Food hypersensitivities are one possible cause for year round ear and skin disorders in dogs and cats. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reliable test that can be run on saliva, skin swabs, blood samples, or skin testing to predict which food ingredients may be responsible for a particular patient’s food allergy. For this reason, it is necessary to conduct a strict elimination diet trial in order to accurately be able to diagnose or rule out a food allergy. There are a lot of things that can impair a food trial from being completed successfully, and we hope that these tips will be helpful in minimizing pit falls of trying to evaluate for a food allergy.
When choosing to do a food trial with our hospital it is important that you discuss how the food trial will be structured with one of our veterinary dermatologists. Our highly trained veterinary technicians are also a great resource for determining what things can and cannot be given during a food trial.
Food trials should be conducted with either home cooking or with a veterinary prescription food. This controls the quality of the food and minimizes the chances of the food you are using from being inadvertently contaminated with ingredients that are not on the label. This is a common problem with over the counter diets, as they are frequently designed to contain only specific ingredients, but inadvertently become contaminated during the manufacturing process.
The specific food chosen needs to use ingredients that your pet has not been fed before. This is an important feature of a food trial, because an allergic pet that has eaten chicken, lamb, and salmon could have developed an allergy to any of those ingredients. However, you cannot be allergic to something your immune system has never been exposed to, so a “novel” ingredient or an extensively hydrolyzed diet are good choices.
During the food trial your pet should not be allowed to have any treats, bones, pill wraps, supplements, or medications that have not been reviewed. Many owners forget to disclose supplements or medications that are not related to the pet’s skin or ear issues, and these often contain flavorings that originate from beef, pork, or other animal sources. Even gel caps and gelatin should be avoided as this often comes from animal sources.
It is important that if oral flea, tick, or heartworm prevention is used during the food trial that each item be approved for use. Most of the oral anti-parasitic agents on the market today have flavorings that will interfere with a food trial’s strict nature, which makes it impossible to rule out a food allergy if your pet does not improve. One exception is the use of oral Bravecto, if it is used at the very beginning of a food trial, as it is a 12-week flea and tick preventative that will provide protection during the entire food trial without needing to be re-administered. We are happy to help you make these important decisions when starting a food trial.
Remember that the items discussed are not the only places where a pet may have access to ingestible items. Some common, but often overlooked places a pet may have access to potential allergens include: food items found on walks, ingestion of another pet’s stool from the yard or litter box, or ingestion of back wash from another pet’s food in a shared water bowl. While backwash may seem insignificant, the immune system is a highly sensitive system designed to detect microscopic amounts of allergen.
For more helpful tips schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists to have a consultation.
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