Food allergies in dogs are a serious problem. It’s estimated that in the US as per 2018, 10% of allergy cases in dogs are food allergies. It’s even worse for French Bulldogs since they are one of those breeds that are prone to food allergy (together with German Shepherds, Dachshunds, Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels).
The foods that could trigger food allergies in Frenchies are dairy products, chicken, beef, some fish, wheat, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, corn, and egg. Occasionally chemicals such as preservatives, additives, or food dyes could also trigger an allergic reaction.
Food allergy is not the same with food intolerance
Food intolerance can be mistakenly conflated with a food allergy because they have a similar symptom mainly gastrointestinal problem. It’s important to know the differences because each of them has a different treatment method. Food intolerance is the result of poor digestion that can be caused by a number of factors such as genetic and poor diet.
Meanwhile, food allergy is an over-reactive immune system response to a particular allergen in the food. Typically, French Bulldogs are allergic to the certain proteins contained in dog foods, which come from an animal or plant. When your Frenchie eats a meal, these proteins are digested and broken down into molecules called amino acids, which can be absorbed into the dog’s body. These molecule acids then go through special cells called enterocytes, which act as a gateway to welcome good amino acids, and kick bad amino acids.
An allergic reaction occurs when whole proteins are absorbed without being broken down first. The dog’s immune system then will accidentally mark the “unbroken down proteins” as a potential threat and trigger a chain of allergic symptoms.
What causes this food allergy?
There are a number of factors that can cause food allergy in dogs. For example, a wrong diet habit, let’s say you feed your Frenchie chicken meats every day of his life. Over time, your Frenchie’s body may become less equipped and unable to break down the proteins from those chicken meats. As a result, the immune system begins to form some sort of resistance and mistakenly identifies proteins from those chicken meats as an invader.
The most common causes of food allergy that we know today are genetic, diet, and environmental factors.
Common signs of food allergy in French Bulldog
The most common signs of food allergy are:
- a chronic ear infection.
- a gastrointestinal problem including chronic diarrhea to chronic gas.
- red or bronze nail beds.
- inflamed lips, feet, and skin.
- itchy skin.
- dull coat.
If you see one of those signs, go and contact a vet immediately to make sure.
How is a food allergy in dogs diagnosed?
At a time of writing, there is no clinically reliable way to diagnose food allergy in dogs. The only way you can diagnose if your dog is allergic to a certain food is by doing an elimination diet and challenge. Basically, you take all the foods that your dog usually eats and replace them with a new food that you have not feed before for a period of six to eight weeks. If your Frenchie does have a food allergy, the symptoms will slowly subside and you will see an improvement over this period of time.
Before we go into the elimination diet process, we need to prepare a new diet for your dog. It is recommended that you prepare a diet consisting of home-prepared foods and not commercial dog foods. With home-prepared foods, you know exactly what you put into your dog’s mouth. Some of the foods that should be avoided during the elimination diet are treats, human foods, bones, milk, supplements, any form of flavored medications, and toothpaste.
And some of the foods that are ok to feed are bones, jerky treats, water, and unflavored medications. Once your dog has improved, we can put back the old foods into his diet. If there is a reaction or a symptom, then we can decide that your dog indeed has a food allergy. Ask a vet to assist you doing this elimination diet if you are unsure with what you’re doing.
If that doesn’t work out and the symptoms keep escalating, a vet might conduct a physical examination which includes taking a sample of discharge from the ears, doing urine and blood testing (though it is the less reliable test to determine a food allergy) and doing skin testing for a possible environmental allergy.
How to Treat a French Bulldog with a Food Allergy?
Once you have ruled out the culprits that cause an allergy, the next step is to introduce a new diet that does not contain the food identified. Some vets might prescribe Benadryl to help relieve your dog’s allergy and grain-free dog food made from lean protein sources such as Annamaet Aqualuk.
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Some vets might also recommend a new diet consisting of foods made of novel protein sources including kangaroo and oatmeal or venison and potato which prevent dog’s immune response from being triggered. Other vets may also suggest a hypoallergenic diet.
A hypoallergenic diet is a diet consisting of foods that are made with hydrolyzed protein. This protein is small enough to be ignored by an immune system. When you give your dog a hypoallergenic diet, remember hypoallergenic diets that are prescribed are a lot better than over-the-counter hypoallergenic diets, though it costs a lot more.
How to Prevent a Food Allergy?
The best way to prevent a food allergy is through giving your dog a rotational diet. A rotational diet is a diet that has some variety in it. It’s recommended by progressive vets that you switch your dog’s food a few times per year to maintain his gut health.
For example, you might want to feed lamb and rice foods for several weeks, then change them to fish and oatmeal, then change them again to venison and sweet potato. All of those foods are good candidates for dogs with food allergies since most dogs might have never eaten them before. If you have a sensitive dog, you may need a few weeks to slowly transition your dog onto the new food.
Giving probiotics to pup up to six months to one-year-old age is also recommended. It keeps the gut balance and makes your dog more resistance to become allergic.
Feeding your dog with a food consisting of exclusive protein sources is also helpful in giving you more options to choose from should your dog become allergic. For example, if you feed a diet with chicken as its sole protein source and your dog becomes allergic to it, it’s easy to find another dog food that doesn’t contain chicken. But if you feed a diet with five protein sources, and your dog develops an allergy to it, it might not be easy to find another option.