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For The Love Of Your Pets: Pet food allergies cause itchy skin

March 3, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 2, 2011 at 9:03 p.m.


By John Beck

I recently took my dog to the vet. He said that my dog had food allergies. He licks his feet all the time and rubs his butt on the carpet. I have had him on the same food since he was a puppy. How could he just now start to show signs of being allergic to his food?

There are many, many things that can cause itchy skin. Contact/inhalant allergies, flea allergy, mange, yeast/bacterial infections, etc., can all be causes of these same symptoms. Typically, a food allergy will continue, or return very quickly, even when antibiotics, steroids and other medications are used. A food allergy does not give a dog or cat upset stomach or diahrrea. It typically gives them very itchy skin usually around the face, eyes, feet and rear. Reoccurring ear infections and skin infections are typical. The ears and skin become susceptible to infection from the chronic itching.

A food allergy often develops after your pet has been eating the exact same food for one year or more. Unlike humans who immediately swell or itch after eating a food they are allergic to, a dog actually develops the allergy to the food. The allergy usually stems from the main source of protein or carbohydrate in the food. The best way to determine if your pet is truly suffering from a food allergy is by running a food trial. You and your vet need to pick a food with a novel protein source (rabbit, venison, duck, kangaroo) that your pet has not eaten before and stay on that food for at least three months. That means no treats, rawhides, toothpastes or flavored medications during this food trial. Some medications, like steroids and anti-histamines, can be used to ease the irritation at the beginning of the trial. By the end of a month, you should notice some improvement and almost total improvement after the three months.

Blood testing can also be done to help figure out what allergies your pet is dealing with. A small sample of blood is drawn by your vet and sent to a lab where they can test for allergies that include food products. This might be useful if you are hesitant to try a food trial. If your results come back with an indication for a specific food allergy, these results can also help you pick a food that your pet isn't allergic to.

Many pets that develop a food allergy will often develop more over time. If you have switched to venison for a couple of years and then start getting the same symptoms, you will probably have to switch to duck. But don't worry. Not every dog has to continually switch food. Even if you do, there are plenty of novel protein foods to choose from.

If you have any questions, please contact me or your local vet.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.

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