If your furry family member has itchy skin, especially on the feet, forelegs, face, ears, or armpits, it could indicate a food allergy.
Other food allergy symptoms include hair loss, excessive scratching, hot spots, recurring ear infections, or skin infections that return after responding to an antibiotic. Gastrointestinal problems may occur as well.
Symptoms that start during the winter (cold) months, are present year-around, or nasty skin problems in young dogs may point to a problem with food.
Possible Triggers and Diagnosis
Food allergies are responsible for about ten percent of canine allergies, and 20 percent of unusual scratching and itching. Foods most likely to trigger an allergy are the ingredients most common in dog food: beef, chicken, fish, lamb, dairy, corn, wheat, eggs, and soy. Peanut allergy is possible, but uncommon in dogs.
Before diagnosing canine food allergy, other conditions with similar symptoms – flea bite allergies, intestinal parasites, inhalant allergies, yeast or bacterial infections, and sarcoptic mange – must be ruled out first. If no other disease accounts for symptoms, a food trial is implemented to determine whether food is the culprit.
A food trial involves feeding your pet a novel (never eaten before) source of carbohydrate and protein (e.g., rabbit and rice) for a minimum of 12 weeks. No matter how much the dog begs with sad puppy eyes for favorite treats, they are off limits. Flavored medications, rawhides, new treats, toothpaste, or flavored toys are banned as well. Only the novel food and plain water are allowed.
If symptoms diminish after the 12 weeks, pets are put back on their original food. Returning symptoms confirm a diagnosis of food allergy. Blood and skin tests are not effective for diagnosing food allergy in dogs.
Treating Your Dog’s Food Allergy
As with human food allergies, the best treatment for a dog’s symptoms is allergen avoidance. Pet parents establish avoidance by feeding their four-legged friend a special, commercially prepared diet, or using a home-prepared diet.
An advantage of a home-prepared diet is the option of periodically adding one new ingredient such as chicken or beef. If allergy symptoms appear within a couple weeks, then one of the offending foods has been identified. If symptoms do not reappear after two weeks, the added ingredient can remain part of the diet.
A disadvantage of homemade diets is making sure they are well balanced, with adequate vitamins and minerals. They should be created with the help of a veterinary nutritionist.
Though uncommon with food allergies, dogs can experience anaphylaxis signified by symptoms such as pale gums, cold limbs, fast heart beat, weak pulse, diarrhea, vomiting, and coma. Emergency veterinary assistance is vital–epinephrine must be given soon as possible.
If your pet has a severe allergy, a veterinarian can write you a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector. Antihistamines may effectively treat milder reactions.
Could My Pet Develop An Allergy?
Since food allergies occur in both dogs and cats, affect neutered and intact animals of either sex, your pet could develop one. No strong association has been made between breed type and food allergy susceptibility. Symptoms may arise as early as five months, and late as 12 years.
Fortunately, most people will treat their food allergic dog with the same care and compassion they would a food allergic child or spouse.
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.” ~ Roger A. Caras