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Pet food allergies, and what to do about them

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Has your beloved pup been scratching more than usual lately? Did she develop an ear or skin infection over the summer that just doesn’t seem to be going away?

It’s possible that she has developed an allergy to an ingredient — most likely some type of animal protein — in her food.

Dogs can be allergic to nearly any protein or carbohydrate found in their food, and these allergies develop over time. Food allergies occur when your fur baby’s immune system misidentifies a food protein as a danger and begins to fight it. This scenario typically manifests itself as itchy skin or as an ear or skin infection.

Because pets can develop an allergy to most animal proteins, the most common allergies for dogs are to ingredients most frequently found in their food — chicken, beef, dairy and eggs.

If you suspect that your pet has an allergy to something he has been eating, the best and simplest way to confirm this, according to the Clinical Nutrition Service at Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals, is to conduct a dietary elimination test. Before getting started, of course, consult with your pet’s veterinarian, who will have advice and experience in this area.

In the test, which should last at least a month, your dog is allowed to eat only food purchased from the vet for this purpose or that is made at home with very few ingredients. As the Clinical Nutrition Service explains, it’s important that this simple diet consists of food your pet has never eaten before or that has been hydrolized* or purified to remove potential allergens. The goal of the test is to see whether your pet’s health improves after eating different foods.

*Hydrolyzed foods can be purchased through your vet; the proteins in these foods are broken down into small pieces that escape the attention of the immune system.

After a month or more of this diet, it’s critical to return for a time to your pet’s original diet. If your pup has stopped scratching while on the new diet, a return of symptoms after returning to the original food means that it’s likely that you pet is allergic to something in that food. Again, you’ll want to check in with your veterinarian, who can help you eliminate other causes as well.

For more information, check out the Clinical Nutrition Service’s webpage on food allergies or contact your pet’s veterinarian.