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Understanding Pet Food Allergies

If your pet displays symptoms you can’t seem to understand — itchiness that’s either localized or over his whole body, frequent ear infections, skin infections, or hair loss — his food could be to blame. Just like people, pets can suffer from food allergies that cause a variety of symptoms and a lot of discomfort. It’s estimated that up to 15 percent of dogs suffer from allergies, and of those, 10 percent of allergies are food related.

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What causes food allergies in pets?

As with people, food allergies occur when your pet’s immune system responds to food. As your pet’s immune systems responds to that food, your pet will experience uncomfortable symptoms, usually itchy skin or a skin rash, but potentially stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting. For animals, the protein in food triggers an allergic response most times. The common culprits are beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, and fish, as well as soybeans, wheat, food dyes, and food preservatives.

How can I tell if my pet has food allergies?

As we mentioned, the number one indication that your pet has food allergies will skin irritation, rash, or itchiness that does not go away. Food allergies are not seasonal; the symptoms will persists as long as your pet continues to ingest the allergen. If you suspect your pet has a food allergy, the only way to be sure is to identify and eliminate the allergen from his diet. This is most often done through an “elimination diet,” which can take up to 12 weeks to complete. There are blood tests that can help to detect a food allergy, though they generally are used to steer the elimination diet rather than pinpoint an allergy because they are not specific enough.

With an elimination diet, your pet will eat specific food that is devoid of the suspected allergen. All other food items, including rawhides or other chewing items and flavored medications, will be restricted to avoid the suspected allergen. It can take several weeks for the allergen to be totally out of your pets system, so his symptoms may initially persist. Once your pet seems to be free of allergy symptoms while on the elimination diet, your vet may begin to reintroduce foods to try to determine which food in particular your pet is allergic to.

How will my pet’s food allergy be treated?

Initially, your vet may need to prescribe medication to deal with the symptoms of your pet’s food allergy, such as a skin infection, ear infection, or severe gastrointestinal symptoms, as they often will not clear up without medical intervention. Ultimately, your vet will use the elimination diet to find a healthy, balanced diet that is free of your pet’s allergens. That diet will keep your pet’s allergy symptoms from returning. While it can be a long, frustrating process to pinpoint what is triggering your pet’s allergies and find the right long-term diet, the hard work will pay off with a pet that is healthy and free of the discomfort of allergies.

May is Allergy Awareness Month

If your pet seems particularly itchy lately, you may wonder whether she’s suffering from allergies. Many pet owners aren’t aware their dog or cat can also be miserable with seasonal allergies in the spring and summer months. Excessive scratching is the most common sign of an allergic condition in your pets, but it’s not the only sign; of course, itching can also indicate any number of other problems, so leave the exact diagnosis to your vet. However, by considering your pet’s signs and symptoms, you can get a good idea whether he or she is being impacted by food and/or environmental allergies.

Allergy Awareness Month - Nashville TN - 5 Points Animal

Food Allergies and Your Pets

Food allergies are caused by the immune system’s hypersensitivity to a protein in a food. They can manifest as either dermatological or gastrointestinal problems—this type of allergy only accounts for about 10% of pet allergies. Beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb and soy are the most common food allergens in dogs, in this order; common culprits in cats include beef, dairy and fish. Hypersensitivity to a food can develop at any age, even to something your cat or dog has eaten without issue for years. Typical signs and symptoms of a food allergy in pets include rash, hives and itching, especially on the face, limbs, sides of the body and anal region. Respiratory symptoms are sometimes seen, too. Diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal distress may also occur.

Environmental Allergies and Your Pets

Environmental allergies are also commonly referred to as seasonal allergies, airborne allergies and inhalant allergies. Exposure to this type of allergen occurs through inhalation. Common irritants include dust mites, mold, mildew, and pollens from grass, trees and weeds. Pollens cause seasonal allergies, while other environmental allergens are problematic year-round. While humans associate environmental and seasonal allergies with hay fever, pets are more likely to develop severe body-wide itching as the primary symptom. Excessive scratching, licking and biting can cause hair loss, injuries and infections. Inflamed ears and ear infections also occur, especially in dogs. Hay fever symptoms, such as puffy or watery eyes, runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing, are occasionally present, too.

Diagnosing and Treating Pet Allergies

The clinical signs observed by your vet provide important clues as to which type of allergy your cat or dog is dealing with. Your ability to accurately report any symptoms your pet has exhibited helps as well. Skin or blood tests that measure the body’s immune response to suspected allergens can confirm the diagnosis of environmental allergies. Food allergies are diagnosed with an elimination diet trial. Your vet will advise you on feeding your pet a limited, hypoallergenic diet, usually for two to three months. Then, suspected foods are gradually reintroduced. You monitor your pet closely, watching for the return of allergic symptoms.

Preventing exposure to allergens is key to managing your cat or dog’s allergies. Prescribed antihistamines or other medicines often help control symptoms, while specially formulated shampoos or other topical therapies minimize itchiness and reduce excessive scratching. Allergy shots, which aim to desensitize your pet to an allergen with repeated exposure to minute quantities via injection, sometimes reduce or eliminate environmental allergies over time. Regardless of your pet’s symptoms, you can rest assured that 5 Points Animal Hospital can provide the absolute best in pet care to ensure your pet’s health and vitality for years to come. For questions of scheduling information, contact us today! We take pride in providing the best care for your pets.

