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Posted by Katherine Tolford on April 01, 2019
Food Allergies vs. Seasonal Allergies
by Katherine Tolford
If you suspect that your dog’s daily roll in the grass is causing allergic reactions, such as excessive paw licking and rigorous belly scratching, you may be surprised to learn that he could actually have a food allergy.
While it’s common for dogs to suffer from seasonal allergies to things like the pollen they come in contact with while playing in the yard, there are several types of dog allergies that can manifest themselves in similar ways, said Dr. Sarah Nold, on-staff veterinarian for Trupanion, a Seattle-based insurance company.
“Food allergies and environmental allergies can cause similar symptoms. These symptoms can include itchiness, hair loss, skin infections and ear infections. In addition, there are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. This is why your vet may need to start with diagnostics to first rule out skin mites, fungal infections and endocrine disease, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s,” Nold said.
Dr. Joseph Bartges, a veterinary nutritionist and professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said that seasonal allergies typically occur during certain times of the year while food allergies have no seasonality.
They do overlap, however, and approximately 30 percent of pets with food-responsive disease also have seasonal allergies or allergies to fleas, he said. Many of these allergies present themselves either with skin problems (like itchiness, recurrent infections, ear infections or hair loss) and/or gastrointestinal signs (like vomiting, diarrhea or decreased appetite), he added.
Since many of the signs and symptoms of allergies in dogs are not unique to either type of allergy, treatment may require a bit of educated trial and error to pinpoint the exact cause of your dog’s allergy. A visit to your vet should always be your first step. Here are some general guidelines to help dog owners understand food and seasonal allergies.
Many owners may not immediately suspect their dog has a food allergy because it can take years for their dog to develop an allergy to the dog food it is fed everyday. Food hypersensitivity can occur at any age in a dog’s life.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a holistic veterinarian, says one possible indicator of a food allergy can be the location of the skin problems. “If you notice lesions all over your dog’s body, on the flanks, ribs, hips or knees there’s a big chance it’s a food allergy,” he said.
Other symptoms include recurrent ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea and itchiness that can lead to self trauma such as hair loss, scabs or hot spots(areas that have been repeatedly licked or chewed and have become inflamed). Gastrointestinal issues are usually symptoms that are specifically related to possible food allergies.
Your vet will likely want to start with a review of your dog’s dietary history. It’s important to include the foods that make up his daily meals as well as any dog treats. Many dogs are allergic to chicken, dairy, beef, eggs, corn, soy and wheat as well as some of the additives contained in commercial brands of dog food.
Bartges says your vet may suggest eliminating certain proteins and substituting them for a novel protein, or a protein source that the dog has not been exposed to, such as duck, fish or kangaroo. Other options include a hydrolysate diet (where the protein source has been pre-digested to small pieces that are too small for the immune system to recognize), or to a homemade diet of either cooked or raw food.
It can take a few months to see an improvement in your dog’s food allergies, Nold said, but it’s important to diligently stick to the prescribed diet and to completely eliminate any treats and table scraps. Even certain medications can be flavored, Nold said, so make sure to discuss all medications your dog may be taking with your veterinarian to ensure they’re an approved part of the diet.
If your dog does well and shows no signs of an allergic reaction, you can gradually add in other kinds of food. But if he shows no sign of improvement, regardless of the food source, it may be time to consider that he could be suffering from a seasonal allergy.
Seasonal allergies generally occur at certain times of the year. Some of the common causes of seasonal allergies include dust, dust mites, pollen, grass and flea bites. Mahaney said that lesions on the top or underside of your dog’s feet often point to environmental allergies.
Your dog’s climate and environment can have a major impact on if they have seasonal allergies or not, he said. “In Los Angeles, for instance, it’s always warm, so things are blooming year round which can expose your dog to more allergies. But in New Jersey, things bloom in the spring, then they’re gone in the winter.”
Regardless of where your dog lives, it’s still possible for him to develop year-round allergies.
“Allergies can occur at certain times of the year, but they can turn into year-round allergies for older dogs. The more your dog is exposed to the allergens he’s sensitive to, the more intense and long-lasting his allergic response becomes,” Nold said.
There are a number of ways that seasonal allergies can be diagnosed and treated, most of which depend on the allergen itself. These include:
Overall, getting to the root of your dog’s allergy can take a bit of educated detective work. The most important thing is to seek help from your vet and not to get discouraged with the process.
“It can be frustrating if something isn’t working [but] there’s always something else we can try,” Nold said. “It might seem like you didn’t accomplish anything, but your dog’s response to therapy is helpful in determining the next step. We can find a plan to help your pet.”