What is a Cat or Dog Food Allergy?
A food allergy is an adverse immunological response to a specific ingredient in your pet’s food. Tell tale symptoms usually include patches of reddened itchy skin – particularly around the belly and groin area, under the armpits, smelly ears and skin and in a percentage of cases, bowel irritations.
Food allergies can develop at any time and can affect pets of all ages and breeds, even if your pet has eaten the same foods for years without any adverse reactions.
How is a Food Allergy Diagnosed?
There is a test available that can differentiate between a food sensitivity and a food allergy in dogs and cats. The only other way to find out whether your dog is reacting to an ingredient in their food is to conduct a food elimination trial.
People often assume that the offending allergen (allergy causing ingredient) has to be a grain such as corn or wheat but this isn’t always true. It can also be it a reaction to a specific protein found in meats such as chicken or beef.
Will Switching Pet Food Brands Help?
No. Simply switching from one pet food brand to another won’t work as they often share common ingredients. For example – if your pet becomes allergic to the specific protein found in chicken then any food brands containing chicken must be avoided.
Also – labels on commercially prepared foods can be confusing. Products could contain offending allergens which may not be clearly indicated on the product packaging.
How Does a Food elimination Trial Work?
A food elimination diet involve feeding your pet food which contains only ONE meat protein and a single carbohydrate source which your pet has not been previously exposed to.
Less common meat proteins found in commercially prepared pet foods include Duck, Fish, Rabbit and sometimes Lamb. Similarly, the carbohydrate should also be new to your pet’s diet and could include carbs like peas, brown rice or potato. Of course all artificial preservatives, colourings and flavourings must also be avoided during a food elimination trial.
This means strictly – no commercial treats or flavoured medications such as heartworm or worming chews are to be given during the trial period.
You can prepare your pet’s own special diet at home using select ingredients or buy a commercial diet which is specifically formulated for this purpose.
How long Does a Food Trial Last?
Food trials are generally run over an 8 – 12 week period during which time all other potential allergens must be avoided.
If your pet’s symptoms settle down over the course of the food trial then it’s most likely that it is a specific allergen in her food which is causing the adverse symptoms.
After the symptoms have settled you can try to slowly add ONE additional ingredient to the diet at a time and observe whether your pet reacts to it. If the symptoms reappear then it’s clear that this is an offending allergen. If not, we can assume it’s safe to be included in the diet.
This process is then repeated if you wish to test the tolerance of other meat proteins and grains. But remember – introduce just ONE of these at a time.
Can Cats get Food Allergies?
Yes cats can also develop food allergies with skin lesions most commonly appearing on their face although other parts of the body can also be affected.
What Should I do if I Think my Pet has a Food Allergy?
The first thing to do is have your pet examined by your vet to rule out possible other causes of your pet’s symptoms. It’s always important to avoid jumping to conclusions about any symptoms your pet may have as many conditions can share similar observable clinical signs.