Pet Food Allergies – Debunked
There are some popular beliefs regarding food allergies in pets, that have been busted! I hope that this helps to clarify some myths and, ultimately, that it helps dogs and cats to feel better!
Myth #1: “Food allergies must cause intestinal signs, since it is the intestinal tract that is exposed to the allergen”
Fact: Pets with food allergies usually suffer from very itchy skin conditions. They don’t respond very well to any type of allergy medications, so the dog or cat remains itchy in spite of treatment. It’s a very frustrating condition, because it seems that the animal can’t stop itching, no matter what we try!
Myth #2: “We have been feeding the same food for years, so I don’t think that my pet suffers from food allergies”.
Fact: It takes time to develop a food allergy, typically months to years. So if you have been feeding the same food for a long time it makes sense that your pet could have food allergies. The immune system needs to be exposed to the same food multiple times before it develops enough antibodies to cause an allergic reaction.
Myth #3: “To avoid food allergies it is better to buy pet foods without soy or corn, since those are common food allergens that can trigger a reaction.”
Fact: The ingredients that cause most of the food allergies in dogs are: beef, dairy and wheat. The ingredients that cause most of the food allergies in cats are: beef, dairy and fish.
Myth #4: “If my pet has a food allergy, it should get better if I try a different food”
Fact: Most pet foods contain a mixture that typically contains one or more of the ingredients that commonly trigger food allergies (beef, dairy, wheat, lamb, fish, chicken). So simply changing to another food will not work, because it is likely that it contains an ingredient that the pet is already allergic to. There are only two ways to manage food allergies in pets: feeding a food that contains a truly novel protein source (a type of meat that the pet has never had before, like venison, duck, kangaroo, rabbit or alligator just to name a few) or feeding a food where the protein has been predigested in to very small parts that don’t interest the immune system (hydrolyzed protein).
Myth #5: “My pet only got a little bit better after trying a hypoallergenic diet, so it is not a food allergy.”
Fact: Typically a pet that is prone to allergies, could have several different types of allergies at the same time. If a pet on a hypoallergenic food is having an allergy triggered by an inhaled particle at the same time, it will look like the hypoallergenic food is not working. On the other side, if a pet suffering from an allergy triggered by inhaled allergens is switched to a hypoallergenic food, and the inhaled allergen disappears do to a change in weather, it will look like the food is helping. To know for sure if the diet helped, the pet is fed the original diet after the end of the food trial. If the itching comes back within 2 weeks of feeding the original diet, a food allergy can be diagnosed.
This is a very hot topic, since itching is probably one of the main causes to bring a pet to the vet! And it is often times a very frustrating condition for everybody involved. Oftentimes food allergy is just one of the many causes for itching, and a successful therapy includes topical treatments (medicated shampoos, flea prevention, etc.), oral allergy medicines (antihistamines, steroids, etc.) and a hypoallergenic diet (novel protein or hydrolyzed protein).