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Causes, Care, and Signs for Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats

Dog with diet for signs of food allergies

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy is a reaction to a specific food by the body’s immune system. It is not the same as a food intolerance or other adverse reactions to food that do not involve the immune system.

What Causes Food Allergies?

In most situations, protein (usually animal proteins, such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) in the food cause the immune reaction. Occasionally, a carbohydrate source can also be involved. Dogs and cats can be allergic to more than one food ingredient in their diet.

What are the Clinical Signs of Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats?

Some of the clinical signs include itching, licking, and chewing of the paws, flank, groin, neck, and ears. Cats with food allergies commonly scratch their faces and ears. The itching occurs during all seasons of the year. Some dogs have recurrent ear inflammation or infections. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as chronic vomiting, diarrhea, belching, and frequent bowel movements may also occur. It is common for both skin and gastrointestinal problems to be present in the same animal. These problems tend to be persistent or recurring.

What are the Diagnostic Tests for Food Allergies?

No specific tests exist that can diagnose a food allergy, and the signs of food allergies in dogs can vary. It is based on the history of all the food and treats that your pet eats. The same general process applies to both dogs and cats with common food allergies.

What Treatment Options Are There for Pets with a Food Allergy?

A dietary food trial may be used to diagnose a food allergy. A food trial involves an elimination diet for 2 to 4 months. The ideal elimination diet includes a new highly-digestible protein source, moderate protein content, and no food additives. Depending on the severity of your pet’s symptoms, medications may initially be needed to decrease itching and inflammation.

Dog Yorkshire Terrier with a bowl of food, eating food

How Can I Take Care of a Dog or Cat with Signs of Food Allergies?

During the elimination diet, no other foods or treats can be offered. Remember that medication containing flavoring should be avoided as well. It is important to closely watch your pet to make sure that they will not get into garbage or eat things outside. They must not eat food that is outside the restrictions of their diet. If the pet responds well to their new diet, it can be continued. However, it is important to talk with your veterinarian to balance the diet.