For the love of you pet: Dogs have food allergies, too
Food allergies account for about 20 percent of itching and scratching in dogs. Food allergies can impact both dogs and cats. Males and females are equally affected. Allergies can occur in dogs as young as 5 months as well as dogs older than 10. The most common culprit is protein, with chicken and beef being the most frequent cause.
Food allergy symptoms are similar to those of most allergies seen in dogs and cats. The primary symptom is itchy skin, affecting primarily the face, feet, ears, forelegs, armpits and the area around the anus. Symptoms may also include chronic or recurrent ear infections, hair loss, excessive scratching, hot spots and skin infections that respond to antibiotics but reoccur after antibiotics are discontinued.
Because many other problems can cause similar symptoms and many times animals are suffering from more problems than just food allergies, it is very important that all other problems are properly identified and treated before undergoing diagnosis for food allergies.
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; however, this can be a tedious process. 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 only that food for at least three months.
That means no treats, rawhides, toothpastes or flavored medications during this food trial. Some medications such as steroids and antihistamines 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 employees can test for allergies that include food products. This might be useful if you are hesitant to try a food trial or want a definitive answer fairly quickly. 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 is not 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 then switch to duck.
Don't worry - not every dog has to continually switch, and even if you do, there are plenty of novel protein foods to choose from.
Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.