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.

By Dr. Janet Grace | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

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