Food Allergies in Pets
Get the facts to help control your pet's dietary allergies.
Food allergies are the third most common allergy among companion animals, but some of the facts about this condition may surprise pet owners.
"Animals aren't usually allergic to certain foods, but rather allergic to a protein or carbohydrate source in the food. The most common allergens are beef, soy, egg, milk, lamb and chicken," said Dr. Amy Krauss, a veterinarian in Minnesota. "In cats 80% of allergies are caused by beef, dairy and fish. However, animals can be allergic to anything. Surprisingly, a lot of people want to feed their cats fish, but cat's ancestors were arid dwellers and didn't eat any fish!"
And while food allergies aren't any fun for you or your pet, if you spot the symptoms, you and your vet can work together to find the cause in order to treat the problem.
If your pet suffers from a food allergy, you might witness a range of symptoms. "Common food allergy or food intolerance symptoms include pruritis (itchiness) around the head, neck and face -- or anywhere on the body," said Krauss. "This itchiness can cause scabbing, hair loss, and secondary skin infections."
According to Krauss, true food allergies -- versus intolerances -- manifest as itchy skin. Other symptoms to watch for may include ear infections and, in dogs, chewing and licking their feet. Animals can also develop gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or, more commonly, diarrhea.
To identify a food allergy, your vet will want to start a hypoallergenic food trial. "Some hypoallergenic foods have a novel protein or carbohydrate source that the animal has not seen before, such as venison, duck, rabbit, kangaroo, and potato, oat, or green pea," says Krauss.
The trial period can be difficult -- your pet can't have anything in his or her mouth other than the prescribed food -- but it's critical to identify your pet's allergy. "The animal should be fed this diet for 12 weeks exclusively," remarks Krauss. "If there is a response during the 12 weeks, then the animal should be re-challenged with his or her old food. If there is an itchy response within 14 days, then food allergy it is!"
While it is possible to make a hypoallergenic home-cooked diet, Krauss emphasizes the importance of developing the plan with a nutritionist to ensure it meets your pet's needs. Skin and blood tests are available for food allergies, but Krauss points out that those tests are not accurate.
While your pet will most likely struggle with allergies for his or her whole life, the good news is that allergies will almost certainly have no long-term effects on your pet. "However, if the food allergy is not identified," says Krauss, "they can have some chronic skin and ear problems as well as chronic gastrointestinal problems. This can cause some irreversible changes in the skin and ears."
If you suspect your dog or cat is showing signs of a food allergy, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
Check out more signs and conditions with Zootoo's Pet Symptom Checker.
Has your pet suffered from food allergies or other allergies? Share your stories below!
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