Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats

Allergic skin disease and its secondary infections dominate small animal veterinary practice. Pets can be allergic to insect bites (fleas most commonly), airborne proteins such as molds, pollens, and dust mites, and even foods. In fact, many pets have multiple types of allergies working together to create itchy skin and secondary infections.

When it comes to food allergies, there are a couple of important things to know. First off, animals eat a variety of proteins through their diet. When these proteins are consumed they may be combined or changed into substances recognized by their immune system as foreign invaders leading to attack. It’s important to note that this attack is on the protein in the diet, not the grain (pets do not have grain allergies!). The resulting inflammation may target the gastrointestinal tract, but in our pets it’s the skin that most often suffers.

Secondly, there are some predictable locations where the skin problems occur, but remember that these can overlap with other types of allergies. Cats tend to itch around the face and neck which produces scabs and hair loss. In dogs, signs can include facial itching, foot or limb chewing, an itchy bottom, and recurrent ear infections.

Lastly, and potentially the most important thing to remember, is that food allergies take time to develop. Most animals have been eating the offending food for years without any apparent trouble!

So what are some other our clues that our pet may have a food allergy? Non-seasonal itching, an onset of itching around 6 months of age or less, failure to improve with other allergy management, and gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Any of the above findings may warrant pursuit of food allergy. But keep in mind that food allergy doesn’t always travel alone. There may be several triggers responsible for your pet’s skin condition. So if your pet has itchy skin, the best thing to do is have him/her evaluated to help determine the underlying cause(s) and create a long term allergy management plan.

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