Do you think your pet has a food allergy? Are they constantly itching all the time? Or do they often have an upset stomach with vomiting or diarrhoea? At My Vet Animal Hospital, we understand how frustrating it can be to figure out if a food allergy is the cause behind your pet’s problems, but we are here to help guide you through it!

What is a food allergy?
A food allergy occurs when your pet’s immune system mounts an inflammatory response to a particular particle in their diet (usually a type of protein or carbohydrate), misidentifying it as an ‘invader’ rather than a food product. Food allergies can be acquired at any time, even when your pet has been eating the same food for months to years.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy? What else can it look like?
In some pets, a food allergy may cause gastrointestinal signs (vomiting, diarrhoea, increased flatulence), while in others, it may present as skin problems (itchy skin, ear or skin infections), or both. For pets with skin allergies, a food allergy can present similarly to other allergies such as atopic dermatitis, flea allergies, or contact allergies. What can be even more frustrating is many pets often have more than one allergy! It is best to speak to a vet to help figure out which allergies your pet may likely have.

How do I know if my pet has a food allergy?
The only way to accurately diagnose a food allergy is through a food elimination diet trial, which restricts your pet’s diet to one novel protein and one carbohydrate source. This involves removing ALL of your pet’s current foods (yes, we do mean EVERYTHING including treats, table scraps, fruit, bones, flavoured medications and toothpaste)! Nothing except the elimination diet should pass through your pet’s mouth!

Choosing an elimination diet
When choosing an elimination diet, the protein and carbohydrate source needs to be one that your pet has not been exposed to before. That includes all the ingredients in any commercial foods and treats that your pet has eaten or any home-cooked foods and table scraps! We are aiming to find a protein and carbohydrate that your pet has NEVER received in their life.
At My Vet Animal Hospital, some therapeutic elimination diets we recommend include:

  • Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Anallergenic (protein: feather hydrolysate, carbohydrate: maize starch)
    • Dog (dry)
    • Cat (dry)
  • Single Protein Diet Sk-D200 Crocodile and Tapioca rolls (protein: crocodile, carbohydrate: tapioca starch)
    • Dog (wet)

Should you wish to take a home-cooked diet approach, it is important that your pet’s diet is nutritionally balanced and complete. We recommend that you consult with your vet when developing a home-cooked diet. There are several novel protein diets including kangaroo and sweet potato, rabbit and potato, and venison and potato. Your vet can help you determine which one would be best for you and your pet.

Simply changing from one brand of food to another does not constitute a food elimination diet trial. While there are many over-the-counter diets that are marketed as being good for pets with allergies, such as ‘limited ingredients’ or ‘hypoallergenic’ (‘hypo’ means ‘less’, not ‘none’!), many are not as ‘pure’ as they claim to be and may be contaminated or have hidden ingredients.

Step by step guide on introducing an elimination diet.

  • Gradually introduce the elimination diet that has been formulated or chosen by your vet into your pet’s diet over 5 – 7 days
  • Minimum of 6-8 weeks strictly on the elimination diet for results to appear
    • If your pet does indeed have a food allergy, you can can typically expect to see a reduction in vomiting and diarrhoea, or at least a 50% reduction in licking, scratching, chewing or other dermatologic signs
    • If your pet does not respond to the elimination diet, it is likely their itchy skin or gastrointestinal symptoms is due to a different cause
  • If your pet responds well on the elimination diet, challenge your pet’s diet by slowly introducing another novel protein
    • If your pet continues to respond well, you can introduce another novel protein every 2 weeks
    • If there is a relapse in allergy symptoms, your pet is likely allergic to the newly introduced novel protein. You will then need to return to another 6-8weeks of the elimination diet, before trialling a different novel protein instead
  • When the elimination diet is complete, your vet will help you formulate a diet containing protein(s) from that trial that have been identified as not triggering any allergy symptoms in your pet

Additional important things to note

  • To ensure compliance, you must keep a diary recording details of your pet’s diet, weight, level of itching, stool quality, faecal frequency and any other relevant observations (e.g. vomiting, flatulence).
  • Monitor your pet’s weight closely throughout the elimination diet trial, since most elimination diets are quite lean. At My Vet Animal Hospital, we offer complimentary regular weight checks every 1-2 weeks. If your pet is losing weight, their elimination diet may need to be supplemented with sunflower seed oil.
  • If your pet has other concurrent diseases that make it difficult to formulate a diet to manage their food allergy, here at My Vet Animal Hospital, we can recommend a qualified veterinary nutritionist to consult with.

Common pitfalls

  • Do not feed any table scraps, treats, or chews made with animal products (e.g. rawhides, pig ears, bones)
  • Do not use treats (e.g. peanut butter) when giving medications such as worming tablets
  • Do not feed any flavoured-medication (e.g. beef-flavoured worming tablets or toothpaste). Always check with your vet if your worming medications is ok to give!
  • When outdoors, do not allow your pet to scavenge and eat foods or treats from the ground
  • Remind all other people who interact with your pet (e.g. groomers, dog walkers, pet sitters, family members), to not feed them any other food besides the elimination diet!

Summary
A food allergy can present similarly to many other skin allergies (atopic dermatitis, contact allergy, flea allergy, etc.). The best method to determine if your pet has a food allergy or not is to perform a food elimination diet trial. This involves feeding your pet a special diet of only one novel protein and one carbohydrate source for 6-8 weeks. If you suspect your pet has a food allergy, come in for a visit at My Vet Animal Hospital and have a chat with one of our vets!

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