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Vail Pets: Allergies hard to nail down

Nadine Lober
Pet Talk
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – Adverse reactions to food are seen in our pets, cats and dogs. We use the terms “food allergy” and “food hypersensitivity” to describe this condition. It is an abnormal response in the immune system that causes the symptoms in our pets.

Beef, wheat, dairy, cereals and chicken most commonly cause food allergies in dogs. In cats, beef, milk and fish are the most common allergens. Since commercial pet foods contain such a vast array of food stuffs, and variable processing methods exist, it explains the large number of allergens.

The age at which dogs develop food allergies varies. They can start at a young age, less than a year, or when dogs get older.

The most common symptom is itching. As the itching persists, the skin will develop various lesions and can include the ears as well. The itching occurs in cats as well, and will also affect the skin. There can be gastrointestinal symptoms as well – vomiting and diarrhea – but these are not as common as the skin conditions.

It may be difficult to distinguish food and seasonal allergies. Both may cause ear infections, secondary yeast infections and skin infections. There are no consistent tests to rule out food hypersensitivity. They do not always respond to steroids or anti-inflammatory treatments. I

The best type of testing is a restricted diet. You can use a home diet or a commercial limited-antigen diet. The basis for this diet is to feed a specific diet that usually contains one protein source and one starch source. They must consist of a food ingredient that has not been fed to your pet in the past, including snacks, treats, table scraps and other diets.

If cooking a home cooked meal, discuss this with your veterinarian, but some ideas are: pork and potatoes, rabbit, venison, elk and duck. Flavored medications should be replaced. Do not even give vegetables as treats, unless your pet has never eaten them before. There also are many commercial diets available.

Another option for pets who have been fed a large variety of foods is a hydrolyzed protein diet. This protein source is hydrolyzed to very small (molecular) weights. What this means, with out being too scientific or “nerdy,” is that it makes the protein source break down to such small pieces that it sneaks by the body’s immune system radar, therefore avoiding an allergic reaction. Hills and Purina make such diets.

These restricted diets should be used for at least four to eight weeks. You must be patient and persistent. On occasion, your pet may need some anti-inflammatories or antibiotics for the skin conditions. Improvement of the skin condition and itching may occur within 24 hours, but may take longer.

Once treated and healed, if you introduce the original pet’s diet and the itching returns then that substantiates the diagnosis. It may take a few days for the itching to recur. At this point you can discuss with you veterinarian the best diet to maintain for your pet.

Dr. Nadine Lober is a veterinarian in the Vail Valley and can be reached at 970-949-7972


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