Most of us know people who have to be careful about what they eat.
A friend’s son doesn’t tolerate cow’s milk at all while a co-worker can’t be anywhere near a peanut and carries an epi-pen all the time to combat anaphylaxis that might occur if she’s exposed to peanuts or peanut butter. Unfortunately, dogs can have problems with some foods, just as people do, and their reactions can also be just as scary.
What is a Food Allergy?
Food allergies are immune system responses triggered by certain foods. The response may be mild (itching, a rash or sneezing) or can be life-threatening (swelling of the airway), up to and including anaphylaxis. The itching can occur on the face, ears, front legs, paws and around the anus. Chronic ear infections, hair loss due to chewing and skin infections are also common.
A dog suffering from a food allergy that causes anaphylaxis may have trouble breathing (wheezing and straining to breathe), a swollen throat, a rapid pulse, dizziness and loss of balance, a loss of consciousness, a severe drop in blood pressure and shock. Immediate emergency care is vital if the dog is to survive.
Food allergies account for 15 to 20 percent of all canine allergies and are the third most common allergy after inhalant allergies and flea bite allergies. Dogs usually don’t begin showing food allergies until five or six months of age, and reactions can continue throughout the dog’s life. Males, females, neutered and spayed dogs can all develop food allergies.
There does tend to be a genetic component in a particular dog developing food allergies, with some breeds (or some families of dogs within those breeds) more affected than others. West Highland White Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Rat Terriers and German Shepherds are the breeds many veterinarians reported seeing the most often for this issue. However, any dog, purebred or mixed, can develop food allergies.
What is a Food Intolerance?
A food intolerance is a digestive system reaction to food. Food intolerances are actually more common than food allergies and are often mislabeled as allergies.
Another difference is the length of time before a reaction begins; the symptoms of an allergic reaction tend to appear rapidly (sometimes within minutes) after exposure to a food. An intolerance reaction may not appear for several hours since the food needs to work its way down into the digestive tract.
Symptoms often include abdominal cramps, obvious discomfort, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea. Some or all of these symptoms may be present.