Food sensitivities are commonly mislabelled “allergies, ” but allergies and sensitivities actually elicit very different responses from the immune system. Food allergies are “quite rare” according to Dr. Jean Dodds, and a true food allergy will “reflect a more immediate immunological response” (source). Anaphylaxis is often the result of an allergic response. An allergen (e.g., bee sting venom) enters the body, and the body immediately counters with a severe and sometimes life-threatening immunological response such as swelling of the eyes (or throat in severe cases), hives, or rashes. The immunoglobulins released during an allergic reaction are IgG and IgE. Read our post on immunoglobulins here. While anaphylaxis can occur in dogs, extreme immediate itching is a more common response. This is because they have 10x the number of mast cells on their skin that we do, these cells are responsible for releasing histamine and will elicit an itching sensation.
Food sensitivities are much more common and don’t involve a drastic immunological response. They are a chronic condition resulting from exposure to aggravating foods over a length of time. The animal’s body will form IgA and IgM antibodies which can be detected via saliva test. However, saliva testing shouldn’t be the first course of treatment for pets with sensitivities. The results can “yield very different results when conducted over several months, demonstrating that the immune system can over-react to many different substances at varying times of the year” (Source). This response of the gut to react negatively to various stimuli is a condition called Leaky Gut, or dysbiosis. This condition can cause a dog’s immune system to create antibodies to any food the dog may be eating and continue to do so until the dysbiosis is resolved. Therefore, getting a saliva test done may not be helpful because even if food is switched to a protein source not listed as a concern, the pet can develop antibodies to the new protein within a matter of months. For more information on Leaky Gut, read our article here (coming Monday).
If your pet exhibits the following symptoms, they may be suffering from a food sensitivity. Please note some of these symptoms can overlap with an allergic reaction, but as they are less common, it is more likely to be a sesnsitivity.
- Chronic GI upset – diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, etc.
- Licking the paws
- Chewing at parts of the body
- Hot Spots/ Open Sores
- Chronic Ear Infection
- Head shaking
- Bad smell or discharge
- Hair loss
- Mutsy smell like bread or corn chips
The best way to begin treating food allergies is by following a strict–ideally species appropriate–elimination diet. Choose a novel protein (one your pet hasn’t eaten before) and feed ONLY that for at least 8 weeks. Let’s assume you chose rabbit to feed. If you want to give treats during this time, they must be 100% dehydrated rabbit and contain nothing else. It is also essential to refrain from adding any other potential toxins into the body during the elimination phase so refrain from vaccinations, using chemical dewormers or flea and tick treatments.
Common food allergens include chicken, beef, fish, grains (oats, wheat, barley, etc.), corn, and soy. In feeding a balanced, high quality, single-protein based raw food you should easily be able to avoid all of these things. If you are going to feed a kibble, it will be more difficult to accurately eliminate potential triggers from the diet, and ultimately you may not be able to eradicate your pet’s issues. Some popular exotic proteins we recommend trying are bison, venison, elk, rabbit, kangaroo, and rabbit. After the 8 weeks, if the initial symptoms have subsided, you can start to slowly add in new proteins. Once you have established a list of a few proteins your pet can eat without issue, continue to rotate between them for life. Variety should now become a key part of your feeding regimen. If your pet is not doing better after the 8 weeks, or started to get better and then slide backward, they are likely suffering from Leaky Gut and should be treated accordingly.
Thanks for reading!
Woofs & Wags,
The Holistic Pet Radio Pack