Food allergy in the dog

What is a food allergy and what are the symptoms?

Food allergies mainly cause skin, ear and digestive problems or often both

1-6% of all skin and the vast majority of food allergies start in the first year of life. A food allergy should always be suspected if the dog has recurring ear infections. Ears may be itchy and this is often complicated by a bacterial or yeast infection. Other symptoms include:

– Itchy skin – Recurring skin infection – Itchy feet and belly – Vomiting – Diarrhoea

Less commonly swelling of the face and eyelids can occur.

Could my dogs breed be a factor?

Most investigators did not find this to be a breed related problem but some studies showed that Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Mini Schnauzers, Chinese Shar-Pei, West Highland White Terriers, Wheatern Terriers, Boxers, Dachhunds, Dalmatians, Lhasa Apsos, GSD and Golden Retriever are at greater risk.

What are the causative agents?

The majority of food allergies are caused by proteins, usually red meats such as beef or lamb but most food components such as rice could be a trigger. Food additives can also cause allergies though at the moment these appear to be less common.

What are the risk factors:

1. Certain foods or food ingredients 2. Poorly digestible proteins 3. Any non related bowel disease such as a viral infection which damages the bowel lining 4. Age- less than one year old carries higher risk 5. Breed?

How can a food allergy be treated?

Food allergies need to be diagnosed by your vet and other causes of diarrhoea / skin disease need to be eliminated. It is dangerous to try a food trial unless specifically recommended by your vet.

An allergy to food is treated by a special feeding plan which would involve a diet which has a new protein source that the dog has not had before and a new carbohydrate source. Elimination diets are usually given for a period of 6-8 weeks.

In that time the no treats or food other than that in the food plan are allowed. Failure to adhere to this will mean starting the trial again- everyone needs to be involved and it is a family effort in some cases!

There are two approaches:

1. Home cooked diet. Make you own! Not for long term as these diets are not balanced but are ideal for this short period when a recipe is followed (as your vet). Home cooked are not suitable for young growing animals as they can cause long term developmental problems as they lack essential nutrients for growth.

2. Vets prescription diets. Balanced, convenient and safe for long term use. They are available in a large range of flavours and textures now so usually one can be found which your pet will enjoy.

If the dog is better after 8 weeks a commercial complete food that does not contain the same allergens can be introduced as this will be balanced. Always check with your vet before changing your pets diet. Read the labels carefully – a chicken flavour dog food may still contain beef or lamb protein which could make your pet ill. Ask your vet for advice.

Tip: Keep a diary of the symptoms, food consumed and consistency of faeces. This will be helpful to your vet in assessing your pets progress and allow you to observe any improvements or relapses.