Watch out for food allergies…

Almost all pet parents must have seen cases of allergies exhibited as a rash and/or scratching by the dog, without any obvious reason or change in immediate environment. Most of these cases respond poorly or temporarily to medications and warrants an investigation targeted towards identifying the causative allergen.

All dogs showing allergic symptoms should be suspected for food allergy. Although, there is no difference in nutritionthe susceptibility of food allergies in male or female dogs, some breeds such as Terriers, Dalmatians, Collies, Labradors, Dachshunds and Boxers, seem to be more prone. Food allergy can appear at any age and physiological stage but cases seems to occur more during periods of active growth, with almost 40 percent of all cases are of dogs less than one year old.

What is food allergy?

A food allergy is an abnormal immune response to an individual food or additive. Animals eat a variety of processed food proteins, fillers, and colourings, which are further processed inside their bodies. Proteins in food may be combined or changed into substances recognised by the immune system as foreign invaders to be attacked. The resulting inflammation may target the GI tract or other organ systems but, in dogs, it is the skin that most often suffers from this immunologic activity.

Symptoms of food allergy: The symptoms of food allergies are similar to those of other allergies affecting skin in dogs. The most common areas of involvement include the ears, feet, inguinal region, proximal anterior forelegs, periorbital region, and muzzle. Symptoms typically include rashes and hair loss. Ear canal diseases that manifest as severe itching and complicated by secondary infection are common and may be the only presenting complaint. All the symptoms may vary from moderate to severe. Suffering dogs show inconsistent response to antibiotics and injectible steroids. In 10-15 percent cases, digestive disturbances can also occur in combination with skin lesions.

Myths and facts about food allergy

Food allergy is not about diet change: It is often assumed that food allergy is due to diet change of some sort in recent past. However, in fact, food allergy requires time to develop and in many cases animals may become allergic to foods, they have been eating.

Food allergy can increase sensitivity: Another interesting fact about food allergy is that it can increase the sensitivity of the dog towards other types of allergies such as flea and parasitic allergy. Another aspect of food allergy is its appearance year-round as compared to other allergies (such as flea allergy dermatitis), which may be seasonal.

Food allergy is not food intolerance: Often food allergy is confused with food intolerance, which results from the inability of the pet to digest a particular food (such as lactose intolerance). Food intolerances are far more common in dogs than food allergies. Food intolerances, primarily affect digestive system without affecting skin or ear. Moreover, food intolerances do not respond at all to steroids or antibiotics.

Common food culprits

Most common allergens in dogs are meat protein, milk proteins, albumin from eggs, gluten from wheat and soybean protein, all of which are also the most common ingredients. The potential allergenicity of a food does not depend on the amount of protein or proportion of amino acids in the food; however, it mostly depends on the structure and size of the glycoprotein in the food. Beef and soybean have been reported to be the most common food allergens. Preservatives and flavorings are often confused as a source of food allergies, but studies have shown that they are not the causes, and while we may not have justifiable health concerns about preservatives, food allergies is not one of them.

Allergy woes: As allergy is just extra-responsive immune system, body of the animal may become responsive to many allergens at same time, thereby giving rise to multiple allergies. Therefore, animals having food allergy may also show signs of other allergies, and therefore, will also respond, if treated for other allergies. This makes it further difficult to conclusively diagnose the food allergy and to pinpoint the causative allergen.

Atopy, flea bite allergies, intestinal parasite hypersensitivities, sarcoptic mange, and yeast or bacterial infections can all cause similar symptoms as food allergies. Once all other causes have been ruled out or treated, then it is time to perform a specific investigation for food-allergy known as ‘hypo-allergic diet trial’ or ‘restricted antigen dietary trial’ needs to be done.

The hypo-allergenic diet trial: The basic principle of this trial is to feed a “hypo-allergenic diet” to the animal for a set period of time, which is mostly three months. Regardless of the diet used, it must be the only thing the animal eats during this period. Although some dogs having food allergy positively responds to hypo-allergenic food in two to three weeks, many of the pets may take 12 weeks to respond. 80 percent of food allergic dogs will have responded to diet trial at least partially by six weeks. The Labrador Retriever and Cocker Spaniel appear to require up to 10 weeks of trial diet before showing a response.

If the animal recovers, the animal is further ‘Provocatively challenged’ by feeding original diet again for up to two weeks to see if there is relapse of the symptoms. This is essential for confirmatory diagnosis. Food allergy is confirmed if there is recovery with the test diet and allergy with the original diet. Usually the relapse does not take more than two weeks of feeding in cases of food allergy. However, it appears that the duration between the challenge and relapse of symptoms may differ depending on the offending ingredient. The animal is then returned to an appropriate commercial hypo-allergenic food indefinitely.

