Just like humans, pets can develop allergies to just about any food or substance in the environment. Unlike the typical human response to allergens — coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and in rare cases, anaphylactic shock — the most common signs of allergies in pets are skin irritations such as itching, scratching, digging, and gnawing at the skin and chronic ear infections. Veterinarians estimate that about 70 percent of all skin conditions in dogs are allergy-related.
Some pets develop allergies to ingredients in their pet food and treats. Concerning a food allergy, the offending ingredient is usually a major protein or carbohydrate such as beef, chicken, corn, wheat, or soy. Other potential allergens in food include artificial preservatives, flavors, and dyes.
Food allergies don’t always develop overnight. Most pets have been eating the offending food for years with no signs of trouble.
Food allergies differ from environmental allergies in several ways:
- In addition to skin irritations, food allergies may also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
- Symptoms of food allergies are not seasonal; they occur as long as the pet is eating the offending protein.
- Food allergies usually begin later in life between five and six years of age.
- Dogs with food allergies will usually show signs of skin irritations on the face, paw, limb or belly and suffer from recurring ear infections.
- Cats with food allergies will usually show signs they’ve been scratching around the face and neck.
Diagnosing and Treating Food Allergies
Figuring out whether a food allergy caused your dog’s skin condition will take time and patience. A special diet (usually containing a single animal protein source that your dog has never eaten before) is fed for a set period, anywhere from four to 12 weeks.
If your pet gets significantly better during this time, to confirm the problem was an allergy, the original recipe is started again. If the itch returns with the original diet, then a food allergy is diagnosed.
Unfortunately, dealing with allergies is a life-long problem, but there are several things you can do to help pets with food allergies:
- Purchase high-quality pet food and treats containing whole, unprocessed ingredients and no artificial preservatives, flavors or colorings.
- Add immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements such as Omega 3 fatty acids to your pet’s diet.
- Treat itchiness and any skin lesions with topical medications and/or soothing hypoallergenic baths.
- Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and aromatherapy may ease the symptoms of food allergies.