Pets & Food Allergies

What is a Food Allergy?

  • Allergic reaction or food intolerance – the pet’s immune system responds to a particle in the food causing an inflammatory reaction.
  • The exact cause is not completely understood and it is not easy to distinguish between true allergic reactions and food intolerances.
  • Similar reactions can occur in people: eg. lactose intolerance, allergies to MSG or other preservatives.
  • Food allergies can develop even when a pet has been fed the same diet for a long period of time.

Incidence of Food Reactions?

  • Food reactions are responsible for approximately 10-15% of all allergic skin diseases in dogs and cats.
  • It is the 3rd most common itchy skin disease in dogs.
  • It is the 2nd most common itchy skin disease in cats.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The symptoms of food allergy are similar to other allergies.  Symptoms most commonly include:

  • Itchiness – can occur anywhere on the body
  • Redness of the skin
  • Licking feet
  • Ear infections – particularly yeast infections

Less commonly we may see

  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • excessive gas or flatulence

How do we Diagnose Food Reactions?

  • Food elimination trial is the definitive test for food allergies.
  • The diet must be restricted to one protein and one carbohydrate source – preferably sources the pet has not eaten before.
  • This new food source must be fed exclusively for up to 13 weeks or 3 months.
  • We use a commercial dry food that is complete and balanced for food trials. The food is very palatable and most dogs will eat it happily.

Pitfalls with Food Elimination Trials

  • Feeding other food: For the food trial to be effective and accurate it is essential that no other foods are given to your pet. The food trial will involve a change of diet and in some cases a change in the feeding routine.  This can be one of the hardest things for many pet owners and families to do.
  • Not continuing for long enough: The food trial must be continued for at least 13 weeks before we can be sure food allergy is not the problem.
  • Outdoor pets: must be prevented from accessing other foods during the food trial.  This includes digging up buried bones and hunting pets eating lizards.
  • Treats: We do not allow treats to be fed treats during a food trial.
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