Adverse food reactions in pets – what is it and how to react?

Like humans, our pets may experience adverse reactions to some food or ingredients. Whether we give them dry food or raw meat, there is always a risk that the food will not suit our pets, perhaps simply because they cannot digest it. How to recognize adverse food reactions and how to prevent them? That's what we asked veterinarian Veronica Leisuková.

What can cause adverse food reactions in pets?

The term adverse food reaction is quite broad. Most commonly, it includes two problems, namely food allergies and food intolerance. In food allergies, the cause of the problem is immunological, known as hypersensitivity. In food intolerance, the problem is not immunological. Clinically, however, both conditions are indistinguishable and are dealt with the same way.


What are the symptoms of such adverse food reactions?

The most common symptoms are gastroenterological or dermatological. In the long term, affected animals may suffer from limited growth, weight loss and poor health, and tire more easily. They may suffer from vomiting or diarrhoea, increased defecation frequency, flatulence and meteorism. Of the dermatological difficulties spectrum, the most common clinical symptom is itchiness, which is typically unseasonal. It occurs all year round, mainly on the head, between the fingers, around the anus, and in the armpits. Patients also suffer from pyotraumatic dermatitis (i.e. hot-spots), impaired coat quality, hair loss, various skin defects, and often even from yeast inflammations of the external ear canal.


As for allergies, are these congenital reactions or do pets acquire them during life?

Patients can be born with a congenital predisposition, most commonly known in different breeds (e.g. WHWT, German Shepherds, Labradors and Retrievers, as well as many others), but allergic symptoms and what raw materials animals are allergic to develop only during life. Problems may occur both at an early age as well as in geriatric patients.


How can such allergies be treated? Is there any way to fight them?

To combat food allergies, there are special feeds designed and produced for that purpose by animal food producers. There is also a special elimination diet, prepared for the animal by the owner. Dry and wet food contains hypoallergenic materials, and in order for the diet to work properly, the proteins in the food should be hydrolysed. Hydrolysation breaks down the individual components that do not irritate the immune system in the digestive tract and reduce or completely suppress the development of adverse food reactions.


You mentioned an elimination diet, what does it involve?

Any pet owner can prepare an elimination diet in the form of raw or cooked food. The diet involves at least six weeks of serving of one type of animal protein, and the effects are evaluated at the earliest in six weeks. This is how long it may take for the allergens from the previously served food to leave the body. After this period, if the source of the animal protein is suitable, a plant component – such as rice – can be added for six weeks, and the diet can be evaluated again. Whichever version of the diet you serve to your dog, make sure that during the time, the dog eats only this food, with no added goodies or treats that could hinder your efforts. Giving your dog “off-the-table” food for humans is completely out of the question.


Are there any food allergies that occur in animals more often than in the past? Is there any component that animals are more sensitive to than they used to be?

The question is how do we know, and from what we can ascertain, that animals suffer from something more than before. Science is constantly developing and moving forward, and we, veterinarians, need to continuously educate ourselves. In the past, patients with food allergies were often mistaken for primarily gastroenterological or dermatological patients, and therefore, food allergies may have been underdiagnosed, despite most likely being here. Currently, the most common allergens are components widely used for the production of animal food. This includes beef protein, milk protein, chicken protein. Of plant raw materials, this includes soy, wheat, corn and barley.

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