Food allergy is an allergic reaction to ingested food substances. Some veterinary dermatologists feel that food allergies are very common while others regard them as extremely rare. Everyone does agree on one fact. Food allergies are difficult to diagnose.

Like most allergies in pets (particularly in dogs and cats), the major clinical symptom associated with food allergies is itchiness. Usually, this itchiness is poorly responsive to medication. Hives, pustules, and crusty patches are common primary skin lesions. Hair loss and skin abrasions occur as the animal scratches.

Chronic otitis and conjunctivitis are often observed in pets with food allergies.

Lesions occurring as a result of food allergies may be generalized or localized. Areas most commonly affected are the face, ears, and paws.

There are many foods and food by-products that can cause allergies. Some of them include: milk, beef and beef by-products, corn, corn oil, yeast, turkey, eggs, and fish. It has been suggested that certain food additives may be a contributing factor to the development of food allergies.

Certain breeds (of dogs) appear to be predisposed to food allergies. West Highland White Terriers, Golden Retrievers and Chinese Shar-Peis are on the top of the list.

Blood tests, biopsies, and intradermal skin tests are often used in diagnosing food allergies.

Animals that are suspected of having food allergies are fed hypoallergenic diets. The most common hypoallergenic diet consists of lamb and rice or lamb and potatoes. This special diet is fed for a minimum of 5-6 weeks. (Absolutely nothing but the special food may be given.) If an improvement is noticed, the problem may be attributed to a food allergy. The diagnosis is confirmed when the animal is returned to his (her) normal food. If the skin problem gets worse (after returning to the regular diet), a diagnosis of food allergy is made.

Your veterinarian will discuss the tests that are best suited for your pet.