You bring your itchy pet to your veterinarian for the umpteenth time…what now?!
Your veterinarian will first rule out a skin parasite, such as mites or mange. Also highly recommended is continual flea prevention. It may take only one flea to cause a severe allergic reaction.
There are several ways to work through diagnosing allergens and managing them to keep your pet comfortable. Previously mentioned was keeping a journal of your pet’s symptoms so you can try to narrow down the problem period (seasonal or all year) and how bad the symptoms are. For the dog who is a little itchy once or twice a year, medication during those times may be all you need. However, more severe symptoms or those lasting much longer will require further workup, which may include a food trial, allergy testing, or even a trip to a dermatologist.
If your pet is itchy all year long, it could be food, it could be outdoor allergens such as trees, pollens, or grasses, or it could be something inside the home, such as dust mites, fleas or cat dander. Or, as is occasionally the case, all three could be the culprit!
If your pet is itchy only a few times a year, it is likely a seasonal allergy to grasses, trees or pollens.
If a food allergy is suspected, your veterinarian may recommend a food trial. When pets are allergic to food, it’s typically to the protein source and/or carbohydrate source. Several food companies make prescription hypoallergenic diets utilizing protein and carb sources that are highly unlikely to be in commercial pet food (venison, salmon, duck, rabbit, kangaroo, potato, egg, pea). These diets are specially formulated with allergy pets in mind and include antioxidants and fatty acids to help the skin. These companies also take special care to avoid cross-contamination with possible food allergens from other diets.
To do a proper food trial, you need to list all the foods your pet has eaten, including pet food formulas, any human food, and treats. This will help the veterinarian narrow down a diet for your pet to try. The new diet must contain new sources of carbs and proteins that your pet has never been exposed to.
A problem facing veterinarians today is that with all the natural and organic pet foods now on the market, it is becoming more difficult to narrow down what the pet has already been exposed to. The majority of commercial diets contain chicken, beef, or lamb as the protein source, and rice as the carb source. However, some companies producing natural pet foods have formulas containing herring, salmon, duck, kangaroo, bison, sweet potato, and so on. So if you bring your pet in for allergies, who has eaten food containing duck, then we cannot do a food trial using the prescription food containing duck.
Food trials should last a minimum of 6-8 weeks, during which time your pet should eat only the prescribed food, no outside food, treats, human food, nothing else. Even a single treat containing a potential allergen can throw off the food trial. If your pet’s symptoms improve on the food, then your pet likely has a food allergy. If there is no improvement, then food is probably not the problem.
Check back for Allergies Part 3!
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