Your Pets Get Allergies Too!

If you’re grouped among the 35 million-plus Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, it’s not news to you that the allergy season is one of the more unpleasant times of the year. Your nose knows it’s true and so do your eyes, chest, head and maybe even your ears. Sneezing, congestion, runny nose and itchiness are the common symptoms with which you’re forced to contend. Did you know your pets could suffer from seasonal allergies just as you do? It is estimated that over half of pet owners aren’t aware that the fuzzy members of their family can also spend portions of the year feeling miserable thanks to pollen and other environmental allergens.

Your Pets Get Allergies - Nashville TN - 5 Points Animal Hospital

What exactly are allergies anyway?

An allergy is a state of over-reactivity or hypersensitivity of the immune system to a particular substance called an allergen. Most allergens are proteins; with allergies, the immune response can actually be harmful to the body. The allergen protein can be of insect, plant or animal origin. Exposure to the allergen, usually on multiple occasions, sensitizes the immune system, and a subsequent exposure to the same or related allergen causes an over-reaction. Normally the immune response protects your pet against infection and disease, but with allergies, the immune response can actually be harmful to the body.

Different Pet Allergy Categories

There are primarily two types of allergies: food allergies and environmental allergies. If your pets get itchy during spring, summer or fall, they’re probably reacting to seasonal, environmental allergens. But if their symptoms continue year-round, it’s more likely that the sensitivity is to something more constant within their environment or to something in their diet. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, however. If you live in an area that doesn’t have a hard freeze in the winter, environmental allergens can build up and cause year-round issues for your pet. In addition, seasonal allergies can progress to year-round allergies.

Warning Signs of Pet Allergies

Whereas allergy symptoms in humans usually involve the respiratory tract, allergies in dogs and cats more often take the form of skin irritation or inflammation—a condition called allergic dermatitis. If pet allergies are present, you can expect their skin to become very itchy. They’ll start scratching excessively, and might bite or chew at certain areas of the body. They may rub themselves against vertical surfaces like furniture or may rub their face against the carpet, all the while trying to relieve the miserable itchiness by any means possible.

As the itch-scratch cycle continues, the skin will become inflamed and tender to the touch. Other signs can include localized hair loss, open skin sores, and scabbing. Hot spots—inflamed, infected skin that occurs when your pet’s natural bacteria overwhelms an area of skin, typically associated with very red skin, and often bleeding and hair loss—can develop as well (more typically in dogs than in cats).

Pets with allergies also tend to have ear problems. Their ear canals may be itchy and inflamed or may grow infected with yeast or bacteria. Signs your pet’s ears are giving him problems include scratching at the ears, head shaking, and hair loss around the ears. If infection is present, there will often be odor and a discharge from the ears. Another warning sign to watch for is generalized redness. Pets suffering from allergies often have puffy red eyes, red oral tissue, a red chin, red paws and even a red anus.

To date, the only reliable way to diagnose environmental allergies in dogs and cats is through intradermal (skin) testing. Commercial blood tests for canines and felines are available, but have proven controversial due to inaccurate results. Depending on the nature of your pet’s allergic reaction, your veterinarian will be able to assist you in controlling the long-term effects. Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies. Our goal is to reduce the severity of the symptoms through preventive measures and by eliminating allergens wherever possible.

May Is Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month

While the allergy season for pets may be similar to the allergy season for people, the symptoms your pet experiences are quite different. People with allergies often sneeze, have a runny nose and itchy eyes. Pets, on the other hand, commonly manifest their allergy symptoms through their skin. Common areas affected by allergies include: face, ears, axillae (arm pits) and abdomen. Symptoms associated with allergies include itching, redness, and hair loss.

These same symptoms can also be caused by:

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  1. External parasites: Fleas, mites (e.g.: scabies and Demodex) and lice
  2. Ringworm (more common with cats)
  3. Bacterial and yeast infections: while commonly associated with any cause of itching, these infections intensify the degree of itchiness

Common types of allergies your pet may be experiencing:

  1. Fleas: Fleas are the most common cause of allergies. Flea control is imperative for all pets, but particularly in allergic pets

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  1. Food: Common culprits: beef, chicken, pork, dairy, fish (cats), corn, wheat and soy.
  2. Atopy1: Atopy describes a heritable disorder caused by an over-reactive immune system responding to normal, nontoxic substances (e.g.: pollens) in your pet’s environment. Some breeds are predisposed: Golden Retrievers, Terriers, Dalmatians, Bull Dogs. Dogs with allergies should not be bred to prevent transmission of this frustrating disease. Testing for your pet’s specific allergies helps tailor a specific program for your pet and offers the best results. Options for testing include:
    • Blood allergy testing
    • Intradermal skin testing: most specific test for your pet’s allergies.

While there is no cure for allergies, your pet’s symptoms can be relieved with a combination of therapies to treat for infections, parasites and itching.
Patients that undergo allergy testing will begin “allergy shots” to help control symptoms. The goal of any allergy therapy is to control the itching and limit skin and ear infections. Your veterinarian will discuss with you the best strategy to offer relief for your pet’s allergies. Your friends at, 5 points Animal Hospital.

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