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Pets Have Allergies Too

Managing Food Allergies in Pets with an Elimination Diet

Food allergies are the third most common allergy that affects dogs and 
cats, outranked only by fleabites and inhaled allergens (e.g., pollen). 
Allergies to common food ingredients are also on the rise and now account 
for at least 30% of all allergy cases. Unfortunately for many pets, the most 
common food allergens are also the most common pet food ingredients.
Consequently, as a pet owner, identifying and isolating the trigger for a 
pet’s food allergy can be difficult.

The first step in diagnosing a food allergy is to recognize the symptoms. 
Common food allergy symptoms including excessive itching and scratching. 
Dogs with a food allergy commonly lick their feet, scoot their rear end in an 
attempt to scratch it, or have ear problems. Cats have a wider variety of skin 
symptoms, almost any pattern of hair loss or scabs can be a sign of an allergy. 
Food allergies can also cause gastrointestinal problems such as chronic 
vomiting or soft stools. If a pet suffers from recurring gas or diarrhea, a food 
allergy may be the cause. Symptoms of a food allergy may slowly build over 
time as a pet’s immune system mounts an increasingly greater response. 
It may be several months before hair loss, coat deterioration and skin lesions 

Food allergies have a genetic basis, although environmental factors can also 
have an impact. Recent research suggests that different environmental factors 
in early puppyhood or kittenhood may increase the chance that the immune 
system overreacts to certain food substances. However, a genetic predisposition 
for this overreaction must first occur for an allergy to develop. Dogs are most 
commonly allergic to beef, chicken, and wheat. The most common allergens in 
cats are fish and dairy. However, any pet can be allergic to any ingredient they 
have eaten in the past.

An elimination diet is the most effective way to determine a food allergen as 
there is no valid blood or intradermal skin test for food allergies. A veterinarian 
will recommend a “novel” diet that is entirely different from a pet’s regular food. 
All protein and carbohydrate sources must be swapped out and fed for a length 
of time to see if the symptoms disappear or at least lessen. The dog or cat 
must consume nothing but the novel diet for 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, 
allergy symptoms should gradually disappear.

Next, owners can gradually reintroduce elements of the past diet one ingredient 
at a time. One ingredient should be introduced and then monitored for one to 
two weeks. If symptoms return, this ingredient can be confirmed as at least 
one source for the food allergy. Talk to your veterinarian before beginning an
elimination diet.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “Food Allergies.”

“Does my pet have food allergies?”

If your pet has the following symptoms, he or she may have food allergies:

•Itching, scratching, biting the skin
•Licking feet
•Scratching rear                    
•Chronic vomiting
•Chronic soft stool
•Excess gas

If you suspect that your pet has a food allergy, talk to your veterinarian. Food 
allergies may even lead to weight loss.

Identifying food allergies in your pet can be a difficult, but necessary, process. 
Your veterinarian will work with you to replace your pet’s current diet with 
alternate protein and carbohydrates sources.

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