Pleeeease Scratch Me! About Allergies.

A recent question on the Pet Health Central Facebook page about seasonal inhaled allergies got me thinking about all the things that are out there that can make a pet itchy – and itch they do! Millions of pets see their trusted family veterinarian every year due to itching caused by allergies. It is one of the most common reasons that pet owners bring their pets to the veterinarian’s office. I’ll be going a little more in-depth on the topic of allergies in my next few posts. Today’s post is all about food allergy.

Itchy skin in our pets is often more than just a minor annoyance – it can really make pets miserable, and make owners (and veterinarians) feel helpless. We hate to see our pets suffer, and allergies – including food allergy – cause quite a bit of animal suffering. When our pets have oozing, inflamed skin and scratch like crazy, we very naturally feel bad for them and want to seek relief. Food allergy is a common and really itchy condition that can cause this in both cats and dogs.

Proteins in pet food (any pet food – from store bought to home-cooked) can be recognized by the immune system as foreign invaders, provoking a response from the body’s immune system. The cost and nutritional lineup of a pet food have nothing to do with the chances that a pet will develop allergies while eating it! Similarly, any protein source (including the much-maligned corn) can trigger an allergy. (As a side note: corn is a perfectly fine and highly nutritious ingredient if fed in the right amount.) The inflammation that results from an allergy can target any organ system, but it is the skin that most often suffers and causes the signs that we see.

Signs of food allergy can include:

  • Foot chewing
  • Repeated ear infections
  • Face itching
  • Belly itching
  • Diarrhea and vomiting

Many people think that a food allergy is caused by a recent change in their pet’s diet – in fact, the opposite is usually true: food allergies take time to develop. Most animals suffering from this itchy problem have been eating the offending food for years with no trouble until an allergy develops. The reason why one pet may develop an allergy while another does not is unknown, but is an area of active research.

Stay tuned for Part II and Part III in the next two weeks. Next week in Part II, I will discuss how other things trigger or work with food allergies (like fleas and inhaled pollen), and how to diagnose a food allergy. In Part III, we will explore what to do if your pet has food allergy issues.

Photo credits: Huey by wsilver

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