A friend of mine who has a two year old Golden Retriever named Squirt called me the other day with a question. Her vet had diagnosed Squirt with food allergies, and she wanted to better understand what exactly was going on. After a lengthy discussion (this is not a straightforward topic of discussion), she decided to proceed with the recommended food trial. I decided then and there that food allergies deserved a few moments of discussion. So, here we go!
First of all, what exactly are food allergies? Just like humans, cats and dogs can be allergic to LOTS of things in their world. Dust mites, pollens, perfumes, parasites, food ingredients such as proteins or carbohydrates, food additives…the list goes on and on. Food allergies, as the name implies, refers to allergies to the food that our pets ingest. Again, these allergies can be to ANY ingredient within ANY of the food/treats/snacks/plate licking/etc. our pets ingest. They can even be allergic to the ingredients in the monthly heartworm preventative pills we give them or the toothpaste we use to clean their teeth.
So, what do food allergies look like? Signs and symptoms vary greatly between individual animals. Frequently we see pruritis (aka: itchiness), head shaking, excessive licking (often at their feet, but also at their rear ends or underbellies), recurrent and/or chronic skin and ear infections, diarrhea, vomiting and/or excessive gas. Again, not every pet will show all of these signs, and many will experience only one of the above symptoms, or will come up with a symptom all their own! Although food allergies are most frequently seen in dogs, cats can also be affected. Sometimes the only sign we see in our feline friends is excessive grooming and/or alopecia (aka: hair loss).
How are food allergies diagnosed? This is the tricky part. This is not an easy diagnosis to make, because the clinical signs are incredibly variable, and pets respond differently to all the therapies available. Also, many pets that have food allergies also have concurrent environmental allergies…the plot thickens. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to diagnose food allergies is to institute a food trial and see how your pet responds.
Tomorrow, I’ll explain the ins and outs of food trials, and talk to you more about managing the condition.
To more waggin’ and purrin’. rwkj