At Continental Animal Wellness Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, we know that your pets are an important part of your family.
When you adopt a pet, you are not only inviting a new family member into your heart and home but accepting the responsibility to provide for their health and wellbeing. We all know that when your dog or cat starts showing signs of discomfort, your top priority is to find the source and eliminate it. While many pet parents are familiar with allergies, some are surprised to learn that dogs and cats can suffer from allergies, as well.
Like humans, dogs and cats can develop an allergic response to substances in their environment, such as dust, fleas, pollen, and mold. But did you know that both dogs and cats can also develop food allergies?
Food allergy symptoms often overlap with symptoms of other conditions. So, if your pet is displaying new symptoms that you believe could be triggered by something they are eating, your first call should always be to your veterinarian. However, understanding the signs, causes, and treatment of food allergies can help you gather valuable information to share with your vet so she can make an informed diagnosis and create a treatment plan for your furry family members.
Allergy Symptoms in Cats and Dogs
Though some cats and dogs experience respiratory symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, and coughing in response to allergens, many symptoms of allergies in dogs and cats are seen on the skin. If your pet shows any of these symptoms or behaviors, she may be suffering from a food allergy:
- Itching and skin inflammation that presents year-round
- Over-grooming, wounds, hot spots, or hair loss
- Recurrent infections of the skin or ears (or both)
- Frequent licking of the paws, flanks, or groin
- Skin rashes or hives
Some animals with food allergies will also experience gastrointestinal distress, such as flatulence, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, or any other new behaviors, you should schedule a consultation with your veterinarian.
Caring for a Dog with Food Allergies
Just like humans, dogs can develop allergies at any time, even if they’ve never had an allergic reaction before. The longer your pet is exposed to an allergen, the more intense their allergic responses can be. So, it is crucial to identify and eliminate your dog’s allergens as soon as you notice signs of discomfort. While allergies can never be cured, you can eliminate the symptoms by removing the allergen from their diet.
Your vet will want to conduct a complete examination to rule out other conditions. They may also order skin and blood tests, though there is not one definitive food allergy test. If your vet suspects a food allergy, they will likely ask you to conduct a food trial that typically lasts 6-8 weeks, though more time may be needed depending on your dog’s diet and symptoms.
How common are food allergies in dogs?
Among dogs with allergies, approximately 10% are food-related. When your dog develops a food allergy, its immune system “overreacts” and produces antibodies in response to the offending ingredient.
What are the common signs of a food allergy in dogs?
Dogs with food allergies may experience itchy skin, rashes, chronic ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, and more. Often, pet owners notice their dog constantly licks or scratches one part of their body, such as the paws or groin. Some dogs may develop skin infections in their neck or ears that do not respond well to treatment or return as soon as the treatment is stopped. If your dog frequently rubs their neck, head, or ears against carpet or furniture, or you notice skin irritation or hot spots, these may be signs of a food allergy.
Your dog may also display gastrointestinal symptoms after eating an allergen. Repeated vomiting, belching, excessive gas, unusually frequent bowel movements, and diarrhea may all be food allergy symptoms.
What could trigger a food allergy in my dog?
Though some breeds are pre-disposed to allergies, food allergies can develop at any age in every breed. Dogs can develop food allergies, even if they have been on the same diet for a long period of time. Any food can cause an allergic reaction in dogs, but some of the most common dog allergies are triggered by chicken, beef, salmon, dairy products, eggs, lamb, and soy.
The best pet food for dogs with skin allergies and other allergic reactions will depend on your dog’s allergy triggers and other factors that influence their nutritional needs. Your vet will work with you to develop a diet that is appropriate for your dog.
Caring for a Cat with Food Allergies
If you suspect your cat has food allergies, you may be tempted to scour the pet store for allergy-free pet food brands. However, you should always consult with your veterinarian before making changes to your cat’s diet.
Your vet will first want to examine your cat to rule out other conditions. If no other cause of your cat’s symptoms is found, a trial diet will help identify the allergens that trigger your cat’s response. Your vet will then work with you to develop a diet plan that provides complete nutrition for your cat while avoiding their allergy triggers.
How common are food allergies in cats?
Among cats with allergies, food allergies are the third most common type of allergy. Just as in dogs (and humans), cats with food allergies have an immune system overreaction in response to an allergen, which triggers the development of antibodies.
What are the common signs of a food allergy in cats?
Cats experiencing allergies in response to food may display a range of symptoms, varying from one cat to the next.
Excessive grooming can be a sign that your cat is experiencing skin itchiness or inflammation. You may also notice reddened skin or hair loss on a cat with food allergies. Chronic ear and anal gland infections can also be a sign of food allergies in cats, and some cats may exhibit symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
What could trigger a food allergy in my cat?
Many cats with food allergies develop them between the ages of two and six, but cats of any age are susceptible. Cats and dogs can only form an allergy when they have been previously exposed to the allergen, and their immune response can become more severe with repeated and sustained exposure. Though any ingredient may cause an allergic reaction, some common culprits behind cat food allergies are beef, milk, lamb, wheat, corn, egg, chicken, tuna, and salmon.
Compassionate Veterinary Care for Your Pets
If you suspect your pet’s food is causing them discomfort, it can be tempting to head straight to the pet store to stock up on food for pets with allergies. However, if your dog or cat has a pet food allergy, switching their diet can make it more difficult for your vet to diagnose your pet and pinpoint the offending ingredients.
Many diseases and conditions can mimic the symptoms of pet food allergies, so it is essential to contact your veterinarian before making any diet changes. In most instances, your vet will want to see your pet in the office so they can thoroughly investigate your pet’s symptoms and check for bacterial infections, parasites, fungal infections, and other conditions with overlapping symptoms.
At Continental Animal Wellness Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, we provide compassionate, wellness-oriented care for every pet who visits our practice. Our holistic and comprehensive approach to veterinary care incorporates wellness planning to enhance your pet’s quality of life. If your dog or cat is exhibiting food allergy symptoms, our veterinary technicians and board-certified veterinarians will examine your pet and perform tests to rule out other conditions. If your pet’s symptoms indicate food allergies are behind them, we will work with you to identify the foods that trigger your pet’s symptoms and develop an allergy-free pet food diet plan to alleviate the symptoms and return your pet to a high quality of life.
There is no cure for food allergies. However, with ongoing dietary control and support, the prognosis for dogs and cats with food allergies is typically quite good.
At Continental Animal Wellness Center in Flagstaff, AZ, we incorporate traditional medicine and behavioral health practices to provide compassionate, comprehensive care that promotes the health and wellbeing of all our patients. We know how concerning it can be when your family pet is not feeling its best, so we make it our mission to provide excellent customer service and straightforward, consistent communication with our patients’ owners so you understand your pet’s needs and can act as an informed partner in developing their care plan. If you have questions about your pet’s symptoms or suspect food allergies are behind them, contact us today to talk to a member of our staff and schedule an appointment.