Food Allergies in Pets – Part 1

In this series, we’ll explore the topic of food allergies in dogs and cats.

In part one, we’ll discuss who gets food allergies, how it happens, and what ingredients are most commonly allergenic.  In part two, we’ll present the various ways we can test and diagnose food allergies and finally, how to effectively treat food allergies with limited ingredient diets.

Who gets food allergies?

Any dog or cat can potentially develop an adverse reaction to a particular food ingredient, however, despite the media hype, true food allergies are relatively uncommon.  More commonly, we can see food intolerance (for example due to lack of digestibility) or an intoxication (bacterial, fungal or other toxins).   True food allergies involve a disorder of the immune system.

In Dogs, the most common breeds manifesting food allergies include Boxers, German Shepherds, Pugs, West Highland White Terriers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. The age of onset is usually less than 3 years and often less than 1 year.

In Cats, we see food allergies primarily in the Birman and Siamese (or hybrids of these breeds).  The age of onset is usually between 4 and 5 years old and the symptoms tend to manifest around the head and neck.

How do food allergies happen?

Development of food allergies involves a very complex process of the immune system.  The body is equipped with many mechanisms to protect from inappropriate reactions to otherwise harmless dietary components.  Literally hundreds of steps have to go awry in order for a hypersensitivity to develop.  A hyper-sensitized immune response usually involves binding of certain antibodies called IgE to allergens that are large in size (larger than 10,000 daltons).  For this reason, certain illnesses that lead to inflammation and a “leaky gut” can predispose to food allergies (examples include pancreatitis and gastroenteritis).

What are the most common allergic food ingredients?

In Dogs: beef meat, dairy products, soy, corn, wheat, eggs and chicken meat.

Certain Irish Setters have a genetic predisposition to gluten-sensitivities.

In Cats: beef meat, dairy products, fish and lamb.

Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll discuss how to diagnose food allergies in your pooch.

*The above information is not intended to replace your veterinarian’s recommendations and diagnosis of food allergies.  The list of predisposed breeds is not exclusive. References available upon request.

Meet the Author: Dr. Leilani Alvarez

Leilani Alvarez, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVCHM is an integrative veterinarian, utilizing both conventional and holistic modalities and is employed at the renowned Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Alvarez is the director of The Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. She practices Integrative Medicine, which includes therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and physical rehabilitation, which help to increase the overall health of a patient and can often increase the success of conventional treatments.

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