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How to spot food allergies and intolerances in dogs and cats and how to tell the two conditions apart

Did you know your furry friends can manifest adverse reactions to foods just like us humans? Food allergies and intolerances in dogs and cats are actually very common and involve a reaction to one or more ingredients in the food ingested.
However, there is a big difference between food allergy and food intolerance so it’s important to know how to tell these two apart so you can take the right action quickly.
As always, remember to ask your vet’s advice!

What are the symptoms of food allergies and intolerances in dogs and cats?

The symptoms of an adverse reaction to food in dogs and cats are many and diverse and often confused. It can be complicated to determine what’s causing your pet’s problem.
Food allergies and intolerances almost always show up with the same signs and sometimes these signs are common to parasitosis, to a response to a stressful event, and to other conditions.
Most commonly, symptoms are gastrointestinal in nature (Link articolo EN_problemi gastrointestinali) (vomit, diarrhoea, flatulence and meteorism) or show up in the skin (itching in one area or all over, dermatitis and balding).
The most frequent symptoms are:
  • dermatitis
  • itchiness around the neck and in the back
  • dandruff and constant hair shedding
  • dry and dull coat
  • anal gland inflammation
  • diarrhoea - recurrent or chronic
  • flatulence
  • recurrent ear infection
  • vomiting at night on an empty stomach
  • chronic conjunctivitis
  • crustiness in the corner of the eyes
  • foul breath
  • constant tearing
  • sores suddenly appearing on the skin and uncontrolled scratching
  • constant licking at the extremities of the limbs
  • craving for grass

Food allergies

Food allergies are basically an overreaction of the immune system, which identifies one or more substances in the everyday environment as “enemies”.
While these reactions are harmless in most pets, they may cause harm and trigger inflammation in others.
The allergen (the substance responsible for the allergy) could be a particular protein and/or a chemical or pharmacological substance in the food.
To defend itself from the attack of the substances mistaken for something harmful, the immune system reacts in three ways: (i) by actively fighting through the inflammatory process; (ii) through depression; or (iii) by altering its functions.
Its active fight through inflammation is the most effective of the three and leads to the destruction of the toxic substances.
Its depression increases vulnerability to germs, fungi and viruses or leads to harmful saprophytic overgrowth. Saprophytes are essential micro-organisms that keep external enemies in check. They are specific to every organ in the body and, under normal conditions, coexist peacefully with the host.
Lastly, alteration of the immune system leads to absurd reactions like anaphylactic shock and autoimmune diseases. The above reactions can seriously undermine the health of the animal or even cause death.

Food intolerances

Food intolerances don’t affect the immune system directly. Instead, intolerance causes inflammation and/or increased secretions and excretions in response to ingested substances viewed as harmful.
The two mechanisms mentioned are the way the body fights off the components it identified as toxic, in other words, it either “expels” them (secretions/excretions) or “burns” them (inflammatory process).
These responses can involve any organ because the sensitivity of each individual is different.
That’s how dogs and cats chronically suffer from ear infection, conjunctivitis, dermatitis, gastroenteritis, cystitis, kidney inflammation, arthritis, etc.
A food the body is intolerant to will trigger an acute inflammatory process every time that food is ingested.
If that food continues to be part of the pet's everyday diet, then the inflammatory process will eventually become chronic.
If you don’t eliminate the cause, you can’t eliminate the effect!
That's why it's so important to understand that an anti-inflammation drug should be a choice only if (i) the cause of the inflammation cannot be removed, (ii) the inflammation is too disabling, (iii) the condition is due to an auto-immune disease, or (iv) the culprit is unknown and cannot be identified. However, you should always let your vet decide what the best way to proceed and the best actionable therapeutic strategy are.
Fortunately, since food intolerance is behind the vast majority of the inflammatory processes affecting dogs and cats, the use of medicinal drugs can be avoided by eliminating the harmful ingredients from the diet. The inflammation will subside spontaneously and quickly.
Food intolerances can be broken down as follows:
  • Metabolic: the most common and triggered by a metabolic disorder (lactose intolerance due to insufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme would be an example)
  • Pharmacological-type reactions: due to a particular and exaggerated reactivity to certain molecules in foods
  • Food poisoning: this involves ingestion of toxin-containing substances, such as, for example, foods known to be toxic for cats and dogs)

Why are adverse food reactions so frequent in dogs and cats?

Although commonly referred to as “disorders”, adverse food reactions are actually defence mechanisms the body uses to get rid of a triggering agent that should not be in the body.
These are most commonly caused by certain macronutrients—proteins (in the vast majority of cases) or carbohydrates.
However, it has been shown in recent years that residual pharmacological contaminants in the meat coming from intensive animal farming, and in the food our furry friends are eating, are also contributing.

The solution to food intolerance in dogs and cats

If an allergy is the case, after identifying the harmful ingredients with the help of your vet, you need to completely eliminate the ingredient from your pet’s diet to avoid the risk of death. If intolerance is the case, here’s what to do.
The only effective solution to keep the condition from becoming chronic in your four-legged friend is to remove the source and choose a diet free of contaminants, with clean ingredients and botanical substances.
The Active line for dogs and the Active line for cats, in addition to the MONODiet line for dogs and the MONODiet line for cats, have been specifically created with your most sensitive furry friends in mind and help against food intolerances.
Both lines have been validated by our SANYpet Research and Development Department as well as broadly observed in literature for their activity on the organs and tissues of our furry friends.
We hope this in-depth article on allergies and intolerances in dogs and cats will be helpful to you.