Food allergies are quite common in pets and nearly 10 per cent of allergy cases in dogs are triggered by foods. Dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, rabbit, or fish are considered some of the common allergens. If you dog is suffering from severe itching, watery eyes, skin rashes, ear infection or hair loss, it is imperative to get help. (Also read: Pet care: Dos and don’ts you must follow for your pet’s well-being)
“Food allergies are not just limited to digestive problems like vomiting and diarrhoea but can also cause skin issues and even trigger behavioural changes. These can occur immediately or a few hours after having meals,” says Dr. Shantanu Kalambi, Chief Veterinarian, Supertails.
The expert says the most common types of ingredients that lead to allergic reactions are proteins (chicken, egg, dairy products) followed by grains (gluten) but a pet can be allergic to any food item.
“In all these food items, protein seems to be the problematic element rather than the food itself. Proteins are responsible for triggering an adverse immune response that can lead to itching and many other allergic signs. It is important to keep in mind that even veggies contain proteins, hence, resorting to a vegetable diet without prior consideration is not a safe option either,” says Dr Kalambi.
To control food allergies the first step is to recognize the symptoms. There is a wide gamut of allergic signs ranging from sneezing, diarrhoea, and ear infections to restlessness. Dr Kalambi lists all the symptoms: (Also read: Ayurveda expert on dos and don’ts for pets during summer season)
● Skin rashes
● Pigmented skin
● Scaly or oily skin
● Eye discharge
● Hair loss
● Ear infection
● Secondary yeast or bacterial infection of skin or ears
Dr Kalambi says that 10 to 30 percent of pets confirmed with food allergies show gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting or diarrhoea. He however says that sudden and short-lived symptoms are not due to food allergy and food allergies generally give rise to chronic symptoms. Here are gastro symptoms to watch out for:
● Diarrhoea irrespective of blood or mucus in stool
● Strain in passing stool
● Abdominal pain
Some pets may develop these symptoms as well:
● Breathing issues
● Nasal discharge
● Weight loss
● Secondary urinary tract infections
Apart from physical symptoms, your pets can also exhibit behavioural changes like restlessness, biting paws to ear scratching.
● Withdrawal or reduced interest in playtime
● Frequent scratching
● Biting paws, rear, and tail
● Loss of appetite
● Frequent shaking of ears or ear scratching
How to treat food allergies in pets
The Food Elimination Diet
It is the most reliable method to diagnose a food allergy. It is recommended to feed your pets an entirely new diet plan for a minimum of 8 weeks. During this trial period, a non-contaminated simple ingredient diet must be given to the pet. There should be a single-source animal or vegetable protein along with a single source carbohydrate calorie that has never been given to the pet in the past. Ideally stick to a prescribed Hypoallergenic diet formulation for a period of 2 months before slowly starting to include other ingredients. This will help determine the cause of the allergy.
To get accurate results, one must refrain from feeding any form of treats, snacks, flavoured medications, or supplements. After the completion of 8 weeks, the pet must be slowly reintroduced to the original food again to confirm food allergy due to a particular ingredient. In many cases, the parents do not complete the process and continue with the trial food to not trigger the symptoms again. But reintroducing the original food is the only method to confirm any kind of food allergy.
Go for tests
One can also go for a blood test and patch test. But irrespective of the method, diagnosis of food allergies must be done under close supervision and after extensive discussions with the veterinarian. Once identified, a diet plan must be determined based on the pet’s allergies to ensure no further reactions occur.