Fielding D. O’Niell, DVM, MS
A leading cause of childhood death is a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. Food allergy in pets is NEVER this severe but it is MUCH more common.
The symptoms of food allergy in dogs are extreme inflammation of the ears, face, paws, armpits and rear end. Twenty-five percent of food allergy involves the ears alone. Cats almost always have lesions confined to the head and neck. Fifteen percent of pets also have gastrointestinal symptoms - vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Breeds predisposed to food allergy include: West Highland Terriers, Golden Retrievers, Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Schnauzers, Dachshunds and Shepherds. Some veterinarians that Siamese cats also may be predisposed.
I believe food allergy is more rampant than many of us suspect since there is no Test for it and it mimics many other more common conditions such as atopic dermatitis - an allergic reaction to air-borne allergens so prevalent in central Virginia. What sets food allergy apart is that it is a non-seasonal problem beginning at a young age and that often fails to respond to steroid therapy. Also, opportunistic bacterial and yeast infections often persist, sending us on a wild goose chase treating these secondary problems.
The list of potential food-borne allergens is numerous, but the short list includes: beef, chicken, lamb, dairy, eggs, wheat, corn and soy. One or more of these ingredients are found in virtually all commercial pet foods. In order to diagnose food allergy, a diet completely devoid of these ingredients must be fed for a minimum of 8-10 weeks for the resolution of symptoms. This diet trial requires 100% compliance and has zero tolerance for milkbones, rawhides or even a single Cheerio dropped from the highchair. The most common error in diagnosing and treating food allergy is not being 100% compliant or not being patient enough to go 10 weeks on the diet trial. A variety of hypoallergenic diets are available only through your veterinarian. Allergies always come in clusters. Thirty percent of food allergic pets also suffer flea allergy dermatitis and atopic dermatitis. These seasonal problems can be controlled with medications.
Please check the following article on a real life case study illustrating the peculiar nature of food allergy.