Food Allergies in Dogs

Food Allergies in Dogs

Food sensitivities in dogs involve their immune system reacting to certain ingredients in their diet, often those they are allergic to. Unlike immediate reactions upon first trying a food, these sensitivities develop gradually over time. Contrary to common belief, most dogs with genuine food sensitivities are allergic to specific proteins rather than grains. Nevertheless, dogs can develop allergies to any component of their diet.

When a dog with food sensitivities consumes a problematic ingredient, their immune system identifies it as a foreign invader and launches an immune response. This typically leads to uncomfortable symptoms such as itching, redness, and swelling. It's important to note that food sensitivities are less prevalent than environmental allergies like seasonal allergies and reactions to fleas or ticks. Only a small percentage, approximately 0.2%, of dogs experience food sensitivities.

Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs

  • Licking/chewing feet
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent ear infections/skin infections
  • Seizure disorders (rare) 
  • Hives
  • Itchy skin

Reasons for Food Allergies in Dogs

Food allergies in dogs occur when their immune system overreacts to specific proteins, perceiving them as foreign invaders. This immune response triggers inflammation, resulting in various physical manifestations like redness, swelling, itching, and increased tear or fluid production. This heightened immune reaction can also affect the gastrointestinal tract, showing symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

While there's a genetic predisposition to allergies in dogs, the precise mechanism behind why some dogs develop allergies while others do not remains incompletely understood.

Food allergies can manifest early in a dog's life or emerge several years later. While they can affect dogs of any breed at any age, certain breeds are more susceptible to food allergies, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, English Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Miniature Schnauzers, and Shar-Pei.

Several ingredients are frequently associated with dog food allergies, with the most common allergen being a specific protein. However, many dogs may be allergic to more than one food component. The following ingredients are commonly linked to food allergies in dogs:

  1. Chicken
  2. Beef
  3. Dairy
  4. Wheat
  5. Soy
  6. Eggs

Treatment Of Food Allergies in Dogs

The primary approach to managing food allergies in dogs typically involves a dietary modification. It's worth noting that many dogs with food allergies often also contend with environmental allergies. To address these allergic reactions, veterinarians may recommend a combination of treatments, including specialized medications like Apoquel®, Cytopoint®, antihistamines, or steroids, alongside a tailored diet.

In addition to medication and dietary adjustments, particular supplements can offer valuable support for dogs dealing with allergies. Among these supplements are omega fatty acids, which enhance the skin's natural protective function. Some noteworthy products in this category include:

  1. Vetoquinol® Omega
  2. Nutramax® Welactin
  3. EicosaDermTM

Incorporating these supplements into the treatment plan can help alleviate allergy-related symptoms and improve your dog's overall well-being.

Diagnose Of Food Allergies in Dogs

Diagnosing food allergies in dogs typically relies on a combination of elements, including a thorough physical examination, clinical symptoms, and the response observed during a structured food trial.

When your dog's veterinarian suspects a food allergy, they may recommend embarking on a food trial, a critical diagnostic process that typically spans eight to 12 weeks. It's crucial to adhere strictly to the prescribed guidelines during this period, refraining from offering treats or alternative diets that might interfere with the trial's results. Consult your veterinarian about suitable heartworm and flea/tick prevention products, as some may contain added beef or chicken protein for flavor.

There are several approaches to conducting a food trial:

  1. Prescription Hydrolyzed Protein Diet: These diets feature proteins broken down into smaller particles, preventing them from binding to receptors and triggering an immune response.
  2. Elimination Diet: These diets consist of a single-source protein and carbohydrate and are formulated by a veterinary nutritionist or prepared as home-cooked meals under veterinary guidance. Elimination diets are primarily used for diagnosing food allergies rather than long-term feeding. If your dog's skin and ear issues resolve during the trial, it indicates a food allergy, and you can proceed to identify a suitable long-term diet.
  3. Novel Protein/Carbohydrate Source Diets: These diets incorporate unconventional protein or carbohydrate sources and feature limited ingredients to minimize the risk of allergic reactions.
  4. Skin Support Diets: These diets are enriched with bioactives and phytonutrients designed to reduce the immune system's response.

Food trials and elimination diets remain the gold standard for diagnosing dog food allergies, as the accuracy of available diagnostic tests on the market remains uncertain.

Management and Recovery of Food Allergies in Dogs

While dogs have no cure for food allergies, they can be effectively managed over the long term through appropriate dietary therapy and avoiding allergenic ingredients. Suppose your dog is afflicted with a food allergy. In that case, it's crucial to maintain a vigilant eye on dog food labels, particularly regarding treats, to prevent unintentional exposure to allergens. Prescription treats are available on the market, and in a pinch, some pet owners find it helpful to offer alternatives like raw baby carrots or green beans as treats.

For dogs undergoing a diet trial due to food allergies, it's essential to understand that this process typically spans eight to 12 weeks before noticeable improvements occur. While a reduction in licking and chewing may become apparent within the first four weeks for some dogs, it might take up to 12 weeks for others to show any signs of improvement. Patience and adherence to the prescribed dietary regimen are crucial to achieving the desired results in managing food allergies in your dog.

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