Some dogs and cats do not tolerate the food they are given well and react with an allergy or intolerance. Attention: This is not the same! Here you can find out how to recognize a food allergy and what to do about it.
A food allergy or intolerance?
There are two terms circulating for reactions to food that is not tolerated. At first glance, they cannot be distinguished on the animal, which is why they are often used synonymously. However, these are different processes: A food allergy in cats and dogs is characterized by a very specific immune response, while the food intolerance is triggered by other physical processes. It does not require prior sensitization.
What is a food allergy?
A food allergy in dogs and cats is the body’s allergic reaction to certain food components. These are usually proteins, i.e. the eaten meat, or other ingredients, e.g. B. herbal ingredients. The organism then reacts with an excessive response from the immune system. In response to an actually harmless stimulus – e.g. B. chicken meat – the body produces large amounts of antibodies and inflammatory messengers as if it were a harmful substance.
In order for an allergic reaction to occur, the animal must have had at least one contact with the “allergen”, i.e. the triggering substance. This process is called sensitization. It has not yet been finally clarified how allergies ultimately develop. However, they have a genetic component, i. This means that certain breeds or animals from certain breeding lines are more likely to be affected than others. (This is true for dogs, at least.)
For more information on allergies, also known as hypersensitivity reactions, see: Allergy in Cats and Allergic Reaction in Dogs.
Feed allergy: Which feeds are problematic?
It is not possible to say in general which feed ingredients will trigger an allergy, this differs from animal to animal. Nevertheless, some substances appear to be more allergenic than others. This is e.g. B. the meat of chicken, beef and lamb, which is contained in many conventional feeds. Some animals also react to egg or soy protein. Ultimately, all ingredients in a feed can become problematic.
In addition, the animals do not necessarily have to be allergic to just one component in their feed. In addition, a food allergy in cats and dogs can also suddenly develop spontaneously with food that has previously been well tolerated.
Symptoms of a food allergy
Food allergy in cats:
Skin reactions are common: Hairless, crusty areas form in front of the ears. There is itching. Sometimes there are small crusts distributed on the back, which sometimes come off with tufts of hair. By scratching, the injuries can become infected with bacteria and become massively inflamed. Inflammation can also occur on the paw pads.
Many cats with food allergies also show reactions of the gastrointestinal tract such as vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence and constipation.
Food allergy in dogs:
A food allergy in dogs often manifests itself as diarrhea. They defecate very often, which can be thin and covered with mucus. Blood admixtures also occur. In addition, there is sometimes emaciation, flatulence, vomiting and pressing on faeces. At the same time, dogs also show itching, redness, crusting, and much more. The animals rub their heads on objects, lick their paws or slide their buttocks across the ground (sledding). As a result of scratching, infections with bacteria or e.g. B. yeast fungi, which further aggravate the situation. Symptoms are indistinguishable from those of atopic dermatitis.
Feed allergy: diagnosis
The diagnosis of a food allergy in dogs and cats is a so-called diagnosis of exclusion, i. i.e. all other diseases are excluded. The veterinarian will examine your pet thoroughly and recommend further tests: Parasites that also cause itching can be found using a flea comb, a skin scraping or a biopsy. (Alternatively, the animal will be treated again specifically against internal and external parasites if this is not done regularly anyway.) Fungal or bacterial infections of the skin must also be ruled out. In addition, there is a blood test to clarify metabolic diseases and deficiency states (e.g. a zinc deficiency can classically cause skin changes. However, this usually only occurs with very special feeding; classical feeds are balanced in their composition).
The final diagnosis is made using an elimination diet for dogs and cats, also known as an elimination diet. For at least eight weeks, only individual types of meat and grain are fed that the animal has not eaten before. There are e.g. B. ostrich or horse meat is used. It is very important that only this food is fed! A treat in between or a bowl of milk destroys the entire significance! Exclusion diet for cats and dogs also means: outdoor cats must be kept in the house, dogs must be “guarded” when they go for a walk.
If the animal is doing significantly better over time, this is to be taken as a sign that it is a matter of a food allergy. This is then proven by the provocation test: the disease can be triggered again with the food previously fed.
There are also allergy tests for dogs and cats. These are not very meaningful on their own. In combination with the diet, however, they can be a good tool to track down the food components that are not tolerated.
Food allergies in dogs and cats: therapy
At the same time, the elimination diet can also be used as a therapy to bring the skin and the gastrointestinal tract to rest over the long term. At the same time, anti-itching and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to relieve the animal. If the skin injuries have become infected with bacteria or fungi, they are treated with special shampoos and essential fatty acids in the feed. In addition, the animal must be prevented from scratching. If they persist, antibiotics can also be used.
If desired, you can then start looking for a suitable ready-made feed. A suitable product that the animal tolerates and with which it is completely supplied can often be found on the large market of feed manufacturers. But it is important to start this very slowly and to pay attention to reactions.
Your veterinarian will be happy to help you with your search or calculate a ration for your animal if you want to continue to produce the food yourself. Home-cooked rations must always be supplemented with the right minerals, vitamins and essential amino acids!
Feed allergy: Conclusion
When your cat or dog has a food allergy, it can be a long road to diagnosis or a cure. But if a suitable food is found, the success is astounding.