5 Things you should Know about Food Allergies in Pets
Do you suspect your furry friend has a food allergy? Food allergies can be hard to diagnose, and even harder to treat. Here are five things you should know about food allergies in pets.
1. Pets that suffer from food allergy can show different symptoms
Some cats and dogs have tummy problems, such as intermittent vomiting and diarrhoea or weight loss. But often these signs are not there every time they eat, especially as they tend to develop and worsen over time as the reaction to the food builds up.
In other pets, food allergies can cause itchy skin. They might lick their feet, get ear infections, drag their bottom on the ground (and get frequent anal gland problems) or they scratch their skin all over. Cats strangely enough will often just get itchy around the head and neck when they develop a food allergy.
2. Cats and dogs are not born with food allergies
Food allergies usually don’t begin until a year of age and they tend to develop to something your pet has been eating for a while.
3. Simply cutting out grains is usually not the solution
The first step to working out what your pet can digest safely is to go back to basics and do an elimination diet. Simply cutting out grains is not usually the solution, since red meats and chicken or corn are the more common allergens. Gluten intolerance is really a human condition! There is also new evidence that grain-free diets may do more harm than good, overseas dogs have developed a fatal heart disease from eating grain-free food.
One way to do a food trial is to use a diet like Hills Z/D, or Royal Canin Anallergenic. These prescription diets use hydrolysed proteins – meaning they proteins are broken down into pieces so small the immune system doesn’t recognise them, and therefore doesn’t react to them. They are much easier to use than a home-cooked elimination diet and are pets are usually happy to eat them. There are both cat and dog versions available.
A home cooked elimination diet is the other option for an elimination diet. This involves using a novel or new protein your pet has never eaten before, combining it with a low allergen carbohydrate like sweet potato. Some examples of proteins you can use as part of an elimination diet include venison, rabbit or salmon. Avoid any pet meats that contain sulphur preservatives and make sure you cook any meat or fish that you use.
4. Food trials must last for at least 8 weeks
In order to successfully determine exactly what your pet is allergic to, a food trial must be undertaken for at least 8 weeks. During the trial, avoid treats, flavoured worming tablets, rawhide chews (and preferably any other chews or bones), table scraps and keep your pet away from the kitchen while you are cooking. If you drop some food and your pet manages to eat it, you need to start all over again!
At the end of the 8 weeks, reintroduce the old food to see if the symptoms recur. This phase is pretty important, since many allergies will fluctuate, or you may get a partial improvement, that is only obvious once you reintroduce the old diet again. Unfortunately, many pets have a food allergy, as well as an allergy to pollens, dust mites or environmental allergens, so while changing the food can help, it may not solve the problem entirely.
5. You need to make sure your pet’s new diet is nutritionally balanced
If your elimination diet was home-cooked food, you really should switch to a nutritionally balanced diet after the food trial. You can switch to diet that includes limited ingredients, or you can enlist a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a balanced long-term diet. If you have chosen one of the prescription diets from Hills or Royal Canin you can continue feeding this long-term, since it’s perfectly balanced and great for your furry friend.
If you suspect your pet does have a food allergy, have a chat to one of our vets and they can assist you in working out what will suit your pet and of course check for any other diseases that cause similar symptoms to a food allergy. At Port Road Vets we want to make sure your pet stays healthy and happy and we love to talk about food!
If you think your pet has a food allergy please contact our friendly team on (08) 8340 0388 or book an appointment online by clicking here.