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Pet Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance – How to Deal


27 May 2015



Article written in collaboration with John Agionicolaitis, Animal Health Student, Asista Foundation

Our pets are part of our family and we as pet parents only want the best for their health and well-being. Seeing your dog or cat suffering from a food allergy or intolerance can be a stressful time for you and your pet. Stay positive, there are solutions! Read on to understand the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance, and learn how you can deal with these health conditions.

Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance

Typically, it is one or many ingredients in your pet’s food that is the root cause of a food allergy and/or a food intolerance (sometimes, it can be a combination of ingredients). These are not unusual health conditions for animals. A pet’s digestive system can be just as sensitive as a human’s.

Allergy: It is the negative response to an active ingredient in pet food caused by the immune system. Generally, it could be any ingredient that the body identifies as “harmful”, which then takes the appropriate action in eliminating the ingredient from the body. Common symptoms include:

  • Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin)
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Paw chewing/swelling
  • Otitis (inflammation of the ears)

Food Intolerance: Unlike an allergy, it does not threaten the immune system although it affects the digestive system of the animal. The symptoms are similar to those of an allergy with slight variations, such as:

    • Bowel irritation
    • Discomfort
    • Bloody Diarrhea

Both health conditions are easily treatable with the proper action plan. The sooner it is dealt with, the better!

How to deal with a food allergy or intolerance?

Common foods that can cause allergies or intolerance in pets are: chicken, wheat, dairy (including cheese), egg, soy, corn, beef and yeast. In most cases, every diet consists of one protein and one carbohydrate, either which can possibly trigger allergy symptoms.

Generally, the rule of thumb would be to start your pet on a new diet. The purpose of selecting a new diet is finding a new formula with a different spectrum of ingredients that your dog or cat has never eaten before. Finding a new diet that works for your pet is a process that can take some time with several trials.

There are different combinations that can be tried depending on what the previous formula consisted of. For example, if you’re feeding a natural diet with grains, look for foods with minimal grains or even a single grain. If you find the minimal grain does not work, you might want to try a grain-free diet. If the previous diet had no grain but the primary protein was chicken for example, you might want to opt for a new formula that has venison, lamb or fish as its primary source of protein.

Finding a solution with Nutrience may or may not be a possibility. We have eliminated corn, wheat, soy and by-products from all formulas, as well as limited our grains to a single source within our Natural line, such as steel-cut oats. We carefully select the proteins we add in all of our formulas, keeping in mind certain diet restrictions of some of our furry customers. For example, there’s no egg or fish protein in our Grain Free Pork, Lamb & Venison formula for dogs and in our Grain Free Pork, Turkey & Venison formula for cats. There are no land-based meat proteins in our Nutrience Grain Free Ocean Fish formula, which is available for both dogs and cats. For more information about our diets and their ingredients, please give our customer service a call or email us.

It’s key to remember that you must gradually change the old diet over to the new. This is referred to as transitioning, and it’s recommended that this process take place over a 1-week period.

Dog or cat, here is how you would go about transitioning your pet’s food:

  • 75% old diet, 25% the new diet for about 3 days
  • Next move on to 50% old diet, 50% new diet for 2 days
  • Then move to 25% old diet, 75% new diet for 2 days
  • Finally 100% of the new diet

Transitioning to a new diet is ideal to avoid any digestive issues; the transition period should be maintained for about a week to help ensure no digestive issues.

Typically, when putting your pet on the new food, you will want to be strict about eliminating any table scraps or any other food that is not part of the new diet you are trying. Remember not to get discouraged if you have tried a diet and it hasn’t worked for your pet. Your veterinarian might not know the root cause of the allergy, and you might need to try several formulas before relieving your pet of the allergy or intolerance. Take note that it will take about 12 weeks to see your pet’s condition improve once the new diet is started.

If you need more information on food allergy and/or intolerance, here are some helpful resources:

  1. http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/caring-for-a-dog-that-has-food-allergies
  2. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2111&aid=143
  3. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=1+2141&aid=142
  4. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/allergies

Be sure to take your pet to your veterinarian if he or she presents any of these symptoms and you suspect that it is not related to a food allergy or intolerance.