Can dogs be gluten intolerant?

Gluten appears to have become a ‘red flag’ ingredient in foods for both humans and pets over the last few years, but what’s this all about?

For most, gluten is pretty harmless and is a valuable part of a balanced diet, but for those with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease the proteins in gluten actually breakdown the lining of the stomach, causing long-lasting and sometimes irreparable damage. 

Some breeds of dog, including the Irish Setter are genetically prone to gluten intolerance - or coeliac disease.

The important thing is, if your hound will happily tuck into a product that contains gluten with no adverse side effects, there is no need to change things.

Gluten is a generic term used to describe a family of proteins found in grains, including wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. 

Some grains are naturally gluten-free, such as: quinoa, oats, buckwheat, corn, amaranth and brown rice.

What is coeliac disease?

According to the Spanish Federation of Coeliac Associations (FACE), coeliac disease is a condition where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues - triggered by consuming gluten. This damages the gut (small intestine), making the body unable to take in nutrients effectively.

Dogs with a gluten intolerance will show signs fairly relatively quickly after consuming something containing wheat or any other gluten protein.


While there may be a range of factors impacting your dog’s digestive functions such as environmental triggers or seasonal factors, consuming gluten based grains for sensitive pets, can lead to:

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea - for a dog with coeliac disease, gluten harms the gut - meaning the body’s reaction to gluten will be to try and expel as quickly as possible after eating. If vomiting or diarrhoea is a regular occurrence for your dog after eating, it’s important to get your pooch checked over by a vet.
  • Dermatitis - chronic dry and flaky skin, hair loss, hot spots, redness, bumps, rashes and constant itching and scratching are classic signs of a food intolerance.
  • Poor coat condition - due to lack of nutrient absorption.
  • Weight loss - at an abnormal and unhealthy rate. 
  • Seizures - in extreme cases a severe allergic reaction to gluten could cause your dog to have a seizure. In this case, you should take your pet to the vets immediately.

If you suspect your dog might be gluten intolerant or is suffering with coeliac disease, it’s important to get these symptoms checked out at the vets as soon as possible. 

The vet will likely ask about your dog’s normal diet along with testing your dog’s faeces, urine and blood in this case.

If gluten intolerance is the most likely suspected cause of your dog’s discomfort, the vet may also place your dog on a diet designed to weed out specific food allergies.

A cure?

There is currently no cure for gluten intolerance or coeliac disease in either humans or dogs, but in most cases symptoms can be avoided by following a gluten-free diet. Though, this is not quite as simple as it sounds. 

You’ll need to heavily monitor what goes in your dog’s mouth, from mealtimes to treats or when they are being kennelled or staying with a friend. Be aware of types of toys you buy for your pooch as many of them are often packed with traces of food to make them more enticing.

If it’s established that your dog is intolerant to gluten, don’t worry because there’s plenty of grain-free dog foods that make a great alternative to gluten-containing products

Before making any major changes to your dog’s diet it is always advisable to speak to your vet. Abrupt changes in a dog’s food intake diet can occasionally cause problems with digestion.

It is also important to remember, most dogs should have no problem eating foods that contain some gluten. It’s only those who are sensitive to the protein that may not be able to digest it normally. It’s at this point when owners need to consider removing gluten completely from their dog’s diet.

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