As pet owners, we all want what is best for our animal’s health. However, just like humans, they can often be susceptible to food allergies and sensitivities. This is usually found in cats and dogs, with some breeds such as Siamese and golden retrievers more likely to have symptoms. Food allergies are rare in herbivores.
If any allergy or sensitivity is suspected, you may think simply swapping your regular brand to a different one will solve the problem. However, there is no evidence to show that continually changing and rotating ingredients in your pet’s food will prevent allergies. Contrary to popular opinion, pets are not usually allergic to the grains found in foodstuffs, so be wary of ‘grain-free’, ‘gluten-free’ or ‘all natural’ options. Most pets are actually found to be allergic to the animal proteins!
The best thing to do is consult with your vet, who will most likely suggest a food elimination trial, currently the most reliable method of detecting which foods (if any) are a cause of concern.
What is food allergy?
The immune system does a very good job of protecting your pet from external pathogens eg viruses and bacteria. The food we give to our pets contain intact proteins – from beef, lamb, fish and so on – which vary in size. In the case of a food allergy, the immune system mistakenly identifies proteins in the food as an invader and treats it as a potential allergen, which leads to an allergic reaction. This can present as itchy skin or infections, vomiting or diarrhoea. Unfortunately some pets will have both skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. This is why it is important to distinguish the actual cause of these complaints.
Cats and dogs may become symptomatic as young as three months, but onset may begin at 10 or 12 years of age. Kittens and puppies need to digest their food properly in order to benefit from the nutrients and grow normally, so it is vital to care for their developing digestive system.
Early signs of food sensitivity to look out for:
- Urinary issues
- Unexpected, significant weight loss or gain
- Difficulty eliminating hairballs (cats)
- Dull coat, hair loss, sensitive skin, ear infections
- Digestive disorders
- Tartar and dental plaque
- Worsening of bad breath
- Loss of appetite, refusal to eat
- Sneezing, wheezing, runny or red eyes, other respiratory problems
Using an elimination diet successfully
Your vet will be able to recommend a suitable diet depending on the severity of the problem – this can be readymade, specially adapted food from your vet clinic, or home-cooked using just a few ingredients: typically one protein and one carbohydrate, plus fats, vitamins and minerals. Food made at home must adhere to the diet sheet provided by your vet to ensure sufficient nutrition. The diet should not contain anything else – no fruits, vegetables or herbs – unless advised otherwise, and should contain completely new ingredients. Using the hydrolysed diets available at your vets is the safest and easiest option, as the proteins are broken down into much smaller pieces that can hide from the immune system.
To start, discontinue your pet’s existing diet (and that includes any treats or scraps from the table, sorry!) and any medication; use topical products instead where possible. Allow at least seven days to transition to the new diet. This must be fed for a minimum of four weeks; at least six to eight weeks is recommended, even longer if possible. Get the entire family on board as any cheating will defeat the whole purpose of the exercise. If you live in a multi-pet household, separate the feeding areas.
When you change your pet’s diet, follow this seven day transition period,
unless advised otherwise by your vet:
Days 1 and 2 – 75% current diet, 25% new diet
Days 3 and 4 – 50% of each
Days 5 and 6 – 25% current diet, 75% new diet
Day 7 and thereafter – 100% of new diet
If your pet’s symptoms improve on this new diet, you will need to use the old diet again to confirm a food allergy, and this rotation may need to be done more than once, with one ingredient reintroduced at a time. Keep a record of your pet’s symptoms and reactions, and consult with your vet on a regular basis during the trial.
It is important to note that food allergies are not that common in animals. Your cat’s itchy ears or dog’s flaky skin could be a sign of a different malady or an allergy to a non-food related substance such as pollens or dust mites. Contact your vet for a consultation and professional advice – we recommend the experts at Qatar Vet Center 4421 6405 (Al Aziziya branch), 4498 9620 (Al Duhail branch), https://qatarvet.com/. You can purchase targeted nutrition at their clinics or online at https://www.qvcpetshop.com
Author: Sarah Palmer
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