Pet Allergies to Foods - Part 2: Therapeutic considerations and frustrations
How many times have you heard, ”My dog is allergic to [add foodstuff here],” or “I’d never feed my cat anything with [random carbohydrate source]—it’s highly allergenic,” or even, “Once I switched to raw the allergies disappeared.”
After detailing the basic steps we take to determine what a pet might be allergic to, I expect you now to have some appreciation for the complexity of the issue in the truly food allergic pet—one that goes well beyond these commonplace utterances of the food-fearing pet owner.
Often overlooked and infrequently undertaken, accurately determining the cause of an allergy can be as frustrating as living with the allergy itself. But it’s a necessary step for pets whose allergies are the hallmark of their healthcare travails.
And I should know. My last two dogs (excluding foster pets), a Boxer and a Frenchie, have been highly allergic dogs. One was skin tested and did not respond to any therapy (this was my Boxer—fifteen years ago). The other, my beloved Sophie Sue, whose foot-sucking and “coochie”-rubbing (you get the picture) is legendary among my friends. Sophie’s testing and re-testing has elucidated the sources of her allergies but her response to therapy has been mixed.
Therapy for food allergies doesn’t stop at food changes. Most food-allergic pets have other issues to consider, as my previous post intimates. They almost always suffer from a collection of allergies. Determining a positive response to an elimination diet or an allergy test seldom relieves all symptoms.
Inhalant allergies, by far the biggest culprit in semi-tropical South Florida, usually requires hyposensitization therapy (“vaccine” injections administered at increasing degrees of strength to acclimate the body to the allergens and weaken its immunological response to them) or drug therapy for the recalcitrant case (cyclosporine, marketed as the [very expensive] Atopica).
Food allergies, though they require allergen elimination (allergy vaccines are ineffective), are notoriously fickle. Frequent testing (yearly) is required to determine new sources of nutrients that may now have acquired allergen status. All allergic diseases, it is important to note, seem to progress well into adulthood and even into the geriatric years. Sophie Sue is more uncomfortable now than ever. Even now I have to re-test, eliminate foods, vaccinate, vitamin-supplement and therapeutically shampoo her to maximize her comfort level.
So maybe now you can understand a little better why my hackles go up when I hear that feeding raw or simply switching brands makes all the difference. If your pet is truly allergic to rice, carrots, and sweet potato carbs as well as turkey and beef proteins, switching to the raw variety or a different manufacturer’s version of the same nutrient sources won’t make a bit of difference. So it makes me crazy to hear anecdotes along these lines (or maybe I’m just jealous).
Sure, the coat might be shinier and inflammation might be minimized somewhat with the quality of the food source, but a true allergy won’t just go away with a simple switch. Yes, vitamins help, omega-3 fatty acids help, shampoos help, brushing helps, ear cleaning helps, anal gland expression helps, but nothing makes allergies just disappear forever beyond physiological changes, drugs (not my favorite), or assiduous attention to detail.
Perhaps you’ve been luckier than my patients and my own pets. I’m willing to believe that mild cases might remain sufficiently controlled with a simple dietary change. But my clinical experience is decidedly to the contrary; and maybe it's because I only see the worst of the worst, or because I live in Florida where allergens in nature abound and dermatologists are in high demand.
That said, I’d like to hear your experiences, especially if they contradict my own.
Last reviewed on August 5, 2015