Much is often inferred from pet owners, pet food manufacturers, and veterinarians regarding itchy pets and food allergies. A natural reaction on the part of the dog or cat owner is to change diets, But does this really help? Although it is true that food allergies do occur in pets, how can we best evaluate and subsequently manage this condition? Food allergies may result in your pet scratching incessantly, having sores on their body or even having gastrointestinal signs such as frequent soft stools and flatulence. Chronic ear infections can also be a sequellae to consuming a food substance your cat or dog may be allergic to. Though an acute allergic reaction to a food substance is not likely to require urgent care, the ongoing discomfort can be very unsettling for the pet and owner.
In attempting to reduce the signs related to food allergy there are several methods to deal with the condition. One way is to institute the feeding of an elimination diet. This method requires a bit of an effort on the pet owner but the benefits can be rewarding. In this method the pet is fed a diet strictly based on a protein source and carbohydrate that your pet has not been exposed to previously. It can be difficult to establish non previously exposed to substances since pet food manufacturers have become increasingly varied in their diets. However a fish and sweet potato diet is often a good starting point. It is key that for a period of 6 to 8 weeks minimum the pet be fed only the elimination diet which excludes treats and any table food. At the end of this interval if the pet’s condition has improved, additional food sources may be added back in to the diet one substance at a time.
A second method that has been utilized to deal with food allergies is to feed a commercially prepared diet in which the possible allergens are broken down during a special manufacturing process in an effort to avoid triggering the allergic reaction to these substances. These foods are generally available only through veterinarians although there is not uniform agreement as to their efficacy.
Finally it is also possible to submit an allergy screen by blood testing to a laboratory which can then evaluate your pet as to excessive reactivity to any number of food substances such as protein sources, fillers, grains and various vegetables in an effort to discover specific items that your pet may be allergic to. This method is very sensitive in identifying allergens and in fact may actually identify some substances that your dog of cat may not be allergic to or what are known as a false positives. The allergic components that are tested for include but are not limited to beef, chicken, lamb, fish, corn, wheat, soybean, rice, brewer’s yeast….etc. In this method, the laboratory will often provide a list of commercial foods that are missing the allergic ingredients thereby making it a bit easier on the pet owner to be compliant.
The above briefly outlines the various ways in which to identify and/or manage food allergies in your pet. There is not necessarily one correct way but the most important aspect of all these treatments is to be as strict as possible in complying with the diet and above all keep open lines of communication with your veterinarian in continuing to evaluate the response of your pet. Remember that you as the pet owner are our most important diagnostic tool in caring for your pet’s illness. Next we’ll delve into some of the other causes of allergic skin disease.