Food allergies in pets possible

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

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jkoch

By John Koch, DVMQuestion: My dog has been plagued with scratching and itching for several years. We have used a variety of different treatments with moderate success. I read an article some days ago about food allergies in humans. This caused me to wonder. Could my dog have food allergies?

Answer: Food allergies in dogs and cats are certainly possible. The importance of this type of allergy is greatly debated and substantially unknown. Different researchers have reported an incidence of anywhere from 1 percent to 23 percent.

Many dermatologists report that relatively few animals with skin disease respond completely to therapy for food allergies. Other dermatologists are not sure what role food hypersensitivity plays in the itchy pet. They point out that individuals who suffer from allergies rarely are allergic to only a few items. Often they are allergic to dozens and dozens of things, some of which could be food.

While allergy testing for pollen, mold, dusts and various other allergens are reasonably accurate, tests for food allergies are much less so. The most common symptom of food allergy is a non-seasonal pruritus (scratching and itching). Cats with food allergies have pruritus that primarily affects the head and neck. Other diseases that present the same symptoms are atopic dermatitis (inhalant allergies), flea allergy and canine scabies.

Pets with food-allergy dermatitis typically do not respond well to cortisone therapy. At this time, the most reliable way of determining if food-related dermatitis exists is a trial-and-error test using a hypoallergenic diet. This diet must be strictly adhered to for 45 to 60 days. If there is no improvement after that period, then the diet should be discontinued. However, if even a 30-40 percent improvement is seen, then it is likely that food-allergy dermatitis is at least part of the problem and continuation of the diet is recommended.

Dr. John Koch is a Cape Girardeau-area veterinarian.

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