Does my dog have a food allergy
What is food allergy?
An allergy is an exaggerated reaction of the immune system to certain external substances, we call these substances allergens. In case of a food allergy, the animal therefore reacts to allergens that occur in the food.
What causes food allergy?
As mentioned before, food allergy is an excessive reaction to certain components in the food, the allergens. These allergens are usually just general healthy ingredients that are commonly found in animal food.
A lot of research has been done on food allergies and it has been found that dogs are most sensitive to beef, dairy products, chicken, wheat and eggs. Even after freezing, processing and cooking, this still gives a reaction in sensitive animals. Very few allergens are needed for these animals to provoke a reaction.
This list of the most common food allergens in dogs has been developed by analyzing research data from Europe, the US, Japan and Australia over 330 dogs with food allergies over the last 10 years.
- Beef 32.4%
- Dairy 17.9%
- Chicken 15.2%
- Wheat (not gluten) 12.7%
- Chicken egg 7.3%
- Soy 5.5%
- Lamb 4.9%
- Pig 4.3%
- Fish 3.6%
- Corn 3.0%
- Turkey 1.8%
- Rice 1.5%
- Duck 0.6%
Source: Philip Roudebush: Ingredients and foods associated with adverse reactions in dogs and cats. Veterinary Dermatology Volume 24, Issue 2, pages 293–294, April 2013.
What symptoms does a dog with food allergy get?
Animals that are hypersensitive to certain components in the food (allergens) develop skin complaints such as itching/inflammation or stomach and intestinal complaints such as vomiting and/or diarrhea. Itching caused by food allergies often worsens due to the frequent scratching, biting and licking. The complaints can occur anywhere on the body, but we see it most on the legs, armpits, groin, around the anus, the trunk and the ears. The complaints do not necessarily have to be in all of these places at the same time. Just a recurring inflammation of the ears is something that occurs regularly. Most dogs develop food allergies at a young age, but it can also develop later in life. Once the dog has a food allergy, this will not disappear.
How do you know if your dog has a food allergy?
We can find out if your dog has a food allergy through an elimination diet. This is also the only way to find out. Unfortunately, blood tests cannot yet prove this.
Within the elimination diet we have 2 options:
- Kibble from Royal Canin: Anallergenic, or from Hill’s: Z/D. These kibble are comparable to a milk replacer for babies with a cow’s milk allergy. It contains all the nutrients your pet needs and is of high quality. The proteins in this food are hydrolyzed, which means that they are made so small that they cannot be detected by the immune system and therefore cannot cause a reaction.
- Trovet’s Unique Protein Diet. This consists of tubs or sausages with a pure (animal) protein source that does not occur in regular diets. Or frozen fresh horse meat from Raw veterinary diets. We choose a protein source that is new to your animal and to which they have not yet been able to develop a reaction. You can give these tubs/sausages with a pure carbohydrate source such as potato or white rice.
What is an elimination diet?
With an elimination diet we want to help your animal get rid of the complaints and find out which allergens in the food cause these complaints.
Such an elimination diet must be given for a period of at least 6 weeks and it’s very important that your animal doesn’t eat anything else, including treats and table scraps. Also, food supplements and medication may only be given in consultation with the vet (these often contain animal proteins). A crumb of what your animal reacts to can already cause the elimination diet to be disrupted and let the complaints continue unjustly. For this reason, let everyone around you know that your pet is on an elimination diet and make sure to wash your hands if you have been in contact with food. As a reward/snack you can give your dog a kibble or piece of sausage from the elimination diet.
After these 6 weeks we will add food from the old diet step by step and see when the complaints return in order to make the correct diagnosis.
10 misconceptions about food allergy (by MCD)
My animal cannot have a food allergy because I give him a food without grains.
Dogs and cats are usually allergic to animal proteins, only a minority are allergic to vegetable proteins (usually wheat). If you think your animal is allergic, it probably won’t matter at all if you give it a grain-free food.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because I feed him gluten-free food.
The same applies here as for vegetable proteins: gluten allergy is rare in dogs and cats. In fact, gluten allergy and wheat allergy are actually the same thing. Gluten allergy is often confused with gluten intolerance (in humans this is called Celiac Disease and it’s an autoimmune disease that causes, among other things, very severe gastrointestinal problems) and gluten sensitivity (this is a collective name for a collection of vague (gastrointestinal) complaints that seem to be related to eating gluten). A disease related to Celiac Disease is rare in dogs, and gluten sensitivity in dogs remains a mystery. All in all, gluten does not seem to cause much problems in animals, but because gluten is seen as something bad by the public, many food manufacturers make gluten-free food.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because I only give him fresh meat.
If you are allergic to, for example, beef protein (the most common food allergen in dogs), it does not matter whether you ingest this protein raw, cooked or in a kibble. Feeding fresh meat therefore does not protect against food allergies. This is completely unrelated to the discussion of whether or not fresh meat is better than other food.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because he always gets a natural food.
“Natural” is a term that many food manufacturers like to use, because it sounds very good. But what does it mean? The term “natural” isn’t protected, so anyone can say it (and they do). But whether you like natural food or not: if your dog or cat is allergic to beef protein, it doesn’t matter how natural it is. Even if your animal were to catch and eat a cow itself, it would still make him itchy.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because I always give him a good quality food.
Good quality food also contains beef protein, dairy, chicken protein….nothing wrong with that, but if your animal cannot tolerate it, he will still develop complaints.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because he always gets the same food.
You develop a food allergy to a food component that the body (i.e. immune system) already knows. It is not by accident that beef is the most common food allergen in dogs. That’s because most dog food contains beef. So always giving the same food does not protect against food allergies.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because I’ve changed food a few times and it didn’t help.
Most food contains regular proteins such as beef and chicken. Even if it says on the packaging: “with lamb” or “with rabbit”, these proteins are in it in small quantities. If the complaints do not decrease after a food change, this does not say anything about a possible food allergy.
My animal cannot have a food allergy because I gave him a hypoallergenic food and that didn’t help.
Hypoallergenic foods are exactly what the name says. Hypoallergenic literally means: low allergen. So not: non-allergenic. This means that there is always a chance that your dog or cat will have an allergic reaction to this food. The probability of this depends partly on the composition and quality of the food. That is why you can never say with certainty that your animal does not have a food allergy, if he does not improve from such a diet.
My animal is allergic to all kinds of foods, a (blood) test has shown.
Until now there is no reliable blood test that can determine whether a dog / cat has a food allergy and if so, to which food it is sensitive. The same applies to tests where you have to send hair. The only reliable method is an elimination diet.
My animal has a food allergy, so he must be fed a protein-free or low-protein diet.
An animal that has a food allergy is hypersensitive to one or a few types of proteins, not all proteins. Dogs and cats need protein to function properly. And that’s no problem at all, not even with food allergies, as long as they don’t get those kinds of proteins that they can’t tolerate.