Food Allergies – More Common in Pets than You’d Think

Dr. Ryan Ridgway – Southwest Mobile Pet Care

Everyone knows of food allergies in people – maybe you even have a friend or family-member who is allergic to peanuts or gluten. Just like people, our dogs and cats can become allergic to different proteins in their food. However, many people don’t realize their pets are allergic because dogs and cats often show food sensitivities in less obvious ways than people. While some pets develop diarrhea and vomiting when they are allergic to their food, most show it in their skin and hair coat but not the full-blown swelling we associate with hives.

When a pet is allergic to their food, their skin becomes inflamed and itchy and their coat becomes dry, brittle and prone to dandruff. When their ears become chronically inflamed from their allergies and their ear canals become warm and moist, a perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to grow, they begin to get recurring ear infections. Often the changes to the haircoat are too slow and insidious for pet owners to notice, and most pets with allergies are caught when they begin to have repeat ear infections, impacted anal glands and/or lick themselves’ incessantly from the itchiness, if not on their annual veterinary exam.

The most common cause of food allergies is corn by far, followed closely by chicken, beef and wheat, because they are the most common ingredients in pet foods. However, if your pet gets other food or treats, through table scraps or hunting for example, they could develop allergies to proteins in those foods as well.

Tips for Managing Food Allergies:

  • Read the ingredient list: Most food allergies are in pets who are being fed cheaper, corn or wheat based foods with chicken or beef for the meat protein– the 4 most common allergens in our pets. Don’t rely on the flavour to be a guide either – we have come across lamb and rice that has corn and chicken higher on the list than lamb or rice.
  • Adjust your thinking from price-per-bag to price-per-meal: Often, with the cheaper food brands, you are paying for filler and your pet needs to eat more per meal than with a higher end food, so the cheaper bag of food lasts less time, costing you more per meal. That being said, always read the ingredient list to make sure you aren’t paying for marketing.
  • Ensure the food they are changing to has different meat sources and different grains or is grain-free: Often we recommend diet changes and owners switch brands or flavours, thinking that they are changing the diet. When you read the ingredient list, you find out that they have switched from one diet featuring corn, wheat, beef or chicken to another one featuring the same ingredients; all that really changed was the packaging.

A diet that your pet isn’t allergic to not only keeps your pet from the discomfort of chronic ear infections, itchiness or impacted anal glands but also saves you the cost of repeat veterinary visits and medications. Proper nutrition also plays an important role in your pet’s overall health as they age, from diabetes to arthritis prevention. When you think about the cost of pet food, look at how much most people spend on coffee daily– even the higher end pet foods usually cost less per day than a cup of coffee.