My dog’s best friend is a British Bulldog called Frankie. They are both 9 years old and have shared walks together on a daily basis since they were puppies. When they were younger it was difficult to stop them playing and chasing around. These days, exercise is a steady plod rather than a run, and consequently both have put on weight. For the last two years, both have been on weight control diet food.
Although my Labrador hates the food I give him, he is healthy and the diet is working. Frankie appeared to have had no problems whatsoever until recently he developed an ear inflammation. He was constantly scratching his ear and shaking his head. The vet prescribed a course of antibiotics, but the inflammation kept on returning and the scratching got worse. The vet now thinks he may be sensitive to an ingredient in his diet food which is causing an allergic reaction.
What causes some dogs to become sensitive to certain ingredients in food is still open to research. It could be any ingredient in the food and that’s why it is so difficult to identify what is causing the problem. So what are the signs of food allergies in dogs? Exactly what triggers an allergic reaction?
Food allergies occur when a dog is exposed to whatever they are allergic to. The most common food triggers for allergic reactions are meat (beef, lamb, pork, and chicken), dairy, cereals (wheat, maize), egg, soy, and fish. Many dogs are usually allergic to more than one thing.
Allergy or Intolerance
First of all, vets have to decide what the dog is allergic to: food or environmental conditions. If food is suspected the vet then has to try and work out whether or not the symptoms are the result of a food allergy or intolerance. Both my friend and I were under the impression that these 2 terms meant the same thing. They do not, and what’s more they have completely different symptoms.
An allergy creates an immune response. The dog’s immune system will treat a food ingredient as harmful and then create antibodies to fight it. The main symptoms are:
• Excessive scratching
• Skin itching
• Obsessive licking
• Raised skin rashes around the ears, feet, underside of body
Intolerance is a digestive problem. The dog eats a food substance it cannot digest and then becomes ill. The main symptoms are:
Food allergy treatment
The vet suspected Frankie had a food allergy and, because you cannot diagnose through a blood test, the only alternative was to put him on an elimination diet. The elimination diet (sometimes called hypoallergenic test diet) works on the assumption that something in the current food is causing the allergy. So if you eliminate all but the most basic ingredients in the dog’s diet, you can start to identify exactly what is causing the problem. A hypoallergenic diet has a limited number of ingredient i.e. specialist hypoallergenic food and water. No treats or chews are allowed. The hypoallergenic feed contains no colourings or flavourings.
The vet took a good look at Frankie’s current diet food and then selected a prescription hypoallergenic food that contained ingredients he had probably not come across before. He is now munching quite happily on a duck and potato dry hypoallergenic food, and so far, things are going well.
The long haul
The process of improvement can take a long time. My friend has been told not to expect results in a matter of days or weeks. However, once improvements in itching and scratching have been noted, other ingredients can be added to the diet one at a time. If the itchy skin and scratching reappears then it can be pinned down to the ingredient just added to the diet. The owner then knows to avoid foods with that substance.
My friend bought a diet dog food and one or more of the ingredients in it caused Frankie to have an allergic reaction. The trouble is some weight control dog foods are designed with less meat content to reduce calories. The food is then bulked out with carbohydrates which are a common cause of allergic reactions in dogs. If your dog needs to lose weight, the best advice I can give is to buy a high quality feed and read the list of ingredients carefully. Choose a diet food which is high in meat protein, low in fat and grain free.
However, it’s not just dog diet foods that can cause problems. Allergies can be caused by any food, and scientists believe that some dogs have more of a genetic predisposition to allergies than others. If you notice any of the symptoms described in this article and suspect a food allergy, get your pet checked out by a vet. Commercial hypoallergenic foods are readily available and are specially designed to be free from all the stuff that caused the problem in the first place.