Food allergies are quite common with pet dogs and most dog owners should be well aware of them. If you have a dog, you have to know about this or you could be giving him food which is unhealthy for him and causing him a lot of problem. We will be covering this topic in detail.
So What Is Dog Food Allergy?
As the name says, it is the allergic reaction of the dog’s immune system to some kind of an allergen present in food. While most of the foods may be very normal for dogs, some dogs do have a sensitive immune system to cause an allergy. When the immune system of a dog takes a specific food as harmful, it triggers a response in the form of an allergic reaction.
In fact, about 10% of all allergy found in dogs is food allergy. It is also a major cause of itching and scratching by dogs. It can happen to any dog irrespective of breed, age, size and gender. It can happen to small puppies to older dogs so there is no particular pattern to it.
Most of time it is the proteins present dog food which causes the problem. Now it is not as easy as it sounds. A dog’s diet need to have proteins and almost all of the dog foods have it. Even if you cut off meats and poultry from their diet, protein is present in grains and vegetables. Any one of these proteins can cause a problem for your pet.
Whatever your dog eats, gets broken down into nutrients, most of which get absorbed by his body. Some of these proteins do not get broken down properly before absorption thereby causing a reaction from the immune system. This shows as some or the other symptom of a food allergy.
So whenever a dog is given his meal, this hyper responsive immune system becomes active and this only increases with time. Consumption of same allergy causing food overtime can cause hypersensitivity which can lead to symptoms like itchy skin, rashes, infections, diarrhea etc
Does Allergy Develop Suddenly Or Through The Years?
Having the food first time rarely causes an allergic reaction as this sensitization happens through the years. But if there in case there is something bad with the food, it will happen immediately. There is a difference between the two. A bad chicken can cause vomiting once or twice until it is out of the system but allergy will cause the reaction every time the agent responsible for the cause goes into the body.
If a dog is exposed to the allergen for a long time, the reaction will become stronger and more severe. A small irritation initially can develop into a serious allergy over time.
Is It Food Allergy Or Food Intolerance?
Food allergies can be distinguished from dog food intolerance. While intolerance can cause diarrhea or vomiting, they won’t trigger an allergic response. It is similar to intolerance in humans when they have eaten something too oily or spicy. Sometimes the dog food can have too much fat or too little fiber causing a digestive issue which would make a case for food intolerance rather than allergy.
Food sensitivities and intolerance are also much more common than true allergies.
Besides this, pets can have many different causes for gastronomical issues such as parasites, bacterial infections, viruses and sometimes eating the wrong foods. So everything cannot be termed as food allergy. This is way you should eliminate all these causes first before digging in deeper.
Food Allergy Vs Seasonal Allergy Or Atopy
Some of the symptoms can also be caused by environmental or seasonal factors and they can be very similar to each other. In general, food allergies don’t have any seasonality and they can happen any time of the year but different allergies can always overlap. In a lot of cases, dogs who are allergic to foods also have seasonal issues. So it may be tricky to isolate and pinpoint the exact reasons. Observation is quite essential here.
Seasonal allergies should occur only at certain times of the year. Dust mites, pollen, grass, fleas and weather can be some of the reasons for this. Exposure to allergens for a long time may also result in year-long allergic reactions. Allergies caused by environmental factors and airborne substances is Atopy. This one is closely related to seasonal one but is a bit tough to take care of because it is not easy to change the environment.
Are There Breeds Prone To Food Allergy?
Although food allergies can happen to any dog overtime irrespective of their age, gender and size, some breeds can have more cases of these health disorders. Also, it does nt matter if the dog is neutered or intact. One of the causes of weakened immune systems for these breeds is overbreeding and negligent breeding. That said, allergies are more common among the breeds in this list which does not mean that every dog out of them will be affected.
Some of such breeds are
- Cocker Spaniel
- Springer Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Lhasa Apso
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Shar Pei
Signs And Symptoms Of Dog Food Allergies
The signs and symptoms of food allergies can be very similar to other allergies so there is no particular symptom which really differentiates it from the others. You will have to test it out, something we will discuss later in this article
However, there are some telltale signs such as itchy skin, recurrent ear infections, hair loss, excessive scratching, skin infections and hot spots. Most of these symptoms will react positively to antibiotics but when you discontinue them, they will reappear again. Itchy skin is the most common of them all which can be present in face, feet, ears, forelegs, anal area and armpits.
Increased bowel movement, frequent ear infections, yeast infections, and continuously itchy skin are some of the things you should be looking for.
Frequent ear infections
If your dog has more than 3 treatments of year infections per year, it can be a definite sign of a food allergy. Other common cause of ear infection can be yeast infection, ear mites and swimmer’s ear but these should not be present all year round. If you have them throughout the year, you have to probe it further.
Now you will have to check for such infections, if the ears are stinky with black or brown yeast formed up inside them, it is a sign of infection. Your dog will communicate this to you by shaking head often and scratching his ear. Get ears cleaned and keep an eye for recurrences.
Check the nails and paws
Nails can tell a lot about a dog’s overall health. Check for red, brown or bronze nails, especially at the base. They should be white or with a slight shade of pink. Dogs generally tend to lick and chews their sensitive, itchy nails and paws so you would know. Sometimes paws can be swollen because of all the licking and chewing.
Try and keep the toes clean and dry, if the problem persists, its time for further checking.
