Dial into food allergies in pets

Dial into food allergies in pets

When your team tunes into food allergies, you can help pet owners remove the cause of the pet's suffering and educate clients—locking in the compliance needed to improve the pet's health and quality of life.
Feb 01, 2012

Veterinary teams are the first line of defense as pet owners consult with their veterinarian about food allergy in dogs and cats. Clients are often distressed when their pets are itchy and uncomfortable. But with your team's support, you can help guide pet owners through the process of discovering the source of their pet's problem and offering relief.

It's roughly estimated that food allergy potentially causes about 10 percent to 15 percent of itchy skin disease, or pruritus, in dogs and cats, or up to 30 percent of non-seasonal dermatoses. It may also cause gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting. The itchy condition may encourage dogs and cats to scratch. This makes them susceptible to secondary opportunistic bacterial infection, which often exacerbates the allergic response and pruritus.

Although the incidence of food allergy in pets is likely about the same as it always has been, veterinarians are recognizing it more. This is because veterinary teams are more aware of food allergy and food intolerance as a common problem and have more options for diagnosing the condition.

Anything that a pet eats can cause food allergy, but food proteins are the most likely. Common culprits include fish, beef, chicken, cow's milk, eggs, soy, and wheat protein. Other meat protein sources, previously considered novel in pet diets, have also been shown to cause allergy in both dogs and cats. These include lamb, whale, rabbit, and pork, just to name a few.

Several years ago, lamb wasn't a common pet food ingredient. Now it is, and it's common for pets to show an allergic response, as they can to other meat and plant proteins.

Meat proteins are the most common cause, but plant proteins can be a culprit too—especially soy, wheat, and corn gluten. These aren't bad or unhealthy ingredients, but they may cause food allergy in some pets.

One key role for technicians is taking a thorough history. Sandra Grable, CVT, a dermatology technician at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, says it's important to ask leading questions to help pet owners remember items they may not think are important—or ones they forget to tell you. These include flavored medications or supplements, rawhides, or other flavored chew toys.