The Most Common Food Allergen Sources for Dogs and Cats

Many pet owners struggle with adverse food reactions in their dogs and cats.  It can be difficult to determine what exactly is causing the reaction, and if the reaction is a sign of a food sensitivity or a true food allergy.

The term cutaneous adverse food reaction (CAFR) is used by vets to describe food sensitivities, food intolerances, and food allergies that affect the skin.  The digestive system may or may not be involved in pets with CAFRs.

Veterinary researchers reviewed dozens of scientific studies and published an article listing the most common food offenders for dogs and cats that experience CAFRs.

The most common allergens for dogs are beef, dairy products, chicken, wheat, and lamb.  Less common sources include soy, corn, egg, pork, fish, and rice.

Cats also experience adverse food reactions.  The most common sources for cats are beef, fish, chicken, wheat, corn, dairy products, and lamb.

Talk to your vet if you suspect your pet has a food allergy or intolerance.  Many vets will advise you to try an elimination diet that removes a suspected food source like beef or chicken.  Always make pet dietary changes with guidance and supervision from your vet.

True food allergies tend to be less common than food sensitivities.  If your pet’s skin is affected (as in a CAFR) and not just the digestive system, there’s a better chance that it’s an allergy and not simply a digestion issue.


Dogs and Humans Share Similar Gut Microbiomes

The human microbiome (the many microorganisms that live in and on our body) is a popular topic in science news these days.  Researchers are especially interested in how the microbes that live in our intestines impact our health and well-being.

Our pets have microbiomes too, and a recent study of the canine gut microbiome has found that humans and dogs share many similarities.  Dogs are more like humans in the gut microbiome than either pigs or mice.

Why are we so similar?  The study authors suspect that it has a lot to do with similarities in our diets.

The researchers randomly assigned two different diets to a group of dogs.  One was high protein/low carbohydrate and the other was a lower protein/higher carb diet.

The genes of the dogs’ gut microbes were sequenced using poop samples.  They were then compared to the genes of the gut microbes of humans and other animals.

The researchers found that we share more similarities with dogs than with pigs or mice.  They also found that dogs on the high protein/low carb diet experienced more changes in the gut microbiome than dogs on the higher carb diet.  This was especially true for overweight dogs.

Humans show similar gut microbiome changes when our diets are altered as well.  The researchers note that both dogs and humans with healthy body weights have more stable gut microbiomes, while obesity can lead to less stable gut microbiomes and an increased sensitivity to dietary changes.



Holiday Pet Safety Tips from the AVMA

Are you keeping your pets safe this holiday season?  Lots of tempting food and decorations around the house could lead to an unexpected holiday visit to the vet!

Here are a few common-sense holiday pet safety tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Certain people foods are toxic or unhealthy for our dogs and cats.  Make sure these popular holiday food items are out of reach:

  • Chocolate, sweets, and baked goods (the artificial sweetener xylitol is toxic to dogs)
  • Turkey skin and bones
  • Onions, raisins, nuts, and grapes
  • Alcohol
  • Raw yeast dough

Some holiday decorations can pose health hazards to pets, including:

  • Unsecured Christmas trees (and Christmas tree water that contains additives)
  • Tinsel, lights, and ornaments
  • Flowers and plants (including amaryllis, mistletoe, holly, and poinsettias)
  • Potpourri and lit candles

Here’s a cute infographic on holiday pet dangers from the AVMA that you can keep as a reminder!



FDA Investigates Link Between Grain-Free Dog Food and Heart Disease

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced that they are investigating a possible link between certain kinds of dog food and a canine heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  In DCM, the chambers of the heart become enlarged, causing the heart to weaken and the body’s supply of oxygenated blood to decrease.

Grain-free dog food has been implicated in this connection because an increased number of DCM cases have been seen in dogs that eat a diet high in peas, lentils, chickpeas, and potatoes.  These are the kinds of carbohydrates that often replace grains like wheat in grain-free dog food.

Besides diet, the affected dogs had no other known risk factors for DCM, which can occur in certain very large dog breeds such as Newfoundlands and Great Danes.

Veterinary cardiologists began noticing cases of DCM in dog breeds not known for having a hereditary risk for the disease.  The common factor among these dogs were grain-free “boutique” diets, which also often contained novel animal proteins.

A report on the FDA warning in the New York Times notes that one large veterinary cardiology practice in the Washington DC area began documenting the growing number of DCM cases in their patients.  The practice reports seeing 8 to 12 new cases per month that are not associated with genetics.

Veterinary nutrition experts say that the trend in grain-free dog food should be viewed with caution.  They note that grains are not necessarily a bad thing in a dog’s diet, and that true grain allergies are rare.

Investigations into the connection between DCM and diet have shown that some dogs eating grain-free diets experience low taurine levels.  Taurine is an amino acid essential to heart health.  Dogs deficient in taurine are at elevated risk for DCM.

Researchers are still not certain what exactly is the dietary trigger that connects grain-free dog food and DCM.  Whether it’s the addition of the legumes or exotic proteins—or the removal of the grains or common proteins—the answer is not clear yet.

No pet food recalls related to DCM and diet have been announced at this time.  If you and your veterinarian suspect food-related DCM in your dog, you can report it to the FDA via their website.

Be sure to talk to your vet if you have questions or concerns about the right diet for your individual dog.


Your Dog Ate Chocolate: Here’s How to Calculate How Much is Too Much

Oh no, your dog just got into some chocolate!  How do you know if the amount eaten is a danger to your pet which requires an emergency visit to the veterinarian’s office?

The PetMD website has created a chocolate toxicity meter for dogs.  You can quickly enter your dog’s weight, the type of chocolate, and the amount eaten to find out if your dog needs to get to the vet ASAP.

Sometimes a very small amount of chocolate eaten by a large dog requires nothing more than observing your dog for symptoms such as vomiting and restlessness.  However, a small dog that eats several ounces of chocolate might be in more danger and require immediate veterinary attention.

Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are toxic to dogs.  Dark chocolate poses a higher risk than milk chocolate.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, seizures, and even cardiac failure and coma in severe cases.

In addition to the toxicity meter, check out PetMD for a handy guide on the theobromine and caffeine content of popular chocolate products, such as M&Ms and Peanut Butter Cups.

On the same page, you can also see a list of the types of chocolate that have the highest amount of theobromine (unsweetened cocoa and baking chocolate top the list).