Watery, runny and itchy eyes
This is also a very common symptom, infected eyes can be watery, runny, and itchy and all that can make him scratch his eye with paws. You just make sure that it isn’t a result of any kind of eye injury or trauma.
Itchy Skin, hair loss and dull coat
Itchy skin and hair loss can occur in whole body or in patches. Sometimes you can see a red underbelly, again a sign of an irritated skin. In this case, your dog will be constantly scratching his skin. Just ensure that it is not because of some shampoo. You can use a mild shampoo and give a good rinse with it. If the condition subdues, it could definitely mean that shampoo is the main culprit here. Simply change the shampoo and your problem is solved.
Most Common Foods Sources That Can Cause Allergy
Some foods are found to be the common culprits. You should try and give special attention to these first. Here is the list
- Beef – This is one of the most common ingredients in pet foods, also making it the number one ingredient which causes the problem
- Dairy products – Indigestion of lactose present in milk and milk products is quite common although this is more of an intolerance rather than allergy.
- Lamb – Lamb and rice is a popular dog feed but this can also be one of the causes.
- Wheat – Dogs are much more allergic to meats than grains but some of them do develop a problem with grains like wheat
- Soy – Soy should be avoided at best as it can cause many other health problems as well. These include thyroid and liver diseases.
Some of these proteins are more antigenic than others. Pets are more allergic to animal proteins than grains. Still a lot of commercial pet food companies use meat products in the diets meant for dogs with allergy. You have to be careful with this.
As you may have known by now that many of these causes and symptoms overlap each other so how do you know that your dog has a food allergy or diagnose it? You will have to identify and treat these other causes first. Its only after other causes are ruled out that food allergy can be isolated.
An allergy diagnostic test, blood test – An intradermal test can always be performed by the vet to further investigate into the case. This test is best recommended for atopy diagnosis and is not very effective for food allergies.
The real task is to find out the agent which is causing all the problem.
Food Trial Diet
This is the best way to find out about the allergy causing foods. You will have to feed your dog a hydrolyzed protein diet or a prescription diet for 12 weeks. 12 weeks is a good time to make pets respond to a new diet, anything less than that will not be as effective. Just be careful with hydrolyzed diet that it Is chemical free.
This means giving him a completely different diet than what he is used to, just as a patient would get. The dog won’t be given any treats or other food during this period to find out the real cause and isolate it. It is better to know that even small traces of other foods can just void the trial diet. Most important of all – Keep a journal of everything you are feeding him. This will make it easier for you to track everything.
This trial diet would not contain anything which can trigger an allergic response. In 12 weeks the symptoms will disappear and then you can re-introduce old foods one by one to find out the one causing the problem. Any relapses should be noted. There is really no other efficient way to do this. No lab test can give you the easy or instant way to find this.
This is a popular term but there are really no such diets available which don’t cause any allergies. Only the hydrolyzed diets sourced from the veterinarians are like this. You can’t always feed your dog with such diets as he needs a well balanced and nutritious diet
Whether you feed your dog with duck, lamb, kangaroo, rabbit or venison, it won’t prevent the allergy reaction caused by proteins. So thinking any such feed can be a solution is a myth.
The best treatment for dog food allergies is the avoidance of the food which is causing it. Once the ingredients have been identified with the food trial method given above, they should be eliminated from the diet. If you want a quick relief from any of the symptoms, you may resort to medications but elimination diet is the only permanent solution to this problem.
There are essentially two choices for the pet owner when it comes to diets. Feeding commercially made food diets or homemade diets. Homemade diets are easy to change and modify with new ingredients. You can always add new ingredients to the diet and periodically change it. If the animal shows any symptoms of food allergy when a new ingredient is introduced, you can just switch over to something else. This way you can easily identify all the things which can trigger the hyper response and formulate a diet which is best suited to your pet.
While there are some allergy testing kits available in the market, these are still very new concepts. Elimination and trial diets still remain the best and most efficient ways to diagnose allergies.
Home Remedies For Allergy Relief
If your dog has any of the symptoms given above, its important to get him relieved. Most of the conventional treatments would include drugs which suppress the immune system so that the symptoms disappear. These can also include steroids and other high risk drugs which may cause other serious health problems.
Some of the vets would even recommend prescription dog foods, which are expensive and they can contain questionable ingredients. MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is used as a hydrolyzed protein and can have side effects like brain damage and worsen the problems.
A lot of these prescription foods use low quality oils and may contain filler ingredients such as powdered cellulose or saw dust.
So what is the healthier alternative? Prepare your own homemade dog food
- Colostrum – Bovine colostrum helps in increasing the immunity levels and fighting allergies.
- Sprouted seeds – you can give sprouted seeds to you dog as it contains anti-oxidants and probiotics.
- Licorice – Licorice can help in relieving the symptoms by reducing inflammations and elimination of mucus.
- Aloe leaf – Aloe gel from the leaves can be applied to soothe itchy areas to decrease inflammation
- Green Tea – This is effective as a topical application for reddened areas.
- Baking soda – Make a paste or spray out of it and apply on the affected area
These were some of the common yet effective treatments you can use for a natural relief from the problem. A little care from your end can really help your pet with such health disorders.
A lot of owners don’t have time for their pets so they are always looking for shortcuts and instant ways. But sometimes you have to go through the correct and well-proven process to get the results instead of just cutting down on time and playing with the long term health of your pet.