Photo credit: Free Stock Images
Guest Contributor: Kayla Matthews
Imagine being allergic to something that’s supposed to help your body. Now imagine not being able to discuss your symptoms with anyone. Some animals find themselves in that situation when well-intentioned owners give their pets foods that their bodies reject. Food allergies can be tricky to diagnose in humans and just as sneaky in pets. To complicate matters, reactions differ among species.
Allergies in Dogs
Ten percent of all canine allergies are related to foods, when dogs’ immune systems react badly to specific proteins. This occurs most often with beef, dairy and wheat products. Breeds that seem more susceptible to allergies include boxers, cocker and springer spaniels, collies, dalmatians and German shepherds.
Food allergy symptoms in dogs include dry, itchy skin, an unusual amount of scratching or licking, bald spots, ear or skin infections, diarrhea and vomiting. Many of these can be caused by other conditions, so a food allergy diagnosis is not an easy call.
During an examination, your veterinarian can rule out other causes for your dog’s symptoms. That done, it’s time to figure out which food is responsible.
Vets typically recommend elimination diets for pets. This means removing your dog’s typical food and offering novel replacements. It also means forgoing treats and human food during the testing period.
With the vast range of dog foods on the market, it can be challenging to find ingredients your dog has never been exposed to. Some owners have had to search out unusual protein sources, such as rabbit, venison, yak, alligator or even kangaroo. Alternative plant foods, such as oatmeal or sweet potato, are generally easier to locate.
Once the allergic symptoms have disappeared, it’s time to start reintroducing the old foods one at a time. When symptoms reappear – which can take days or weeks – you know that’s one of the offending foods.
Continue this process with all former foods, and gauge your dog’s reaction. When you discover foods that cause allergic reactions, excluded them forever from your dog’s diet.
If your dog shows no signs of a food allergy, be grateful but wary. Dogs usually develop food allergies over time rather than suddenly. A dog be happily eating a regular diet for a while, and then suddenly have an allergic reaction.
Allergies in Cats
In felines, the most frequent food allergy symptoms are associated with the skin: persistent scratching, irritation, lesions, hair loss and an overall decline in the coat’s appearance. Allergic cats occasionally experience diarrhea and vomiting.
With food allergies, skin conditions most often appear on the head or neck. That’s an important, though not conclusive, tip-off that a food may be to blame. Your vet should still rule out other causes, such as flea bites.
Diagnosis and treatment are the same for felines and canines. Switch your cat’s diet to something novel. Certain commercial foods are completely grain-free. Others contain unusual proteins, such as duck, and limited carbohydrates.
Symptoms tend to disappear within six to 12 weeks. Treats and human food are out-of-bounds during this time. Then, just like with dogs, former foods are reintroduced, one at a time. Allergy symptoms usually rear their ugly heads within a week or two. Any food that causes a symptom is banned for all time.
Familiarity doesn’t mean security. A feline can become allergic to a food eaten happily for years. Once an allergy strikes, though, your cat will be much happier without that particular fare.
Allergies in Rabbits
Symptoms of allergic reactions in rabbits are more clear-cut than in other animals. Bunnies suffer skin irritation, which makes them scratch. This behavior may be so persistent that the animals start to lose fur.
By now, you’ve probably guessed that an elimination diet is the diagnostic tool. Hay and pellets are not typical allergens, so limit your rabbit’s food intake to these until symptoms fade. Then start the reintroduction process.
Eventually you’ll uncover the food culprit. Strike that from your bunny’s diet, and all will be right in its furry world.
Photo credit: Free Stock Images
Allergies in Birds
With food allergies, birds experience itchy skin much like rabbits. To get relief, birds often damage their feathers by chewing on or plucking them. Typical troublesome foods are peanuts, wheat, corn, soy and eggs, as well as commercial additives such as colorings, flavorings and preservatives.
By now, you know what to do: Rule out other causes and eliminate foods until symptoms fade. Reintroduce foods slowly and monitor your bird’s reaction. If symptoms reappear, banish that food. Gourmet bird food may be better researched and may more closely resemble birds’ diets in nature. These specialized foods might, therefore, lead to fewer allergies.
Take these steps to eliminate allergens from your pets’ diet so they can be happy, healthy companions.