Adverse food reactions (food allergy and intolerance) currently affect 5-10% of the canine population in the UK. Add to this the statistic that 10-15% of dogs in the UK are affected by Canine Atopic Dermatitis (in this condition, affected dogs are genetically predisposed to mainly environmental allergens), some without and some with additional food allergy and sensitivity, it is not surprising that rarely a day goes by in practice when I am not dealing with itchy dogs!
What we commonly see in dogs with food allergy is itch (95% of cases) but the issue may present as nothing more than repeated ear infections or flare ups of ear redness and pain (inflammation), redness of the skin (later it can go black), hair loss and/or repeated skin infections with bacteria or yeast (these give that sickly sweet smell to the skin). Some dogs particularly with food intolerance will also have loose stool, flatulence, more frequent stool and they might vomit on occasion. It is very easy for this group of animals to end up having repeated courses of antibiotics and other treatments for their intermittent ‘irritable bowel symptoms’ which can even make things worse still, as the treatment damages the numbers of friendly bacteria in the gut, known as the gut microbiome.
Food related itch has two different mechanisms;
(1) Food intolerance or sensitivity that is a more delayed immune response and is often said to be non immune-mediated but does actually involve antibodies in the mucosal layer of the gut known as IgA and IgM. These antibodies can be measured in a sample of your dog’s saliva (NutriScan).
(2) True food allergy that is a more immediate immune response and involves the production of antibodies known as IgE and IgG. These antibodies can be measured in a sample of your dog’s blood.
The most common food allergens in the UK are beef, dairy, chicken and wheat, with soy, lamb, pork, fish and corn not far behind! The good news for food allergy and intolerance is that treatment can be simple and predominantly involves removing the offending foods. This is easier when you are feeding a food such as Natural Instinct as there are no hidden foods in the product, but it can be very hard to do if you are feeding any processed food with an open formula and contains such phrases on the ingredient list as ‘meat and meat derivatives’, as with this no matter what the label says e.g. ‘with Chicken’, the other meat sources in the food can be any other meat protein available. We strongly recommend that you avoid foods containing corn, soy, grains, colourants and preservatives and encourage you all to learn how to read food labels, as some of them are really quite scary!
Asking your vet to run a food allergy test is one way to help you to identify if food allergy is present and to identify the offending foods, but it is only as good as the number of foods tested for and can still miss food intolerance, so you may need both a blood and saliva test for a more complete picture, however that can be very expensive especially if environmental allergy is also suspected by your vet. Alternatively you can identify foods by first carrying out a food exclusion diet where you feed a novel protein source that your dog is not usually exposed to e.g. switch to Natural Instinct Pure Duck
, alongside a limited grain-free vegetable mix for example the Natural Instinct Pure Vegetable recipe
. After approximately 10 weeks, if the skin or gut has settled down you can then introduce single protein sources to test your dog’s response. You cannot rush these exclusion tests as it takes up to 10 weeks for the reaction to settle down even if the offending food has been removed. Don’t forget that treats are also food sources, so if you are carrying out an exclusion diet, treats must also be only from the novel protein source. In fact treats are very often the culprits that keep food allergy and sensitivity dogs going as it is easy to forget to read those labels too!
In animals with severe allergy, you must also be very careful and find out what the source of the meat that you are feeding, was fed on itself. I have had several cases in practice where dogs that were allergic to corn for example could flare up if fed corn fed chicken or beef!
If you need further advice with what to feed if your dog has food allergy or intolerance we are here to help you.