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Food Allergy or Food Intolerance

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance

Many people confuse food allergies and food intolerances, which may sometimes appear to be the same, but are actually very different. A food intolerance will often cause a digestive 'upset' of some sort, such as vomiting or diarrhea. A food allergy, on the other hand, causes an immune system reaction when the offending protein/substance is introduced. This reaction produces severe itching, chewing (especially on the feet and rear legs), loss of hair which produces a moth eaten appearance, and sores. There are also secondary problems which arise, including staph infections on the skin from the sores.

Testing for food allergies requires a great deal of patience and discipline on the part of the owner. The dog first has to eat a very restricted and simple diet for several weeks, to clear the system of all the foods it normally eats. The diet will usually consist of a protein source such as lamb, venison, duck or rabbit, along with potatoes or rice. After the dog has been on this restricted diet for a period of time, other foods are introduced one at a time while the dog's reactions are observed. If there is no reaction, another food is introduced, and so on.

Once it is determined what foods the dog is allergic to, they can be avoided in the future. It becomes imperative that the owner read labels carefully to insure that the offending foods are not inadvertently fed because they are minor ingredients in prepared foods. It is also important that the owner not "feel sorry" for the dog when he looks at you with those sad eyes, begging for a special treat. This is not so hard to do when you keep in mind that giving in to this will only make the dog sick and very miserable.

It is interesting to know that food allergies develop over a period of time. A dog is never allergic to a food the first time it eats it. As it eats the food several times, its immune system "learns" to be allergic to it. That is, the system mistakenly identifies it as a foreign substance in the body, and launches an attack against it. Each subsequent attack becomes worse, and that is why the symptoms seem to get worse and worse.

If your dog exhibits problems with food, you should discuss the possibility of food allergies with your veterinarian and follow his recommendations for testing and eliminating from the diet any foods that cause a problem.

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