Food Allergies: When Good Foods Go Bad
Many of us know people with food allergies, but did you know that pets can have food allergies too? In honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, we want to make you more aware of food allergies in pets.
While it’s difficult to determine the prevalence of food allergies in dogs and cats, food allergies may occur in about 10% of dogs and cats with allergies. While you may think this is not very common, consider that in 2007, about 3.9% of children were found to have food allergies.1
Pets can develop dermatologic as well as gastrointestinal signs with food allergies. Common dermatology problems include itching throughout the year, skin infections and ear infections. If your pet has these clinical signs, it is recommended that they be evaluated by your veterinarian to determine if a diet trial would be helpful. To determine which diet would be the best, a complete dietary history including current and previous diets, treats, table food and supplements, is necessary.
One common myth is that grains are the most common pet food allergens. In fact, proteins are much more common allergens. When your veterinarian recommends a diet trial, options include home-cooked diets, novel protein diets and hydrolyzed diets. If you decide to use a commercial diet rather than home cooking, we recommend prescription diets as research suggests that some over the counter diets may contain ingredients that are not listed on their label.
The goal is to feed a protein and carbohydrate that your pet has not eaten before. While your pet cannot have any of their previous treats, there are treat options. I like to think of diet trials as an opportunity to find a new food or treat that your pet will like. He might even like the new treats better than the old treats. Don’t forget that chewable flea and heartworm preventatives are flavored so we recommend talking to your veterinarian about non-flavored options.
We recommend that the diet is fed for at least 8-12 weeks before evaluating your pet’s response to it. In one study,2 about 94% of dogs improved by 8 weeks on the diet trial. So even if your pet does not improve within the first few weeks, it’s worth it to continue the diet trial. You may think that sounds like a long time to wait to see a reduction in itching, but we have medications that we can use to keep your pet comfortable during the diet trial. Blood and saliva food allergy tests are available, but they have not been found to be reliable.
If your pet is on a diet trial, it’s important to follow it closely and remember, no cheating allowed! You might think one treat can’t be bad, but even a small amount of a food that your pet is allergic to can cause more itching and infections, which are the things we want to avoid.
Our goal during Food Allergy Awareness Week is to get more itchy pets the treatment they need.
We hope you enjoyed our first dermatology blog post by VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital’s dermatologist, Melanie Hnot. Check back soon for more dermatology information!
1. Branum, Amy and Lukacs, Susan. “Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oct. 2008.
2. Rosser, EJ. Diagnosis of food allergy in dogs. J Am Vet Assoc 1993; 203: 259-262.