Dr. Sran is very experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of various skin and ear conditions which can be related to each other. More than 75% of these problems are due to the allergies from various substances in the food or environment.
As it turns out, food allergies are not as common as many pet food companies and websites may like for you to think. And while food allergies are one possible cause for your dog’s itchy skin and ear infections or your cat’s diarrhea, there are many more likely causes which may have nothing to do with the food
What is a food allergy?
Food allergies occur when an animal’s immune system misidentifies a protein from a food as an invader rather than a food item and mounts an immune response. The end result of this response can be itchy skin or ear and skin infections in some pets, while it may cause vomiting or diarrhea in others. Some unlucky pets will have both skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. However, food allergies have to be distinguished from numerous other more common causes of these issues.
What are other causes of itching, and skin and ear infections?
The most common cause of itching, skin infections, and ear infections in both dogs and cats are fleas, allergies to fleas, and environmental allergies – dust mites, pollen, grasses. Both flea allergies and environmental allergies are MUCH more common in pets than food allergies but flea, environmental, and food allergies can all have similar symptoms
Diagnosis of food allergies
One of the most frustrating things about food allergies is that there really isn’t an easy test. While many tests – using blood, saliva, and even hair – that can be performed a veterinarian or purchased by a pet owner online (and even sometimes shockingly, through a Groupon!) advertise that they can diagnose food allergies or “sensitivities”, there is no proof that they work. None of the currently available tests have been shown to be accurate – that non-allergic dogs test negative and allergic dogs (and only allergic dogs) test positive. In fact, multiple studies (including this one just published) have shown that these kinds of tests are not very helpful in diagnosing food allergies, despite their widespread use for this purpose. Research results presented at a veterinary dermatology (skin) conference even showed that some tests “diagnosed” plain water and stuffed animal “fur” as having food allergies.
The “gold standard” or best method that we currently have, for diagnosing food allergies is the dietary elimination trial. This means feeding your pet a diet purchased through a veterinarian or carefully made at home that contains only a few ingredients (typically one protein and one carbohydrate plus necessary fats, vitamins, and minerals) that your pet has never been fed before or that are hydrolyzed (where the proteins are broken down into very small pieces that can hide from the immune system) or purified to remove the parts that are likely to cause allergies. This diet is then fed as THE ONLY FOOD OR FLAVORED THING TO GO INTO YOUR PET’S MOUTH for at least a month but potentially several, depending on your pet’s history and type of issues. If your pet’s signs dramatically improve during the trial, then to confirm a food allergy, your pet then has to go back to the old diet again. A quick relapse is suggestive of an allergy to an ingredient in the old diet. You then go back to the test diet until things get better again before trying one ingredient from the old diet at a time until you identify the specific foods that trigger the problem. Many people switch diets and their pets’ signs improve, but they never re-challenge, so we can’t know if it was coincidence or the diet that actually helped the pet! We see this commonly when the seasons change – pet owners assume it was the diet that caused the improvement in their pet’s allergies when actually it is because seasonal allergens – such as certain pollens – are much reduced.
If your pet has sore ears or skin irritation, foul smell from them, bring them to Allwest for an initial consultation to discuss the plan for diagnosis and treatment.