Food sensitivities can affect any dog or cat. Symptoms include episodes of vomiting or regurgitation, diarrhea, red itchy skin, hair loss, rash, skin infections, constant licking or chewing paws, scratching or rubbing the face or ears, ear infections, anal gland infections, or local “hot spots.” These signs mimic other types of allergic diseases, and most animals with food sensitivities have other types of allergies as well. This makes diagnosing food sensitivities complicated and challenging.
Animals with this problem are most often sensitive to the protein in their diet. To become sensitive, they must have been exposed to the protein for some time. Thus, these problems show up when your pet is an adult and they have been eating the food for a significant period of time.
One way to diagnose this problem is with an elimination diet. This involves purchasing or making special food, which has a unique protein that your pet has never had. It is important that no other food including treats, table food, rawhides, dental chewies are offered. This includes flavorings, such as those found in many oral parasite control products or anti-inflammatory medications. This regimen is very difficult but is essential for a correct diagnosis. Even an occasional treat can sabotage the test.
The diet must be used for a minimum of 6-8 weeks. If they are doing better, we then offer a ‘challenge’ by putting the pet back on the original diet. If the symptoms come back, we know the pet has a food sensitivity to something in the original diet. Often we never make it to the challenge phase. If there is a significant improvement on the special diet, people don’t want to risk a setback.
An alternative method for making the diagnosis is blood testing. A sample can be sent to a pet allergy diagnostic lab to determine what your pet is sensitive to. Then a diet is selected to avoid those food items. This is not always 100% accurate.
No doubt, having a pet with food sensitivities is a huge challenge. They will need on-going management and have ups and downs along the way.