Have you ever suffered from a food allergy? If so, you know the discomfort it can bring, especially when it comes to itchy skin – so imagine how your pet must feel!

dr. krista nelson vetcare canada regional medical director dvm small animal veterinarian dog cat

“Food allergies can occur even if your pet has been eating the same thing for years.

It can occur in dogs and cats, and skin and gastrointestinal signs can occur at the same time.”

– Dr. Krista Nelson, DVM

As pet owners, we often strive to provide the best care for our furry companions. Yet, despite our efforts, our animal companions can still suffer from allergic reactions, which can manifest in various ways and leave them distressed. To shed light on this often misunderstood topic, Dr. Krista Nelson, Veterinarian & Regional Medical Director at VetCare, shared invaluable insights into how you can watch out for and treat your cat or dog’s food allergies.

Did You Know?

You can suspect a food allergy in your pet if their symptoms occur year-round (instead of seasonally). In dogs, symptoms often manifest as itchy ears, paws, and rear ends, while cats may experience intense itching around the face, head, and neck.

One common misconception is that grains are the primary culprits for food allergies. However, Dr. Krista clarifies, “Allergies are typically to proteins, not grains.” Chicken, beef, and dairy are among the most common allergens for dogs and cats. To accurately diagnose food allergies, Dr. Krista stresses the importance of a food trial, stating, “The only reliable way to test for food allergies is to perform a food trial. Saliva or blood tests are typically not helpful and I personally do not recommend them.”

During a food trial, pets are fed a prescription diet containing hydrolyzed proteins (proteins that are broken down into tiny pieces, making them “invisible” to a pet’s immune system) or new proteins they haven’t been exposed to before. Dr. Krista recommends hydrolyzed diets for their effectiveness in preventing allergic reactions.

However, it’s crucial that no other food is allowed. “Even the smallest amount of a protein fed can cause a reaction and affect the trial,” she warns. Many owners assume a small treat isn’t a big deal, but if you think of it like a human peanut allergy, even a small amount of peanut or even traces of peanut oil can cause a reaction.

The duration of the food trial is typically eight weeks, during which pet owners must diligently monitor for any improvements in their pet’s condition. “If an improvement is seen, this is supportive of a cutaneous (skin-related) adverse food reaction,” explains Dr. Krista. If there’s no improvement, it is possible that other foods were inadvertently fed during the trial period, or it may mean a trial with a different food should be attempted.

But what about over-the-counter (OTC) diets? Unfortunately, they’re a risk for cross-contamination. Prescription diets are manufactured in closed facilities to prevent this, but Dr. Krista emphasizes that OTC foods are not, which makes them unreliable for food trials.

dog eating food licking lips food allergy allergies cats dogs

You may be thinking that the food trial process seems like a lot of work. However, though it may seem daunting, it’s worth the effort to see what kind of diet works (and doesn’t work) for your pet. After all, food allergies aren’t only about itching; they can also cause painful, progressive skin conditions and costly drug dependencies for your furry loved ones.

“The goal is to become less reliant on anti-itch medications and to prevent secondary skin issues,” says Dr. Krista. ”Steroids can have side effects, and should be used judiciously. However, it is really important to keep these guys on flea prevention to avoid exacerbating an existing issue.”

Did You Know?

Just like us humans, pets can suffer from multiple types of allergies at once. For instance, your dog could react to beef and mites, or your cat could be sensitive to dairy and litter dust. With any significant skin itchiness, comprehensive diagnostic workups (like skin cytology, skin scrapings, and fungal cultures) can help rule out other underlying causes of scratching!

All in all, food allergies in pets are complex but manageable with proper diagnosis and treatment. Just remember, your pet can’t speak for themselves to tell you what’s wrong – but through education and understanding, you can provide the best care for your buddy, ensuring they live comfortably and itch-free.

Want to scratch below the surface (pun intended)? Dr. Krista recommends visiting Veterinary Partner, a website developed by veterinarians, for accurate and comprehensive resources. Good luck with your pawsome pal!

Scroll to Top