This type of allergy is tricky to pin down. While proteins like beef, egg, or chicken are often to blame, any type of food, spice, or chemical can cause your dog’s immune system to go haywire. Plus, a food allergy often doesn’t happen after your pet has eaten something for the first time, but after they’ve dined on one type or brand of food for a while.
Because of this, the more info about your dog or cat’s diet that you can share with your vet, the better. You’ll also want to ask your vet some questions. Once you have a better idea of what’s behind your pet’s allergy, you’ll be able to ease their symptoms and stop future flare-ups.
What Your Vet Needs to Know
Before your pet’s office visit, write down:
The symptoms your pet is having: A food allergy can affect pets in different ways. Your pet could have itchy skin, chronic ear infections, an upset stomach, diarrhea, or vomiting. Or, they may have lost weight, seem very tired, or act more “wound up” than normal. Cats can also get small bumps around their head or neck. Share all the changes you’ve seen in your pet, even if you aren’t sure they’re linked. If you know the dates they started, jot them down, too.
The food your pet is eating: A food allergy doesn’t happen overnight. Your pet may eat the same food for up to 2 years before their immune system starts to have a problem with it. Make sure your vet also knows about any snacks you give your pet -- whether they’re from your dinner plate or bought at the pet store. Include any flavored toys and toothpaste your pet uses.
Drugs and supplements: Is your pet on any meds? Even if you give them herb supplements or an over-the-counter product, tell your vet the name, the amount your pet takes, and when they started.
Other allergy triggers: Has your pet been exposed lately to fleas, pollen, dust mites, or grasses? These can all cause the same symptoms as a food allergy.
What to Ask Your Vet
These questions will give you a better idea of how your vet will treat your pet.
Should we do a “diet challenge?” This trial’s the best way to test for a food allergy in pets. For up to 3 months, you’ll exchange your normal pet food for a special food that’s not likely to cause an allergic reaction. You’ll also cut out all other foods and treats. When you start your pet’s normal food again, you’ll watch to see if their symptoms come back.
Is this a true food allergy or a food sensitivity? A food allergy starts in your pet’s immune system. For some reason, it senses a protein in their food as a threat and launches an attack against it. A food sensitivity doesn’t have to do with your pet’s immune system but can have many of the same symptoms, from itchy skin to throwing up.
What can we do to help my pet’s symptoms? For instance, your vet may suggest flea control, a course of antibiotics, or an anti-itch cream.
If my pet does have a food allergy, what food will be best for them? Your vet may suggest a special food for dogs or cats who have a food allergy. This could mean a prescription food with a hydrolyzed protein or novel protein source. Your pet may need to be on this for life.
Can I make my own pet food? If it’s crossed your mind to make all your pet’s food, ask your vet first. You’ll want to know what you’ll need to do to meet your pet’s nutritional needs. Your vet may be able to give you recipes or refer you to a pet nutritionist.