Just like humans, pets can develop allergies to just about any food or substance in the environment. But, unlike the typical human response to allergens — coughing, sneezing, watery eyes and in rare cases, anaphylactic shock — the most common signs of allergies in pets are skin irritations such as itching, scratching, digging, and gnawing at the skin and chronic ear infections. In fact, veterinarians estimate that about 70 per cent of all skin conditions in dogs are allergy related.

Food Allergies

Some pets develop allergies to ingredients in their pet food and treats. With respect to a food allergy, the offending ingredient is usually a major protein or carbohydrate such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy. Other potential allergens in food include artificial preservatives, flavours and dyes.

Food allergies don’t develop overnight. Most pets have been eating the offending food for years with no signs of trouble. This is problematic because the long time frame for signs of a food allergy to appear makes it very difficult to identify the allergen.

Food allergies differ from environmental allergies in a number of ways:

  • In addition to skin irritations, food allergies may also cause vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Symptoms of food allergies are not, nor ever have been seasonal.
  • Food allergies usually begin later in life between five and six years of age.
  • Dogs with food allergies will usually show signs of skin irritations on the face, paw, limb or belly and suffer from recurring ear infections.
  • Cats with food allergies will usually show signs they’ve been scratching around the face and neck.

Diagnosing and Treating Food Allergies

Figuring out whether or not your dog’s skin condition is caused by a food allergy will take time and patience. A special diet (usually containing a protein source that your dog has never eaten before) is fed for a set period of time, anywhere from four to 12 weeks.

If your pet gets significantly better during this time, his original diet is then fed to him for up to two weeks. If your dog recovers with the special diet and the itch returns with the original diet then a food allergy is diagnosed. To test for a more specific allergens, you’ll need to introduce ingredients one at a time and see what the reaction is.

Unfortunately, dealing with allergies is a life-long problem but there are several things you can do to help pets with food allergies:

  • Purchase high-quality pet food and treats containing whole, unprocessed ingredients and no artificial preservatives, flavours or colourings.
  • Add immune boosting and anti-inflammatory nutritional supplements such as Omega 3 fatty acids to your pet’s diet.
  • Treat itchiness and any skin lesions with topical medications and/or soothing baths.
  • Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy and aromatherapy may ease the symptoms of food allergies.