As we approach Spring and Summer, the allergy season is upon us. We wanted to discuss some of the culprits of allergies in our pets and what can be done to help your pet. This month we will cover Food Allergies and next month we will focus on environmental allergies (known as Atopy). Allergies are difficult to diagnose on first glance, because we need to observe the pattern of allergic disease, which may take years to establish.
Food Allergies typically have a non-seasonal pattern, which means that a dog who is itchy because of a food allergy will continue to have the same level of itchiness all year round. People with allergies have a runny nose and itchy eyes. However, in dogs and cats, the symptoms are often related to the skin. We often see dogs that chew their feet and scratch their ears as the first symptom of allergic disease. This itching can progress to ear infections and skin infections if not treated early.
In dogs and cats, the food allergy is usually to the protein source in the food (the chicken, beef, lamb, etc.). Gluten and grain allergies are very uncommon in pets and changing to a grain-free or gluten-free food often does not help with symptoms from food allergy.
If you suspect that your dog may have a food allergy, your veterinarian may recommend a novel-protein diet trial. This consists of feeding a very strict prescription or homemade diet for a period of at least 3 months. This diet must consist of a protein and carbohydrate that is new to your dog, which means they have not eaten it before and thus have not had the opportunity to develop an allergy to it. During this time period, no other food, treat or flavored mediation may be fed during this time to avoid stimulating an allergic response that can confuse the results of the trial. A dog with a food allergy should have no allergy symptoms by the end of the diet trial and sometimes, we will challenge the pet, by reintroducing the previous diet at the end of the trial to see if the symptoms return. If the diet trial is successful, your pet may continue on the prescription diet, or we can attempt to find an over-the-counter formulation that will work for you. The risk of using an over-the-counter food (and the reason why it cannot be used for the trial period) is that these foods are often made in the same factory or with the same machinery as other types of dog food. This allows particles of the other foods, which may be chicken or beef based, to mix into the food and may cause a reaction in your dog.
What about a blood test for food allergy? There are a few different companies who offer blood testing for food allergies, however the results are inconsistent and unreliable. Unfortunately there is no perfect test for food allergies and a lot of our diagnostics are trial and error.
If you think that your dog may have a food allergy and want to pursue a diet trial, schedule an appointment today to discuss which diet would be best!