Food Allergies in Dogs

Food Allergies in Dogs

Most of us keep on feeding the same diet to our dogs for years. In case of certain allergic symptoms, a recent change in dog food is often blamed. But do you know, the fact could be just the opposite? Read on to protect your canine from common food allergies...
Along with our precious little dog, come a plethora of responsibilities. We are more than happy to undertake the routine medical check-ups and pamper our dear one with all the available dog care items. Hence, it is a sad sight to watch our beloved pooch going through an ordeal in case of allergies and other diseases. Allergies are very common in dogs. However only 10% of these can be attributed to food allergies. Most common being inhalant allergies and flea bite allergies. In canines, skin is the first to respond to any kind of allergy. Excessive loss of hair, itching, red patchy skin and bald patches on skin are the common symptoms of allergy. For proper treatment it is very important to diagnose the accurate cause of allergy.

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?
Food intolerance is often mistaken for food allergies. Food allergies show true symptoms of allergy like itching and skin problems. Food intolerance is the body's inability to digest offending ingredients while food allergy is the body's response to certain offending ingredients. Food intolerance is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, etc. However both food intolerance and allergies can be cured with little alteration in the diet.

Causes of Food Allergies
Studies have shown that some ingredients in dog food are more likely to cause food allergies than others. Most common offenders in dog food are beef, dairy products, chicken, wheat, chicken eggs, corn and soy. Surprisingly these ingredients are most common in dog food. Some proteins in dog food have slightly more antigenic properties than others and the incidence of allergic reactions is proportional to the amount of exposure. Hence consumption of same food for years is the main cause of food allergies in dogs. In order to combat this problem several companies introduced a diet made of lamb and rice. There was nothing special about lamb and rice diet except that it did not form a part of common dog food. Animals had never consumed this diet before, and therefore, had not developed an allergy to it yet. If the animals continue to consume this diet for a long time, they would eventually end up getting allergic to it as well.

Diagnosis
The diagnosis of food allergies becomes difficult because many other problems can cause similar symptoms. Also it is possible that the animal is suffering from more than one problem. It is of utmost importance that all other problems are properly identified and treated before undergoing diagnosis of food allergies. Atopy, intestinal parasite hypersensitivities, flea bite allergies, sarcoptic mange and yeast or bacterial infections can cause similar symptoms as food allergies. After all other causes have been ruled out or treated, a food trial can be performed.

Elimination Diets and Provocative Testing
A food trial consists of feeding an animal an innovative food source of protein and carbohydrate for 12 weeks. A novel food source has to be a protein and carbohydrate that the animal has never consumed before. An example of novel food source would be rabbit and rice, venison and potato or duck and rutabagas. These are homemade diets but several commercial novel diets are also available in the market. Irrespective of the diet used, it must be ensured that it is the only thing the animal eats for 12 weeks.

Blood Testing
Blood tests such as RAST test or ELISA test can be performed to diagnose food allergies. In addition, an intradermal skin testing can also be performed. Although these tests are routinely performed and used as a diagnostic aid, there is no evidence that these tests are reliable for the diagnosis of food allergies. Food trial is the only effective diagnostic aid.

Treatment
Once the dog has been diagnosed with food allergy, necessary alterations should be made in its diet. The most commonly recommended diet for dogs with food allergies is a novel protein diet. It comprises a protein source which the dog has never eaten before.

Potential Novel Proteins Include:
  • Fish (such as salmon)
  • Egg
  • Duck
  • Venison
  • Kangaroo
The most helpful information while choosing a diet for a dog would be a list of foods the dog has eaten in the past. Knowing the proteins the dog has previously been exposed to can help determine which foods to choose for a food trial.

Hydrolyzed Protein Diets
Hydrolyzed protein diets are diets in which the protein content has been synthetically reduced. The basic idea behind feeding a hydrolyzed protein source is that the proteins in the food are small enough so that the allergic dog's immune system does not recognize the protein fragments. This might work well for some dogs with food allergies but not for all. Food trial is the only way to find out whether hydrolyzed proteins will be effective for a dog.

Homemade Meals
Many dog owners prefer homemade meals during food trials. Care should be taken that these meals contain a novel protein source which the dog has not eaten before. A carbohydrate source such as rice or sweet potato can also be added to the meal. If the feeding trial is successful and the homemade diet is to be continued, it is important to ensure that the diet is properly balanced to provide all the nutrients a dog needs to maintain a good health.

Just like us, our pets also get bored of eating the same food everyday. Hence, it is necessary to introduce proper changes in our dog's diet to help it lead a healthy life.