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Definition and cause of a feed allergy
More and more dogs are suffering from feed allergies these days. The immune system reacts more strongly to specific components of the feed. This form of allergy can develop in any age of the animal and seasonally independently. It is triggered by food components that can act as allergens. For example, beef, poultry, or lamb meat and especially gluten-containing cereals such as wheat, are considered possible allergens. But milk and soy products and food mites are also potential triggers for an allergy. Additives and preservatives can also increase an allergy tendency. Even if a dog has always tolerated its food well, it can suddenly develop an allergy to certain ingredients it contains.
In the case of dogs, feed allergies are expressed primarily through the skin and gastrointestinal problems. For example, the dog often reacts when it comes into contact with the allergen with severe itching, reddened and inflamed skin, loss of fur, eczema, or crusts. These skin symptoms are particularly noticeable on the paws and in the armpit and groin area. Inflammation of the ears and eyes are also associated with allergies and intolerances. Besides, diarrhoea and vomiting can occur, even in combination with skin reactions.
Diagnosing feed allergy safely is a lengthy and challenging process. As a first step, all other possible diseases that can cause the same symptoms should be excluded. These primarily include infestation with parasites and bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal tract. But also other forms of allergy, e.g., B. against environmental stimuli such as pollen and grasses or house dust mites, should be excluded by blood and skin tests as the cause of the symptoms. To be able to precisely determine the feed component to which the organism is allergic, an elimination or exclusion diet is recommended. All food components that are suspected of having triggered the allergy are avoided.
To alleviate the symptoms of a feed allergy or to prevent the symptoms from recurring, a hypoallergenic diet is primarily used. Similar to the elimination diet, the suspected allergy-causing food components are avoided. The food should only consist of ingredients that the dog has rarely eaten so far and to which he is therefore not expected to react allergically. That is why more exotic meats such as horses, reindeers, ostriches, and kangaroos are mainly used in the hypoallergenic diet. Pork is also a good and high-quality source of protein. Since this type of meat is also rarely found in dog food, it is very well tolerated by most dogs. It is important that with a hypoallergenic diet, due to better tolerance, only one protein and one carbohydrate source are fed to the dog.
Also, this unique food should be fed to the dog for at least 8-10 weeks to give the severely irritated organism sufficient time to regenerate. It is therefore crucial that the dog does not receive any further feed in the form of treats or the like during this time, but that this hypoallergenic diet is strictly adhered to to ensure that the dog is free of symptoms. Carbohydrates should not be left out to supply the dog with sufficient energy. But also when choosing the carbohydrate source, care should be taken that it has so far been rarely fed.
Besides, cereals containing gluten should be avoided, since experience has shown that many dogs show intolerance to the gluten protein. Millet or sweet potato is, therefore, particularly suitable as a carbohydrate component. Essential fat sources can also be added to the feed to provide the body with additional energy and essential minerals. Oils with polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, such as linseed or fish oil, have proven particularly useful since they have an anti-inflammatory effect and also support healthy skin function. If the hypoallergenic feed does not yet cover all minerals and vitamins as required, special mineral mixtures can also be added. However, since the dog may also be allergic to the components it contains, this additional supply should be used to wait at least eight weeks, and during this time, the hypoallergenic food alone should be fed.
A provocation test means the gradual addition of further feed components. This makes it possible to determine the allergenic food component and to be able to expand the feed plan continuously. However, this should only be done cautiously after the clinical symptoms have entirely subsided, i.e., the dog no longer displays symptoms such as itching or diarrhoea and has already been given hypoallergenic food for 8-10 weeks. It should be noted that a new protein or carbohydrate source is only added to the feed step by step at a sufficient interval of 2 weeks. If the dog shows allergic symptoms again under the new component, a suspected allergy trigger could be identified. This should now be avoided to keep the dog symptom-free. However, adding new food components is not always sensible and necessary if the dog already tolerates the selected hypoallergenic food very well and is, therefore, optimally supplied following its energy and nutrient requirements.