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Natural Awakenings Tampa Florida

Beyond Itchy

Sneaky Symptoms of Food Allergies in Pets

by Dr. Cathy Alinovi, Holistic Veterinarian

I’ll never forget the first time I met Duke, the itchy and miserable Papillon who was dealing with recurring—and painful—ear infections, itchy feet  and inflamed (pink) belly. His owner had done everything her conventional veterinarian had told her to do. She dutifully treated each and every ear infection, and when it was suggested that Duke be put on a daily thyroid pill to reduce the ear infections, she obliged. As for the itchy feet and pink belly, she was told that some dogs are “just itchier” than others. She tried oatmeal baths, essential oils and more and got a bit of relief for her dear four-legged friend, but the poor guy still struggled.

Unfortunately, it was years before we met, and after we talked about all the issues with which Duke was dealing, his recurrent ear infections were pointing toward food allergies. Duke had eaten the same food for years; it never occurred to his mom or the previous veterinarian that might be the culprit. We also had to consider the rest of the ways Duke was getting potentially troublesome exposures. For dogs with possible grain allergies, oatmeal shampoos are grain-based and may actually be making things worse! Treats are another culprit; pet parents think “it’s just a tiny bite.” For a human child with shellfish allergies, that “tiny bite” can send the child to the hospital. It’s just the same for pets with food allergies—just one bite can send the body out of balance and bam, return of an ear infection.

Chewable supplements and medications can also contribute to suspected food allergies. Many chewable pet products are beef-flavored or use pork. Beef, along with grain, is a very allergenic food, which means for the super-allergic, we also have to come up with alternative heartworm and flea and tick “preventatives” as many of these products are beef flavored. (In all cases, less is more—less chemicals is more beneficial, especially to the allergic pet.)

One more consideration we had to look at was the thyroid pill little Duke was taking. Thyroid medications are colored with dyes; the color identifies the size/dosage of the pill. The crazy thing about that dye is that it can cause itch and skin infections. In evaluating whether a dog has an under-functioning thyroid, simply looking at T4 is not helpful (T4 is a marker for thyroid hormone, easily measured in the blood, therefore commonly reported in bloodwork) because anything that makes a dog feel bad will result in low T4 levels. Duke had ear infections, felt bad, and therefore his T4 was low. This is actually a normal, healthy response. His mom had a choice: get a full thyroid workup or consider discontinuation of the supplement. (Duke was not overweight and did not have a big belly, nor was his skin thin and he was not lethargic—all classic signs of low thyroid function.)

Duke’s mom and I also discussed allergy testing (many veterinarians offer blood testing to identify allergies); the blood test is only accurate for hay fever type allergies. It is NOT diagnostic for food allergies as it is only 50 percent accurate! That’s like throwing a dart at a board with foods on it to determine which foods the dog might be allergic to—it’s a waste of money. There is a fantastic saliva test that looks for food “sensitivities”; this test is much more helpful to determine which foods may be problematic for dogs and cats.

Once his mom understood all the possible ways Duke could be getting exposed to problem foods, she changed his diet from kibble to grain-free whole food, avoiding beef; he never again endured another ear infection, was able to come off of the thyroid pill, and his itchy feet… well, no longer itched!

Food allergies are often “treated” by veterinarians, temporarily alleviating the misery for our pets but not identifying the root (cause). For the veterinarian, this means future office visits and more prescriptions sold. But for our pets, it means recurring cycles of being itchy, congested and just plain miserable... not to mention the pet parent’s time spent en route to and from vet appointments, missed work, etc.

There is a more humane and convenient way to address any recurring symptoms such as runny noses, yeasty ears, ear infections, excessive licking, panting, congestion, chewing on their feet and more. Ask your holistic veterinarian to talk with you more about food allergies or demand a saliva-based allergy test. This will show what you must avoid in your dog’s food, helping you alleviate the cause of your pet’s symptoms permanently.

Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a solely holistic veterinarian, helps clients find only natural solutions to their pets’ needs. Healthy PAWsibilities Natural Pet Wellness Center is located at 628 Cleveland St., Ste. 17, Clearwater. For more information and appointments, call 727-510-3665, email [email protected] and/or visit