Pet food allergies

11 April 2019

Adverse reactions to food or food ingredients are abnormal responses of the body to an ingested product. A true allergic reaction to food or food ingredients will involve a response from the immune system of your pet.

Following ingestion, molecules in the food (i.e. proteins) are digested and enter the gastrointestinal – or GI – tract for absorption. Under normal conditions, the molecules move across the membrane of the gut, enter the blood stream and circulated through the body for use. During an allergic reaction, the molecules are recognized by mistake as a toxin by the immune cells that line the GI tract, and the immune system responds by trying to destroy them. At the same time, chemical signals are released that act on the tissues throughout the body, resulting in the presentation of various symptoms seen by pet owners.

A food allergy can develop at any age, most often first emerging in pets that are less than one year of age. Allergic reactions may also develop after a period of time, and not necessarily be associated with a recent dietary change. A pet could be sensitive to one ingredient or have multiple allergies.

Allergic reactions to foods commonly result in dermatological signs – visible changes to the skin and coat of the cat or dog. Other possibilities signs include skin lesions, acute diarrhea and/or vomiting.

Nutrition support for allergies

In addition to avoiding allergens in food, there are other nutrition supports that can be used in the treatment of allergies.

a)           Antioxidants

Antioxidants can counteract the harmful reactions generated by the immune system as it responds to a food allergy. The immune system generates reactive oxygen species, which further stimulates the body’s defense systems and can cause damage to molecules like DNA. Antioxidants like vitamins E and C, and selenium and beta carotene, can help reduce the effects on cells.

b)           Prebiotics and probiotics

The gut’s response during an allergic reaction is to fight toxins and remove potential harm, which can result in damage to the surrounding tissues. The repair and rebuilding of the tissues in the gut, which promotes proper digestive function, is essential for recovery from the negative effects of allergies.

Ingredients that provide prebiotic fibers, such as chicory root extract and yeast cell extract help the repair process and proper function of the GI tract. The symptoms of allergic reactions and food intolerances may also disrupt the balance of microbial populations in the gut. Offering your pet a probiotic can help replenish this population, supporting maximum digestive function.

c)    Essential fatty acids

These signal the body to produce signaling molecules, called Eicosanoids, which stimulate the immune system. Omega 6 fatty acids help produce Eicosanoids that are pro-inflammatory, and are generated as a response to allergic reactions. Omega 3 fatty acids generate Eicosanoids that are anti-inflammatory, reducing inflammation responses.

Providing your pet with a diet that has a proper balance of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids from sources like vegetable oils, flaxseed, and fish oils, will help prevent a negative immune system response to an allergen.

What about hypoallergenic diets?

The inclusion of “novel” proteins in pet diets for animals with food allergies relies on protein sources that are not commonly found in most commercial pet foods. Because the animal may not have been exposed to these proteins, it is likely there will not be an allergic reaction. These diets may be beneficial for pets who have known allergies.

It’s difficult to create one diet that addresses all of the allergies of every pet. However, pet owners can try to avoid common allergen ingredients; for dogs, this would be beef, dairy and wheat, and for cats beef, dairy and fish. The use of a hypoallergenic diet does not guarantee that a pet will not eventually develop an allergy to the “novel” protein.

Trouw Nutrition Canada has a variety of pet food formulas for cats and dogs that may have food or food ingredient allergies. Our Lifetime product line features limited protein diets with balanced Omega fatty acids for dogs in chicken, lamb or fish formulations. Wholesome Blend Grain Free hypoallergenic diets are available in limited proteins as well for dogs (fish, poultry and red meat) and cats (fish and poultry).

It is recommended that if you think your pet has an allergy, that you consult your veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis.