Can Dogs Suffer With Food Allergies?
It is well known that humans and particularly babies and children, can suffer from food intolerances and allergies. It got us thinking as we were beginning to re look at our best dry dog foods review, why did so many dog food brands advertise ‘hypoallergenic’ foods? Is it a growing problem, or are we just more aware of allergies in our pets now?
Firstly, what is a food allergy?
A food allergy is where the bodies immune system reacts upon ingesting a certain food. Generally, it is a protein in the foodstuff that the body mistakenly treats as a threat. Chemicals are released by the body and these cause the allergic reaction, which can range from mild to very serious. Allergies can present seconds to minutes after eating a food, or several hours later, depending upon the type of immune reaction.
What is a food intolerance?
A food intolerance (or sensitivity) is a difficulty in digesting a particular food which causes unpleasant physical reactions. An intolerance does not involve the body’s immune system and is not an allergy, but intolerances appear to becoming more frequent in more recent times. They usually onset several hours after eating a particular food.
What Symptoms Might My Pet Encounter?
Although allergies and intolerances are different, symptoms of the two are often similar, most commonly occuring are digestive upset and skin reactions. Other symptoms of food allergy include:
- Coughing, wheezing and sneezing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Flatulence (wind)
- Frequent scratching or hair loss
- Red, inflamed (sore) skin
- Chronic (recurrent) ear problems
- Poor growth in young dogs
- Red eyes, eye discharge
- Skin rashes
What Can Be Done About It?
Firstly, seek advice from your vet, as some symptoms of food allergies could be similar to other more sinister underlying diseases that need ruling out first.
Once other causes have been ruled out, diagnosis of a food allergy starts with placing the pet on a specific diet for a 12 week period. This is either a limited diet of a specific protein and carbohydrate they haven’t eaten before, or a special ‘hydrolyzed protein’ diet where proteins are completely broken down and cannot trigger an adverse response.
After a period of feeding this new diet, the old foods the dog used to eat, are reintroduced to see whether they cause a return of the symptoms. If they do, an allergy can be confirmed.
Once a food allergy is confirmed, the only real way to ‘treat’ it is to avoid the offending ingredients. Special diets may be required. It may take some time to work out all of the individual things your dog is allergic to.
Foods that are commonly associated with allergy/intolerance in dogs include:
- Dairy (lactose)
- Wheat (grains)
This list is not exhaustive, and most dogs are often allergic to more than one thing.
Plenty of pet food manufacturers do indeed market their foods as ‘hypoallergenic’. Prepared dog foods for allergies are often split into either ‘limited ingredient’ which means less ingredients are used to make the food and therefore it becomes easier to tease out which ones are causing the reaction. Or, truly ‘hypoallergenic’ foods, often prescribed by the vet, like the hydrolyzed protein diet we explained earlier, which don’t cause an immune reaction. Whatever you choose, whether it be taking your recommendation straight from the vet, or sourcing one of the many foods available in stores or online, be sure to check out all the ingredient information first, and keep a diary of everything your dog is eating and what symptoms he incurs.
We hope our research into dog food allergies and intolerances helps you to understand these increasingly common problems in our beloved furry friends. It has certainly given us some insight (and also hindsight to realize our terrier Harry most likely suffered this way, despite multiple trips to the vet with chronic ear and skin infections).