How to help a pet who has food allergies be healthy and happy
Shelley Skopit, DVM
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Park Animal Hospital, Norwalk and Darien, Connecticut
Just as with people, our four legged friends can suffer from allergies too. There are many types of allergens that can affect your dog. Allergy symptoms that result from repeated consumption of potential allergens are usually referred to as food allergies. Food allergies are most commonly seen in response to the protein source in the food (i.e beef, chicken or lamb). Common clinical sign seen in dogs with food allergies include such things as dermatologic (skin/ear), digestive, or respiratory problems. By understanding and properly managing our pets’ food allergies, we can keep them healthy and happy.
Do know the symptoms of food allergies
Common symptoms of food allergies include such things itching, especially around the face, neck, ears, feet and limbs. Chronic ear and skin infections can also result from food allergies. If your dog is experiencing these symptoms, please consult your veterinarian.
Do know what your pet is allergic to
In most cases, allergies come from the protein source in the food. By doing a food trial, or only feeding a single protein source for a period of time of 1-2 months, you can see how your dog reacts to that single protein source, you can narrow down what your dog is allergic too. This is a trial-and-error process that could take several months and several types of food in order to identify the ingredient(s) to which your dog is allergic.
Do read labels and ingredients for everything your pet consumes
Many types of food will advertise a specific type of meat or protein, but you still need to read all of the ingredients to make sure the allergenic protein(s) aren’t just lower down on the ingredient list. This is especially true of dog treats. Some pet’s medications may also be flavored too.
Do make sure everyone at home is onboard with a special diet and feeding instructions
Many breaks in food allergy control happen when a member of the family gives in to temptation and feeds an allergenic (allergy-causing) food to your dog. Simple things like feeding the wrong table scraps or adding broth or other foods/flavor mix-ins to the pet food can negate any benefit your pet was receiving from being on a special, hypoallergenic diet.
Do work with your veterinarian
Your veterinarian can help you identify the signs of a food allergy to determine if that is what your pet might be suffering from. He or she will work to identify the source of the allergy and to help manage the food allergy symptoms. Your veterinarian will also assist with finding a suitable diet or recommend working with a veterinary nutritionist or dermatologist for more difficult cases. Remember that your veterinarian is there to help.
Do not be in denial
Many people feel that if they are feeding a premium food that their pet cannot be allergic to it. That is not the case, though, since even the best foods on the market may contain proteins to which pets can be allergic. If your dog or cat is allergic to chicken, then even the highest quality, most expensive, organic chicken will induce an allergic reaction in your pet. This is true of home-cooked, raw, and store-bought pet foods.
Do not assume anything
Even though the food label says “hypoallergenic” or advertises the food as being made of a specific protein source, that doesn’t mean the food doesn’t contain a different ingredient that your pet might be allergic to. This is especially true of many over the counter (non-prescription) limited protein source diets that advertise being made of one protein source, even though other protein sources can also be found when reading carefully through food’s ingredient list.
Do not forget about treats, and table scraps and medications
Many problems or break food allergy treatment is by feeding treats and table scraps. Many people are aware that their dog has a food allergy and spend the time, effort and money on an appropriate food, but then forgets about the allergy when it comes times for treats. Certain medications can also be flavored using things like beef or chicken that your dog may be allergic to.
Do not give up
Diet or food trials can take time. In some patients it may take several months to be sure if the diet is appropriate or not. Unfortunately, there are increasing numbers of pet foods on the market that now include ingredients that were once reserved only for allergic dogs. As a result, dogs who do suffer from food allergies are being left with fewer diet options that may benefit them.
Although food allergy represents only a small percentage of allergies that we see in our four legged friends, there are still many pets afflicted with this type of allergy every year. We have come a long way in understanding food allergies in dogs and cats, so if you think your pet is exhibiting the clinical signs of a food allergy, please consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.