gastrointestinal issues. It’s frustrating because we want to help but don’t always know how. 

All our top picks are great options for those of us who want to get to the bottom of our pet’s issues, test quickly from home, and finally provide some relief. The tests are also comprehensive, affordable, easy to understand, and, best of all, don’t require our pets to be put under anesthesia or have their blood drawn.

FAQ's Dog Food Allergy vs. Intolerances and Sensitivities

The main difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance or sensitivity is that a food allergy involves the immune system. In contrast, food intolerance or sensitivities involve the digestive system.

The most common allergens include the following:

• Chicken
• Wheat
• Dairy
• Beef
• Lamb

When switching to novel proteins, you should consider the following:

• Ostrich
• Kangaroo
• Venison
• Rabbit
• Alligator

Other common food allergens include corn, preservatives, and additives.

A food allergy in a dog is typically diagnosed by an elimination diet trial, in which the pet is fed a hypoallergenic diet for a few weeks to see if symptoms improve. Blood and skin tests may also be used to diagnose a food allergy.

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