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Chicken allergy in dogs: A vet's guide

A black and white dog looking up at roast chicken on a table
(Image credit: Getty)

If you have spent any time dealing with chicken allergy in dogs, you are probably familiar with the headaches that can accompany food allergies. Like humans with food allergies, who must avoid particular ingredients in order to avoid an allergic reaction, canine food allergies require a specific diet and careful avoidance of treats and table food that may contain potential allergens. 

Unfortunately, even feeding the best dog food for allergies is no guarantee of avoiding a reaction in a dog with food allergies. These diets are free of some of those most common food allergens, and have additional ingredients to support skin health, but they can still cause an allergic reaction if they contain proteins to which your pet is allergic. Not all allergy diets will work for every allergic dog; you will need to be specific and intentional in finding the best diet for your pet. 

Symptoms of chicken allergy in dogs

Food allergies are often clinically indistinguishable from other types of canine allergies. There are four common allergies in dogs: dust mite allergy, environmental allergies (tree, weed, and grass pollen), flea allergy, and food allergy. While there may be slight differences in the signs between these different types of allergies (for example, you may see visible fleas in a dog with flea allergies or you may notice seasonal signs in a dog with pollen allergies), it is nearly impossible to distinguish the cause of your dog’s allergies based on appearance alone. 

In dogs, nearly all allergies manifest as irritation of the skin and ears. Common signs of allergies  include: 

  • Generalized redness of the skin
  • Itching
  • Chewing at the paws
  • Hair loss (generalized or patchy)
  • Frequent hot spots or skin infections
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Recurrent ear infections
  • Less commonly, food allergies may trigger gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and diarrhea. 

If your veterinarian suspects that your dog has allergies, they will recommend an appropriate diagnostic workup to determine the cause of your pet’s allergies. This workup may include the consistent use of the best flea treatment (to rule out flea allergies), intradermal or blood allergy testing (to rule out environmental allergies), and a food trial (to look for evidence of food allergies). 

In a food trial, you will be asked to feed your dog a hypoallergenic prescription diet for a period of 2-3 months. During that time, you will need to avoid all treats and table food, to ensure that your dog is not being exposed to any potential food allergens. If your dog’s signs resolve during the food trial, you and your veterinarian can safely assume that your dog’s allergies are caused by something in your dog’s diet. Next, you will begin gradually reintroducing different food items, in an effort to determine which ingredients trigger an allergic response in your dog. If you feed chicken, for example, and your dog begins itching within 24 hours, you can safely assume that your dog is allergic to chicken. 

Why are so many dogs allergic to chicken?

Chicken allergy is one of the three common food allergies in pets. Beef and dairy are the most common food allergy triggers in dogs, with chicken coming in at number three on that list. 

Dogs can develop an allergy to any protein that they have eaten. HIstorically, most dog foods were made with beef as the primary protein source. Therefore, most canine food allergies were associated with beef, because that’s the protein that the immune system had “seen” the most often. In recent years, however, an increasing number of chicken-based diets have been created, often marketed as “sensitive skin” or “sensitive stomach” foods. Therefore, veterinarians are seeing an increase in the number of dogs with chicken allergies. If kangaroo meat were to suddenly become a common ingredient in dog food, we would likely see an increasing number of dogs with kangaroo allergies. Dogs can develop a food allergy to any protein they have been fed. 

A dog sniffing a roast chicken

(Image credit: Getty)

If a dog is allergic to chicken, are they allergic to turkey?

Chicken and turkey are both poultry. There are enough similarities between these birds that some dogs with chicken allergies will also react to turkey. In fact, some dogs with chicken allergies will even react to duck. However, this isn’t always the case! Some chicken-allergic dogs can eat turkey or duck with no problems. Therefore, you may need to experiment with a bit of trial-and-error in order to determine whether your dog can tolerate a turkey-based diet.

If you want to be on the safe side and minimize the risk of an allergic reaction, it is probably best to avoid feeding turkey to a dog that is allergic to chicken.

Best food for dogs with chicken allergies

If your dog has chicken allergies, you will need to find a nutritious, balanced dog food that does not include chicken meat, chicken meal, or chicken by-products. You may opt to feed a prescription diet (under the guidance of your veterinarian) or search for an over-the-counter diet.

The most highly-restricted diets will be prescription diets, such Hill's Prescription Diet d/d Skin/Food Sensitivities Potato & Venison Formula Dry Dog Food or Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein HP Dry Dog Food. Prescription allergy diets are manufactured on dedicated manufacturing lines, reducing the risk of cross-contamination, and careful attention to ingredients. Your veterinarian can help you select the most appropriate prescription diet for your pet. 

You can also attempt to use an over-the-counter diet that does not contain any chicken, such as  Purina Pro Plan Adult Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice Formula Dry Dog Food. (opens in new tab)Over-the-counter diets are often less expensive than prescription diets, which may make this an appealing option for some dog owners. Be aware, however, that these diets may be made on the same manufacturing lines that are used to create chicken-based diets. (This is why they are often less expensive.) Depending on the severity of your dog’s chicken allergies, even a small amount of cross-contamination may be enough to trigger an allergic reaction. 

Summary

Chicken allergy in dogs can be a frustrating condition, but there are ways to manage it successfully. Work with your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the underlying cause of your dog’s skin issues, then come up with an appropriate plan to minimize your dog’s exposure to foods that trigger an allergic response. With long-term efforts and maintenance, you can minimize the frequency of flare-ups and successfully reduce your dog’s signs of allergic dermatitis. 

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.