Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pets and Allergies Part 1

Pet owners very frequently ask me if and how they should change the diet to address their dog’s allergy problems. Their dogs react to food allergies by generally suffering with skin and coat problems. The common symptoms are itchy, red, flaky skin and a dull coat. The problem is that a dog cannot point out the particular problem ingredient in the food that is causing the allergy. As pet owners we have the responsibility to be aware of any changes in our dogs’ health. If in doubt whatsoever, take the dog to your vet and let him do a formal diagnosis and treatment. Once the dog has been tested and the problem food determined, any allergy is treatable.
At this point I would like to throw in a comment, which I believe needs to be kept in mind: If you follow my blog on a regular basis, you will find that I wrote many comments on the problem of some vets treating our pets by prescribing some special food of which they have been told by the manufacturer that it would be good for treating a specific condition. There are many suspicions out there that mount on the believe that some vets judge certain foods and prefer one over another by determining which manufacturer provides them with the most benefits. I repeat the suspicion is benefits provided to “them”, not their pet patients. While this never has been proven and they have the benefit of a doubt, I believe that a good portion of mistrust is in order and would strongly recommend that pet owners in these situations evaluate all the options available to them. As successful track records show, there are other, non prescription foods out there suited to the task of supporting allergy treatment. The two major benefits of those foods are that they are first helping in our efforts and second cost a lot less than the very expensive prescription food. Most often, when compared, they feature, if not exactly the same, but even much better and healthier ingredients.
Coming back to the actual issue here: The symptoms you should be looking for to determine if your dog suffers from wheat allergies include itchy skin, shaking of the head , ear inflammations, licking of front paws, rubbing his/her face on the carpet, vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, sneezing, asthma like symptoms, anal itching, behavioral changes and, the worst: seizures. Many dog owners never suspect that a wheat allergy could be the cause of their dog's health problems. This is usually because they have fed their dog the same food all its life and the symptoms have only recently appeared. However, fact is that food allergies don’t show up over night, they develop over a period of time. Dogs typically are not born with an allergy, it is the result of something going wrong over a period of time. Additionally, some pet owners assume that their dogs are unable to eat poor quality or cheaper dog food. However, this is not the case with a wheat allergy, if a dog can't eat a cheap brand of dog food that contains wheat, then it will not make any difference if you feed him an expensive brand containing wheat. Though, there may be an advantage in buying expensive foods since some avoid wheat as a cheap filler in the first place.
And, of course it's not just wheat that dogs can become allergic to, some of the other most common foods resulting in food allergies in dogs are corn, soya, preservatives, beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, fish.
The first step in diagnosing if your dog has a wheat allergy is to talk to your vet. Make sure he wants to deal with the problem, some of them don’t. In that case look for another one. Your dog will then have to go on an exclusion diet. On the exclusion diet you should feed your dog only a homemade diet, using ingredients that either the dog has never eaten before, or ingredients that are unlikely to be allergens, talk to your vet about this before starting though. Exclusion diets are nutritionally poor, so you won't want to keep your dog on it for very long at all. And remember, no little doggy treats, chocolate or table scraps while on the exclusion diet.
If after a few days on the exclusion diet the symptoms start to improve, switch back to the original diet. If the symptoms come back you know that something in the original food is causing the problem. As the next step go back on the trial diet until the symptoms disappear, then reintroduce one food/ingredient at a time, leaving a few days to a week before adding another item. As soon as the symptoms recur then you'll have identified the allergen.
Sounds simple, however exclusion testing is time consuming, you could as a quicker alternative try switching first to a brand of dog food labeled 'hypo-allergenic', if symptoms improve then you know it's a food allergy, you just won't know which ingredient it was that was causing the problem, unless you then try the exclusion diet.

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