Healthy PetAug/Sep 2009 Issue

Dogged Advocate: Pets with Food Allergies

Does your pet have a food allergy?

Marit Danielson loves her dog Willoughby. So last year when the Norwich Terrier began shaking his head and acting startled for no reason, Danielson of Peacham, Vermont, became concerned. She took Willoughby to the veterinarian, who found an infection in both ears and prescribed medication. Within two days, Willoughby had lost his hearing. Alarmed, Danielson returned to the vet’s office. “They basically discounted the deafness and told me that Willoughby was getting old,” Danielson says.

One week later, Danielson was back at the vet’s because Willoughby had bloody diarrhea. The doctor prescribed antibiotics. “But she was very blasť and again implied that Willoughby was aging,” says Danielson whose family breeds Norwich Terriers. “These dogs generally live to be at least 15, and Willoughby was only 11.”

It didn’t make sense. Nor did the strange behaviors Danielson was witnessing in her good friend—rolling on the carpet, rubbing against the furniture, scratching his ears, licking his paws because of itchy skin. Once a sound sleeper, Willoughby was jumping on and off the bed all night long. He had repeated bouts of sneezing, his eyes were goopy and he had a “funny, off odor,” Danielson says. †

But more disturbing was his personality change. Once happy and playful, the little dog now seemed lethargic and depressed. He didn’t want to take his daily walk, to dig in the garden or play with his toys, all favorite activities. Danielson returned to the vet multiple times. “They didn’t seem to think there was a problem,” she says, frustrated. It was time to look elsewhere for answers.

“The family vet is just one member of your dog’s health care team. You are the team captain and it’s important to take the lead. You know your dog better than anyone,” says Dr. Nancy Kay, author of Speaking for Spot (Trafalgar Square Press). “If you’ve gone to your veterinarian two or three times and things are not getting better or, in fact, they’re getting worse, it’s a flashing red light to get a second opinion.”

Kay says one way to do this is to find a board certified veterinary specialist. Ideally, your family vet can make a referral based on your pet’s chronic symptoms. Itchy skin or infected ears? Consult a dermatologist. Vomiting and diarrhea? Check with an internist.

As an example, Kay regularly consults with nutrition specialists at the University of California, Davis Veterinary Hospital to help formulate balanced diets for her food-allergic patients.

Living in a rural area, Danielson didn’t have the luxury of a nearby specialist. She turned to the Internet, where her research revealed two things: Deafness was a temporary side effect of Willoughby’s ear medication, and every other symptom pointed to food allergies.

“Canine MAST cells, the cells responsible for allergic reaction, live primarily in the skin and to a lesser degree in the bowel. That’s why an allergic dog will usually have itchy skin and sometimes bowel issues like diarrhea. The ears are an extension of the skin, so infected ears are also common,” says Kay, adding that the top two canine food allergens are beef and dairy.

“I eliminated those, plus chicken, wheat, soy, corn and eggs,” says Danielson, ultimately switching Willoughby to Wellness Core Ocean Fish, a hypoallergenic brand. Within days on the new diet, Willoughby perked up. His itching stopped and he began sleeping soundly through the night. Danielson has yet to pin down the exact allergens by putting Willoughby on an elimination diet. “Right now, I’m nervous to try because I don’t want him to get sick again.”

When Danielson called the vet to happily report her findings, the doctor discounted the allergy link. Danielson shrugged and decided to keep Willoughby on the new diet anyway. The dog is now back to his lively, happy self.

“I’m no authority. All I know is what I witnessed,” says Danielson. “This morning on his walk, Willoughby was dragging me up the hill. He’s a different dog than he was a year ago.”†

For information about natural dog care and training, visit

If you suspect your dog has allergies and you’d like a second opinion, ask your primary vet for a referral or contact the following organizations for a specialist in your area. Source: Speaking for Spot (Trafalgar Square Press) by Nancy Kay,

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