You may have heard it said, “Your pet has food allergies, and you need to feed them this dog food.” I wish it was this simple. When I search on Google it seems so easy. Pet food companies are falling over themselves marketing the latest and greatest “this food will solve your pets’ food allergies” product. In the real world, however, if food allergies are suspected then sometimes an expert dermatologist may be required to confirm the idea with allergen/allergy testing.
People often interact with their pets by using food as treats. A snippet of leftovers from their plate, the last of their ice-cream, part of a biscuit during morning tea, a bit of toast with Marmite, a piece of fruit. Any part of the pet’s diet may be the allergic part, not just the perceived cheap dog roll. Elimination of the offending item completely is the only successful solution. Hence the difficulty in finding the true cause of the food allergy.
Allergies are almost always permanent. They won’t ever go away. In animals, as in people, food allergies can potentially be fatal but, most often, only produce unwanted side effects – skin irritation, stomach cramps or diarrhoea. Whenever the animal comes into contact with the allergic agent, their immune system responds how it has been designed. Removal of the allergen (allergic-causing agent) will normally promote return to normal health and reintroduction of the allergen will produce the same unwanted symptoms.
Almost all dogs and cats develop lactose intolerance once they are weaned from their mother. We all think from our childhood that we should feed milk to our pets as they seem to like it. In reality, lactose intolerance in pets is the same as it is in people – associated with stomach cramps and varying degrees of diarrhoea or loose stools. Both puppies and kittens have a high demand for calcium and calories in their first year of life. They benefit from puppy or kitten food as it is balanced for their requirements.
Allergies are a complex syndrome where an animal’s immune system overreacts to something. Food allergies are normally associated with certain proteins. For example, a beef protein. Low allergen pet food diets normally have a novel protein source, such as turkey, fish or even kangaroo.
Similar to people with an allergy to penicillin, the allergen may have been eaten or used frequently before without problems and then suddenly, the body’s immune system reacts differently, producing the allergy. Hence food allergies may develop to foods which were fed for a long time, not just new food types.
Should you suspect your pet has food allergies, then discuss your situation with your local veterinarian who will put together an individualised diagnostic and treatment programme.
Stephen McAulay, CEO and head vet, Wellsford Vet Clinic