Wednesday, 27th June 2012
Is it a food allergy?
"I have a two year old Bichon Frise named Ruby who has always been very healthy up to now. In the last couple of weeks, she has started licking her paws and scratching her belly a lot, even though I have her regularly groomed and clipped. I do not think she has fleas as I regularly use a veterinary recommended topical flea treatment. A family member thinks that this sudden itch is due to the fact that I changed her brand of food recently. Is this a possible cause?"
The short answer to your question is yes, that a recent change in food could be the cause of the onset of skin symptoms, especially seeing that Ruby has no history of skin disease. Your dog could be allergic to one or more ingredient in the new food, and it can be difficult to isolate the exact cause if this is the case. Examples of common foods that can cause allergies include proteins such as chicken or beef, or grains such as wheat or maize. Dogs can even show sudden allergic reactions to foods that they have eaten their whole lives with no problem. Food allergies can also cause digestive upsets such as bloating, vomiting, diarrhoea, poor appetite etc. as well as the skin symptoms you describe.
The Bichon Frise, as a breed, tend to have sensitive skin and be prone to skin allergies, resulting in excessive itching, often affecting the face, ears, feet and legs, tummy or rear end, which causes scratching and licking of the itchy area. Their skin allergies can have many possible causes, ranging from fleas, pollen, grass, detergents or certain foods.
Because your dog is scratching excessively, regardless of the cause, it is important to watch out that she does not damage her skin, as this can result in open sores, "hot spots" or other forms of skin infection. To this end, I would recommend that she be examined by a vet in order to control the itching before there is a secondary infection or other complication which could require specific treatment. It would also be a good opportunity to review the flea control programme you are using, and make sure the timing and product used are appropriate for your pet's individual requirements. Allergic reaction to flea saliva acquired from flea bites is the most common cause of allergic skin disease and itching, and a dog, or cat, does not have to be heavily infested with fleas to be severely affected. Even one or two bites could, in theory, set off the itching reaction, and once the dog starts scratching and licking, the problem can escalate from there.
To see if the change of food has caused an allergy, it would be better to revert to Ruby's original diet, or if this is not possible, to talk to your vet about which food would be best suited. A food elimination trial using a prescription hypo-allergenic diet might also be useful, but will have to be stuck to rigidly for a number of weeks to be effective, i.e. just the diet and drinking water, no treats, supplements, scraps or any extra food allowed.
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