This post originally appeared on the CocoTherapy blog in December 2019. We've updated it with new information about coconut oil for dogs with allergies so you can take better care of your pets!

Last month, we shared our newly updated post, Coconut Oil for Dog Allergies. We discussed the most common types of allergic reactions in pets, their symptoms, and provided useful information about managing seasonal allergies in pets.

In this post, we'll take a closer look at adverse food reactions in cats and dogs. Keep reading to discover how adverse food reactions are classified, and the difference between food intolerances and food allergies. We'll also highlight common symptoms to look out for, share some tips to help you manage adverse food reactions in pets, and explore the role of coconut oil for dogs with allergies.

Bowl of dog food

What Are Adverse Food Reactions?

When a dog or cat has a negative or abnormal response to ingested food or dietary components that are otherwise considered harmless, it’s generally referred to as an adverse food reaction. 

Adverse food reactions can be classified as:

  • Food intolerance – a non-immune mediated reaction, ranging from food idiosyncrasy to food poisoning or food toxicity. For example, lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivities are considered as idiosyncratic reactions or food intolerance.
  • Food allergy – an immunological reaction following food intake. Food allergies cause hypersensitive reactions, which may occur within a few minutes to hours of ingesting the offending antigen (immediate hypersensitivity) or a few days after ingestion (delayed hypersensitivity).

Food intolerances are different from food allergies as they do not involve an immune response. Instead, food intolerances occur when the body is unable to process certain foods well. As mentioned above, lactose intolerance is an example of a food intolerance. It is caused by a deficiency of the intestinal enzyme lactase.

In food allergies, the wall of the digestive tract is exposed to the antigens and must distinguish between food and harmful substances. Tissues in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – lymphoid tissues, nodules, Payer’s patches – all collectively referred to as Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT) represent 70% of the body’s immune system.

Very simply, these tissues should be able to recognize food particles as a “good” antigen and allow the gut to accept the food particle or mount a defense to a harmful antigen. Food allergy occurs when the body does not recognize a harmless food substance and has a negative reaction to it.

Adverse food reactions usually occur suddenly, even after years of eating the same food component. Any component can cause a reaction, but food intolerances and allergies in pets are most commonly associated with proteins such as meat, eggs, and dairy.

Symptoms of Adverse Food Reactions

Common symptoms of adverse food reactions include pruritus (severe itching of the skin) and gastrointestinal upset. These symptoms are similar to those of seasonal allergies, but are likely to occur year-round. Gastrointestinal symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and/or increased fecal frequency. However, GI issues are less common than skin issues.

In some cases, adverse food reactions may lead to more generalized symptoms. These include weight loss, lethargy, and behavioral changes. If you suspect that your pet has developed an adverse food reaction, please visit your veterinarian as soon as possible so they can be correctly diagnosed and treated.

Managing Adverse Food Reactions

Diagnosing adverse food reactions takes time and patience and requires strict owner compliance. One of the best ways to determine what foods your pet is having an adverse reaction to is by placing your pet on an elimination diet with the help of your veterinarian. This involves feeding a specialized diet that's restricted to a single-source novel protein your pet hasn't eaten in the past.

During this time, no other foods are allowed other than the diet being tested. Over time, the goal is to eliminate the offending foods or components of food that are causing an adverse food reaction. This is achieved by slowly reintroducing foods one by one, to identify the ingredient that's responsible for the reaction. Usually, an elimination diet will last for several months. During this time, it's important to stick closely to the diet and avoid feeding your pet foods or treats that may contain allergens.

Managing Adverse Food Reactions with Diet

Feeding a controlled diet is the most effective long-term treatment for adverse food reactions causing skin disease. A controlled diet is formulated to be balanced and free of allergens, most of which are proteins. When choosing ingredients in a diet, select proteins that your pet has had limited exposure to. This reduces the chance of provoking a reaction in your pet’s body.

There are various types of diets you can choose when managing adverse food reactions in pets. In each case, it’s a good idea to work with a certified animal nutritionist or your veterinarian to make sure that the diet you choose is nutritionally adequate for your pet’s life stage. Appropriate diets may include:

  • Homemade diet – usually contains one protein and one carbohydrate source. Because it may be difficult to ensure that this diet is complete and nutritionally balanced, it’s important to work with a certified animal nutritionist when developing a homemade diet.
  • Commercial novel protein diet – novel proteins are defined as an animal or vegetable protein ingredient that is not commonly used in pet foods and/or associated with adverse food reactions. While these diets are nutritionally complete, it may be challenging to find a protein source that your pet has not had any previous exposure to. Some novel proteins are moose, elk, goat, kangaroo, goose, emu, or alligator to name a few.
  • Commercial hydrolyzed protein diet – hydrolyzed proteins are proteins that through the process of hydrolysis, consist of smaller peptides and amino acids. Because of their smaller molecular weight, these proteins have a lower chance of producing an allergic reaction.

Coconut Oil for Adverse Food Reactions

Did you know that organic virgin coconut oil for itchy dogs and cats can help relieve and treat adverse food reactions in pets? The primary "super ingredient" in coconut oil is a saturated fatty acid called lauric acid, which has been clinically proven to provide a wide range of health benefits. Lauric acid helps to manage allergies by protecting the skin and coat from infection and inflammation and promote a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

The lauric acid in coconut oil provides antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. Beneficial bacteria reside alongside harmful bacteria in the gut. Coconut oil actually enables and supports a beneficial shift in gut microbes in favor of beneficial gut bacteria. This means that coconut oil can prevent and treat allergic reactions by encouraging a healthy gut microbiome. In addition to supporting a healthy gut, coconut oil for dogs with allergies is particularly good at soothing itchy and inflamed skin. It also promotes the rapid healing of painful conditions such as hotspots and boosts the immune system, preventing infection and disease.

In order for coconut oil to be effective, it's important to choose a therapeutic-grade oil such as CocoTherapy Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. Our coconut oil for itchy dogs contains at least 53% lauric acid (compared to 40% or less in grocery store brands). It also contains capric acid and caprylic acid, which are known for their potent antifungal effects.

Some allergic dogs may exhibit some yeast imbalances that may be influenced by a poor diet. Yeast is present in low numbers in the GI tract and on the skin. Typically, yeast coexist with helpful bacteria, competing for food and space. A combination of factors can cause imbalances in the body, causing yeast to grow out of control. This overgrowth of yeast in your pet's body can lead to yeast infections.

If you discover that your dog has a yeast imbalance, CocoTherapy TriPlex™ MCT-3 Oil is also extremely effective at preventing and treating food intolerances and allergies with yeast complications. Because it contains high levels of caprylic acid (a whopping 7000mg!), it protects against yeast overgrowth, prevents and treats yeast infections, and kills candida yeast cells on the skin and in the gut. MCT oil provides excellent support for your pet's digestive and skin health with yeast issues. 

Check out our previous post, Coconut Oil for Dog Allergies, to find out more about how coconut oil combats allergies in pets.

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