How to identify your pet's food allergies

Hello pet lovers! This week is Food Allergy Awareness week and it got us thinking about the havoc that allergies can play with our pets’ skin. Consuming the wrong kinds of foods can be a nightmare for your pet if they have an allergy, leading to hives, rashes, red skin or even patches of eczema - not fun at all for our furry friends! Have you noticed any excessive scratching? It might be time to investigate.

At Anicura, we talk a lot about seasonal and environmental allergies, as those affect broad swathes of the pet population and are among the main reasons we started Anicura in the first place. Many allergies, however, are food-related and are linked to dietary allergens. Even if your precious pooch has no specific allergy to a particular food group, many pets have intolerances or sensitivities to a variety of foodstuffs, which could mean that your pet’s skin (and their health in general) would be far better if they were able to identify and eliminate those irritants from their diet.

If you think your cat or dog does have a food allergy, your vet can run tests to see what those allergies might be. Unfortunately, however, those tests aren’t always accurate and don’t always pick up sensitivities, which can leave you with further confusion as to which foods are affecting your pet. As an alternative, what might be worth trying is a real-world test in the form of an “elimination diet.” We always recommend feeding your pet a raw food diet, when considering the condition of your pet’s skin, rather than kibble/biscuits. The benefits of a raw diet include shinier coats, healthier skin, improved dental health, increased energy, and smaller stools (always a positive!). We highly recommend a brand called Nutriment for a raw food diet, as their meals are well-balanced, properly tested, and our Bella ADORES them!

What is an elimination diet, though? To break it down for you, an elimination diet first involves removing foods that cause uncomfortable and unwanted symptoms from your pet’s day-to-day diet and then slowly reintroducing them at a later date, one by one, and testing for any resurgent symptoms as you do so. It’s not a long-term diet – you can generally run one over 5-6 weeks to see some good results. It works in two stages. The first is the Elimination Phase, where you cut out those foods that you suspect might be triggering symptomatic responses. During this time, you should, if the foods are doing the damage you suspect, see those unwanted symptom subside. The second phase is the Reintroduction Phase, in which you slowly and systematically reintroduce those previously eliminated foods back into your pet’s diet and note the changes in their body. Each food group should be reintroduced one at a time over the course of 2-3 days each. Make sure you keep a diary while trying out these different eliminations so you can keep on top of which foods you’ve tested, how long you’ve tested them for and, most importantly, how your pet looks and feels as the diet proceeds. Although elimination diets are temporary, we recommend consulting a vet or pet nutritionist before starting this process, to make sure it is suitable and safe for your pet.

5 Most Common Food Allergies

  1. Feeding your dog or cat a single food for an extended period of time (years) can hugely increase the chances of them developing an allergy to that type of food. Beef may seem an unusual suspect but has been used as the main ingredient in many pet foods for years, which could be a reason for the allergy’s proclivity.

  2. This is more often an intolerance than an outright allergy, but many of the symptoms can be the same, including gas, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Don’t just consider your pet’s meals, but also think about the foods they consume throughout the day – perhaps even off your plate or from the dishes in the sink!

  3. Wheat and other grains are often used to ‘bulk up’ dry food because it is cheap and rich in energy. Unfortunately, dogs and cats were not made to eat grains and having this food group as a substantial part of their diet can cause real issues. One of the great things about feeding a raw diet, is that it almost automatically removes these kinds of allergens from your pet’s diet, as they always have to be cooked or processed before consumption.

  4. Whilst a perfectly healthy food, and a great source of protein and healthy fats for your dog, it is worth trying food that does not contain eggs if your dog is experiencing allergy symptoms you can’t get to the bottom of.

  5. Chicken may seem innocent too, but unfortunately it is not uncommon for dogs and cats to be allergic to the type of lean protein found in chicken. Instead you could experiment with duck, turkey or even lamb.

There are countless raw food companies out there on the market these days and so many of them cater to specific allergies in pets, so there are many options for you to choose from to find the right balance for your pet. An alternative, however, is to prepare raw meals for your pet yourself. It requires a lot of research and is a bit more time-consuming than buying the food out-of-packet, but it does give you complete control over the foods that your pet is eating, with no worries about any hidden allergens that you might miss on the box. Keep your eyes peeled as, later this month, we’ll delve into the absolute best foods to feed your pet for optimum skin and coat health.

If you want to ease your pet's symptoms whilst you are finding out what triggers them, you can of course always use our products to soothe their itchy skin. Our Dog & Cat Sprays have an instant cooling effect and, over the course of a few weeks, make the skin stronger and better able to fend off flare ups. Use our Cat or Dog Gel to encourage healing in any patches of broken skin or to treat sensitive areas.