By Dr. Michelle Rose
Is your dog or cat itchy around the face, feet, or belly? What about recurring ear infections? This could indicate that your pet might have an allergy...but what kind? With overlapping symptoms, it can be a struggle to tell the difference between food allergies, environmental allergies, and parasites. To help you, we’ve provided some information about how allergies develop, what to look for in food-related allergies, and a checklist of things to try in order to figure out what the culprit might be.
How Do Food Allergies Develop?
Allergic reactions occur when the immune system develops an exaggerated response to a foreign substance. While seasonal allergies related to the environment are the most common, ten percent of all allergy cases in dogs are food-related.
Food allergies take time to develop—usually over a long period of time in which your pet has been exposed to the same ingredient day after day. While pet food companies often blame grains as the source of allergies, research shows that proteins are the most common food allergen. Has your pet eaten chicken-based food for years? Time to change! Since it’s commonly found in many foods, chicken is among the top culprits that cause food allergies. Some other common food allergens include: beef, dairy, and wheat. Least common food allergens are fish and rabbit.
Common clinical signs related to food allergies include itching of the ears and paws, which may be related to gastrointestinal issues.
Other clinical signs include:
- recurrent ear infections
- itchiness that can lead to self trauma such as hair loss, scabs or hot spots
Here’s a checklist of things to try and kick those symptoms to the curb once and for all:
Get those parasites under control. Fleas and mites can cause severe symptoms for an allergy-ridden furry friend. Allergies cause damage to the skin barrier, making them more sensitive to everything else they come in contact with. Fleas in cities like San Francisco are resistant to most over-the-counter preventatives and are especially hard to kill. Work with your veterinarian to identify one that works well in response to your pet’s environment.
Visit your vet! Bacterial and yeast skin infections can be caused secondarily by allergies. These are common, and can cause significant discomfort. Your vet can also provide you with itch-relieving shampoos and oral medications in order to keep your pet comfortable until the underlying allergy is solved.
Start a food trial. Food trials can be an involved process; the devil is in the details. While your veterinarian is the best source of advice, this document can start to help you get started with the process.
Check all potential sources—even toys. Do an in-depth look at the ingredient list for EVERYTHING that goes in your pet’s mouth. Carefully examine the ingredients of all the treats, flavored toys, and medications, and don’t let your pet eat random treats from stores or guests with good intentions.
Use omega 3 fatty acids. These are often added to foods and are found in some shampoos as well. These supplements are key for repairing damaged skin caused by excessive scratching. Colloidal oatmeal shampoos and conditioners can be very soothing to an itchy dog or cat!
Clean those ears! Pets with allergies often have inflamed, itchy ears that are more prone to infection. It’s especially important to keep them clean while you are treating allergies.
Fighting food allergies can be a frustrating and challenging journey. Pay closer attention to what your goes in your pet’s mouth, and use the process of elimination to identify the culprit. Some other tips include grinding up proteins in a food processor if you’re feeding them home-cooked meals (this helps improve digestion). Here is a list of approved “people foods” that can also help add a nutritional boost to your pet’s diet and increase variety.
Work with your vet to improve your dog’s nutrition, and make sure you check with them before adding new foods that could impair any food trial you have in place. With patience, you’ll find a way to calm Fido’s allergic reactions. Don’t give up!