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Food Allergies

Pets Can Have Allergies?

Pet Food Allergies
“Does my pet have food allergies?”

If your pet has the following symptoms, he or she may have food allergies:

•Itching, scratching, biting the skin
•Licking feet
•Scratching rear                    •Chronic vomiting
•Chronic soft stool
•Excess gas

If you suspect that your pet has a food allergy, talk to your veterinarian. Food allergies may even lead to weight loss.

Identifying food allergies in your pet can be a difficult, but necessary, process. Your veterinarian will work with you to replace your pet’s current diet with alternate protein and carbohydrates sources.

Managing Food Allergies in Pets with an Elimination Diet

Food allergies are the third most common allergy that affects dogs and cats, outranked only by fleabites and inhaled allergens (e.g., pollen). Allergies to common food ingredients are also on the rise and now account for at least 30% of all allergy cases. Unfortunately for many pets, the most common food allergens are also the most common pet food ingredients. Consequently, as a pet owner, identifying and isolating the trigger for a pet’s food allergy can be difficult.

The first step in diagnosing a food allergy is to recognize the symptoms. Common food allergy symptoms including excessive itching and scratching. Dogs with a food allergy commonly lick their feet, scoot their rear end in an attempt to scratch it, or have ear problems. Cats have a wider variety of skin symptoms, almost any pattern of hair loss or scabs can be a sign of an allergy. Food allergies can also cause gastrointestinal problems such as chronic vomiting or soft stools. If a pet suffers from recurring gas or diarrhea, a food allergy may be the cause. Symptoms of a food allergy may slowly build over time as a pet’s immune system mounts an increasingly greater response. It may be several months before hair loss, coat deterioration and skin lesions occur.

Food allergies have a genetic basis, although environmental factors can also have an impact. Recent research suggests that different environmental factors in early puppyhood or kittenhood may increase the chance that the immune system overreacts to certain food substances. However, a genetic predisposition for this overreaction must first occur for an allergy to develop. Dogs are most commonly allergic to beef, chicken, and wheat. The most common allergens in cats are fish and dairy. However, any pet can be allergic to any ingredient they have eaten in the past.

An elimination diet is the most effective way to determine a food allergen as there is no valid blood or intradermal skin test for food allergies. A veterinarian will recommend a “novel” diet that is entirely different from a pet’s regular food. All protein and carbohydrate sources must be swapped out and fed for a length of time to see if the symptoms disappear or at least lessen. The dog or cat must consume nothing but the novel diet for 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, allergy symptoms should gradually disappear.

Next, owners can gradually reintroduce elements of the past diet one ingredient at a time. One ingredient should be introduced and then monitored for one to two weeks. If symptoms return, this ingredient can be confirmed as at least one source for the food allergy. Talk to your veterinarian before beginning an elimination diet.

Pet Food Allergies? The Rules for a Pet Food Trial Have Changed

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Treats During a Pet Food Trial

Some pet owners feel they have to give their pets treats and, of course, the pets agree! If your pet is on a food trial, it should be fed only rabbit or potato, but there are some variations you can use.

  1. You can give a piece of  baked potato as a treat.   You should not cook potato in oil or with any other ingredients because that may cause allergic signs.
     
  2. You can buy fresh rabbit meat, cook it, and feed small pieces as a treat.  You should cook it in water, not with any other ingredients that may cause an allergic response.
     
  3. You can take some of the Royal Canin rabbit and potato canned food, cut it into pieces and bake it in an oven.  These make tasty, chewy treats.
     
  4. There is a new commercial treat, Potato Pleasers made by Serenegy, which contains only approved ingredients.

Food allergies are common in dogs and cats. In fact, forty per cent of all allergic dogs have a food allergy. It usually manifests as itchy skin, chronic vomiting, or diarrhea.  If you suspect that your pet may have a food allergy, you will need to investigate by performing a food trial.  There are no intradermal skin tests or blood tests that are valid for determining food allergies. There are three rules for a food trial:

1.) Pick a new food that is different from any food fed in the past.  This does not mean to just choose a different brand.  In the past, veterinarians instructed pet owners to check the fine print on the ingredient list on each food label in order to pick a new food that is totally different in ingredients.  Often the large label on the front of the bag mentions only two ingredients but in reality the food has many ingredients.

A recent research study showed that, unfortunately, in normal commercial foods there is a lot of cross contamination of ingredients in the manufacturing process.  For instance, a beef and wheat food may also contain chicken and rice because the pipeline was not cleaned out between their productions.  As a result, there are ingredients in the food that are not on the label.

Dermatologists and other specialists are now recommending Selected Protein PR food made by Royal Canin, containing rabbit and potato, as a trial food for two reasons.  It has been tested and shown not to have any cross contamination.  Also, rabbit is, genetically, the most remote from any other meat source.  Duck is similar to chicken, lamb is similar to beef; they may have common antigens that will cause an allergy.  Rabbit is the most unlike any other meat.

You should not choose a food just because it is labeled "food for the sensitive skin or stomach," as this is not a valid claim. If there is an ingredient in that food to which the pet is allergic, there will still be symptoms.

2.)  You should feed the new food for 12 weeks for dogs and 8 weeks in cats before you decide whether it works or not.

3.)  You cannot feed other foods while your pet is on the food trial. This includes treats, table scraps, chewable vitamins, meat flavored toothpastes or chewable heartworm preventative.  Discuss with your veterinarian an alternative to the chewable heartworm preventative while on the food trial.

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