Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer from allergies. Our dogs can have allergies too, and sometimes they can be a challenge to diagnose!
When I was in elementary school, my Bichon Frise, Toby, began to scratch and bite his paws to the point they were red and bleeding. We assumed he had an allergy and like many others, assumed his food was the cause. We took Toby to our veterinarian and based on his advice, tried various prescription diets to find out what Toby was allergic to. My Dad even took the time to prepare home cooked meals for Toby on our vet’s recommendation in order to figure out what the issue was.
This problem went on for two years, with no luck or sign of relief from Toby’s mystery allergy! One day my family was watching TV together and Toby jumped off our couch, landing on our carpet. He instantly started scratching. We all looked at each other wondering, “Could Toby’s allergy be environmental? Could he be allergic to the carpet in our house?”
We then took Toby for allergy tests and discovered that he was indeed allergic to our carpet! My parents always said they wanted hardwood floors so what did they do when they found out Toby was allergic to carpet in our house? They renovated, removing the carpets and installing hardwood flooring. The things we do for our pets! Moral of the story-sometimes when our pets have allergies, we tend to initially blame it on food, but they can have environmental allergies just like humans!
The importance of skin & coat health
Skin and coat issues can be associated with environmental allergens such as dust, mites, pollens and molds1. When we see our dog itching and scratching, they could be suffering from an environmental allergy and it’s important to contact your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Your dog’s hair or fur is approximately 90% protein making it an important dietary requirement. Furthermore, maintaining healthy skin and coat can consume up to 30% of a dog’s daily dietary requirement for protein3. Your dog’s skin and coat are indicators of having the right nutrients in the right amounts because nutrition works its way from the inside out. In addition, protein also helps build lean muscle mass, so for all of these reasons find a dog food that has a highly digestible source of protein to ensure your dog gets the most nutrient value from the dog food you choose.
There are other nutrients aside from proteins that help maintain a healthy skin and luscious coat. Omega-6 fatty acids have been shown to be important for skin and coat nourishment. An example of an omega-6 fatty acid you might see in dog food is sunflower oil. In addition, Linoleic acid and zinc are essential nutrients that work together to create a good water barrier to help lock moisture in the skin and promote a healthy coat2.
Food vs Environmental Allergies
How prevalent are food allergies? Adverse food reactions account for about 10-15% of all allergic skin diseases in dogs and cats3. Allergens such as pollens, dust, mold and flea bites are more likely the culprits, as environmental allergens are one of the most common causes of allergies in dogs1. If you suspect your dog has an allergy, (environmental or food) it’s important to visit your veterinarian immediately so they can help you diagnose and solve the problem.
If your vet has determined that your dog’s allergy is not environmental, but possibly a reaction to a food, they will most likely recommend an elimination trial, which involves trying a hydrolyzed protein or novel protein diet. The purpose of the elimination diet is to see if the dog improves when not exposed to suspected allergies. A hydrolyzed protein has been reduced in size and is less likely to induce an allergic response, making them appropriate for an elimination diet to confirm suspected food allergies. A novel protein diet uses proteins or ingredients that the dog has not been previously exposed to, helping determine what the allergen is.
If you notice your dog showing signs of an allergy, work with your veterinarian on a plan of action to determine the cause of the allergy. Be patient. Once you find out what the allergen is, you can then make the best decision for your dog, even if that means renovating your house and upgrading to hardwood floors!
1. Tufts University (2017). What every pet owner should know about food allergies http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/
2. Case et al. (2006). Canine and Feline Nutrition. Mosby Elsevier.
3. Tilley, LP, Smith, FWK (2004). The 5-Minute
Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline, 3rd ed., Ames, IA: Blackwell Publishing.
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