Understanding Food Allergies in Your Pets

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Pet owners just want to see their cats and dogs grow healthy and strong. Therefore, they feed their pets food designed for their benefit. Most pet foods on the market include a variety of processed food proteins and carbohydrates, which are broken down during digestion. If your pet has a bad reaction to their cat or dog food, it may be due to either a chemical intolerance or a unique allergic reaction to a protein ingredient. Allergic reactions commonly develop with repeated exposure to large proteins over time.
 

Symptoms of Pet Food Allergies 

It’s important pet owners can recognize when dog food or cat food is causing an allergic reaction. Several common symptoms can point to a pet food allergy or intolerance.

  • Itchy skin and ears
  • Redness of the skin
  • Ear infections

Determining the source

Ask your veterinarian to perform a diet trial to determine if your pet is having an adverse reaction to certain ingredients in his cat or dog food. The doctor will need a thorough medical history of your pet, including a complete list of all the foods and treats that you are currently feeding or have previously fed your pet. This includes non-pet food items, like table scraps and chew toys with food flavorings.

Several studies have found the most likely culprits behind pet allergies. The ingredients are slightly different for dogs and cats.

  • Dogs: beef, chicken, chicken eggs, lamb, fish, dairy products, corn, wheat, and soy.
  • Cats: beef, lamb, seafood, corn, soy, diary products, and wheat gluten.

Based on the dietary information gathered, your veterinarian can also a diet that contains protein and carbohydrate sources that your pet has not eaten before. This new diet is fed exclusively over a two to three-month period while you and your veterinarian evaluate if the symptoms resolve or not. If the symptoms resolve, then the assumption is that the food doesn’t contain the protein or carbohydrate sources your pet is reacting too. Sometimes this trial may need to be done several times until the right combination of protein and carbohydrates is established.
 

Myths and misconceptions Surrounding Pet Food Allergies

There is a lot of false information circling the web regarding dog food and cat food allergies. It is important that pet owners know the truth about these allergies so they know what to look for in their pet’s own reactions. It’s also important you consult your local Banfield veterinarian about any allergies, so the pet can get immediate treatment and not have allergic reactions get worse.
 
Myth: Dog food and cat food allergies usually cause digestive issues in pets.
Truth: While dog and cat food allergies can sometimes cause gastrointestinal problems, it is typically the skin that is affected.
 
Myth: I’ve been feeding my pet the same food for years. Something else must be causing this allergic reaction.
Truth: It can take time for a pet food allergy to develop. It is currently believed that a certain “threshold” of exposure to a given allergen must be surpasses in order for the reaction to develop. Therefore, your pet’s immune system must be exposed to the allergen multiple times to trigger the reaction.
 
Myth: If my dog or cat can’t eat this food, I’ll try another popular commercial food.
Truth: Don’t assume that you can just switch to another commercial diet to avoid the allergic reaction. Most commercial pet foods contain the same ingredients, thus your pet will be exposed to the same allergens and, therefore, have the same reaction.
 
Myth: My dog food/cat food bag says it’s hypoallergenic. It can’t be causing my pet’s allergic reaction.
Truth: There are many diets sold commercially that may claim they are “hypoallergenic” or “for sensitive skin,” but these claims have no official or standard meaning.

Commercial pet food manufacturers can substitute other ingredients as long as they meet the guaranteed analysis (the range of nutrients said to be contained in the diet). Therapeutic veterinary diets strive for consistency, and the protein and carbohydrate sources remain the same in every batch that is produced. These diets are only available through veterinarians.
 
When should I call my veterinarian?
Call a local Banfield Pet Hospital if your pet’s symptoms worsen, if you see vomiting and/or diarrhea or your pet refuses to eat the new food. Always check with your doctor before stopping or changing your pet’s diet. Schedule follow-up visits as directed to check your pet’s response to the plan of care.

Get Started

Visit a veterinarian or nutritionist at your local Banfield Pet Hospital to investigate any pet allergies. A specialist can also help to craft a new diet for your furry family member.
 
Learn More
Visit our nutrition section for more articles like the ones below. You can also learn more about how you can partner with your veterinarian to give your pet the best nutritional care in our preventive care center.