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What Causes Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats?

Updated: Feb 15

The truth about food allergies in dogs and cats

"It's impossible for a food to trigger allergies unless the pet was already allergic to that food..."


This was a recent comment I saw online, among many other inaccurate and disturbing views towards pet nutrition.

So let me break it down...


How would a pet become allergic to a food?

Allergies are tricky. They can come from many things. But in the case of food, a pet may not even be 'allergic' to a particular food...

But the food can be low quality, hard to digest, inflammatory, etc.

Certain pet food may be so low quality that they have very low bioavailability and lack critical nutrients which in turn, causes symptoms of disease and imbalance.

Zinc deficiency in particular is well documented (especially in certain breeds) and can cause many problems, especially with the skin.

Let's say it again:

Poor nutrition leads to disease and imbalance!

"Zinc-related dermatosis has been classically described as generic dog food disease."

*This condition is common in Husky dogs.

Over time, intake of a poor-quality diet can cause digestive strain and chronic inflammation around the body, particularly in the GI tract.

Which then affects the immune system (over 3/4 of the immune system is located in the gut)!

When the GI tract is affected: dysbiosis can occur. Meaning crucial GI microflora is out of balance, which then causes yeast overgrowth and inflammation, leading to leaky gut! *Test for leaky gut here.

Studies also show that an overload of 'bad' bacteria in the intestines, and not enough 'good' bacteria, actually causes food allergies!

Unfortunately, the conventional medical system doesn't exactly recognize diet as a primary cause of allergic symptoms. And most veterinarians will say that food allergies are rare. But we already know diet affects the immune system in many ways.

This is why addressing gut health is SO important in the treatment and management of allergies!

Let's recap:

An unbalance microbiome can create malabsorption issues, and nutrient deficiencies > leading to leaky gut > leading to a lowered immune system (good bacteria ward off invaders).

Eventually, the intestinal wall is so inflamed and compromised that undigested proteins and other food particles pass through the now irritated and permeable intestines, and into the blood stream.

Which causes and immune reaction... And BOOM:


...and more.

It's not rocket science.

Once an immune response is triggered, it can grow stronger and stronger each time the pet consumes that food item. And this is proven.

It is rare that veterinarians ever address the diet for recurring issues and disease.


Please keep in mind that there is a difference between an allergy and an intolerance.

Allergies are an immune response. Intolerance means it just generally doesn't agree with the body.

An example of this would be lactose intolerance. The pet may not have an allergic reaction, but may have bad gas or loose stools from consuming it.

While my dog is not allergic to rice, I have noticed a long-standing correlation between her anal gland problems and the food she eats. Once I removed rice and all other grains from her diet... the problem resolved.


Is There a Connection Between Diet & Behavior?

Diet and nutrients (or lack thereof) can also impact behavioral health. This has been scientifically documented in numerous studies.

When an animal is stressed and anxious, the microbiome begins to shift and in turn, creates inflammation. Over a long period of time, this can lead to leaky gut as well.

Certain nutrients can directly impact behavior and mental/ emotional well-being and therefore keep not only the mind balanced, but also the gut.

This synergistic connection is why so many pet owners feel overly frustrated when conventional methods do not work.

There needs to be a full evaluation of every aspect of the pet's life, rather than prescribing an Rx diet and medication to just ease the symptoms.


What Does This All Mean?

Poor quality food and inadequate nutrition affects the WHOLE body.

Put it this way:

Just because you aren't 'allergic' to that Big Mac you just ate...

Doesn't mean it isn't negatively affecting you.

Maybe you even feel a little crappy after you eat it. Irritable, bloated, moody, run down.

A diet of inflammatory, allergenic, hard to digest, and toxin filled foods over a 10 year span of your pet's life, has consequences.

Exposure to the same food over and over again also increases the chance of creating an over-active immune system and an actual allergy developing.

It's time we start recognizing this!


What Are The Main Offenders Causing Allergies & Poor Nutrition?

The most common offenders for causing health issues in pets are:

  • Corn

  • Wheat

  • Soy

  • Chicken

  • Beef

  • Artificial preservatives

  • Hydrogenated oils

  • Food dye/ coloring

  • Artificial flavors name a few.

Artificial and dangerous additives are a whole different category I won't get into right now but just know, they are bad news!

When the above listed are fed to a pet either short or long-term, overall health and nutritional status can be affected.

And these problems can drastically extend from symptoms of allergies. The entire body and metabolic system could be affected, along with every other organ system in the body like like the urinary tract, and adrenals.

Pets may be diagnosed with:

All of these have one common denominator:


This ultimately leads to the use of harsh medications, to cover up the symptoms of an overall imbalance in the body, simply from feeding an inappropriate, low quality, inflammatory diet.


What Else Can Cause Food Allergy Symptoms?

"While people are often quick to blame a dog's skin problems on what he eats, the truth, says Tufts University's Cummings Veterinary Center, is that food allergies in dogs are not all that common. The most common causes of allergies in pets are environmental including fleas, dust mites, grass, pollen, and other environmental causes. If your pup's allergies tend to clear up during the winter or become worse at the height of flea season, then it's likely his allergies are environmental."

While I would disagree with the statement that food allergies are not common in pets, I do agree that our environment can definitely irritate a pet to the point of miserable existence, and I see this often as well!

So many toxic substances reside in our daily environment that can negatively affect our health, and our pets.

*Even the way you store your pet's food can contribute to their allergies!

When pets are bombarded with environmental toxins and irritants, the skin's microbiome can be disrupted.

This delicate microbiome can also be disrupted by:

  • Yeast overload

  • Dysbiosis (unbalanced gut bacteria)

  • Detox symptoms

That's right! The skin has it's own microbiome on the outside, just as our GI tract does on the inside!

In this study, scientists realized that replenishing the good bacteria on the skin actually reduced itching in dogs! I recommend using probiotic-based grooming supplies for these pets.


How Do I Know If My Pet Has Food Allergies?

Well, I would say, it's important to talk with your veterinarian, but the truth is, most veterinarians either:

A) think food allergies are a myth, or

B) believe food allergies are real and need to be treated with allergy shots, medicated shampoos, prescription diets, and steroids.

While it is fully up to you and your veterinarian to decide what is right for your pet, I urge you to use common sense.

If your pet has more than one issue going on, such as chronic ear infections, and obesity.. I HIGHLY advise addressing diet first and foremost.

Ask yourself:

Or should we support the body and eliminate the offender?

Read the ingredient list on your pet's food.

Are any of the above offenders listed?

If so, I highly recommend you switch foods, so you and your pet can have Happy Trails!


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*This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please consult your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has a medical concern.

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