In some cases, a second food trial with a different novel protein may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

Most crucial and cumbersome part of conducting this trial is to formulate a hypo-allergenic diet. The traditional method is to use a “novel” protein and carbohydrate source, which is actually something the animal has never eaten before. For many years, mutton was a preferred ingredient for formulating hypo-allergenic food across European and American continent as the dog-food available at these places is primarily beef based. However, under Indian conditions, dogs are mainly fed food based on chicken/mutton/chevon, eggs and milk as principal protein sources; therefore, using beef or some irregular vegetable protein source seems to be a feasible option for formulating such diets. Some of the commercial pet food brands are preparing such diets.

Treatment of food allergies: There is no absolute treatment for food allergies and animal has to be kept on food completely free of the identified allergen. Administration of antibiotics and steroids along with antihistamines can help in providing symptomatic relief.

(Dr Yasir Bashir, Dr Ankur Rastogi, Dr RK Sharma, Dr Pratiksha Raghuwanshi belong to FVSc & AH, SKUAST, Jammu and Dr Nazam Khan belongs to NDRI, Karnal).

Watch out for signs of sickness

Here are a few signs to know your loved one is not feeling well.

I can make out when my sweet, fluffy, frisky Shitzu – Nikki, doesn’t come out from her royal basket to share morning tea with me or if she doesn’t greet me when I get back home. It means something is wrong with my Nikki.

You need to give your personal observations to your vet for early diagnosis of an illness. Do speak to your vet if you notice the following:

What if my dog…?

  • eats grass
  • vomits
  • refuses to eat
  • is eating too much
  • is eating well but remains very thin
  • is drinking excessively
  • sneezes
  • has a discharge from the nose
  • has a dry and crusty nose
  • has a nose which has turned brown or grey
  • has watery eyes
  • is not able to see
  • is shaking and scratching his ears
  • is breathing abnormally
  • is holding her head towards one side
  • is shedding excessive hair
  • is going bald
  • is scratching repeatedly
  • keeps breaking wind
  • has noisy abdomina sound
  • is biting her tail, scooting or rubbing her bottom on the floor
  • has diarrhoea
  • is passing blood in her faeces
  • is constipated
  • is eating her own faeces
  • is not passing urine
  • is incontinent
  • has a discharge from penis or vulva
  • is found to be pregnant unexpectedly
  • is pot-belied
  • is limping
  • is coughing
  • is eating with difficulty
  • has bad breath
  • is having convulsions, fits or twitching
  • has a lump or swelling
  • is wounded/cut/burnt/grazed
  • is licking herself excessively
  • is weak and lethargic
  • has collapsed and is comatose
  • is in pain
  • is losing weight or looking thin
  • is aggressive
  • is not breathing
  • is staggering and wobbly on her legs
  • appears deaf
  • is aborting
  • is nervous and over-excitable
  • has a depraved appetite
  • is salivating excessively

An observant eye will take you a long way in keeping your pooch healthy.

dog health

Watch the waistline

Obesity is a great challenge, not only for us but also for our pets as it is the most common cause for various diseases seen in companion animals today. Here’s how to keep obesity at bay.

When do you know your pet is obese…dog health

Although a pet’s body weight (BW) alone may not always provide a definitive diagnosis of obesity, companion animals are generally considered to be overweight when their mature weight exceeds ideal BW by five percent or more, while obesity is defined as the excessive accumulation of adipose tissue in body and occur when dogs are gaining more than 30 percent over their optimal body weight.

Health problems associated with obesity…

Overweight and obese conditions are associated with the development of various health problems like developing hypertension, steoarthritis, mammary tumours, elevated blood triglycerides and pancreatitis. Overweight dogs are also more likely to be insulin resistant, hyperinsulinemic and glucose intolerant. So we have to eliminate the root cause of all these diseases to secure our pets’ healthy life with longevity.

Causes of obesity…

Obesity in pets occurs due to various causes or predisposing factors like genetic factors, chronic imbalance of energy, endocrinological factors, diseased conditions etc.

  • Genetic factors: Genetic factors are responsible for obesity e.g. Labrador retrievers have a higher incidence of obesity than is seen in other breeds, but the role of inheritance in canine obesity needs more detailed research studies.
  • Chronic imbalance of energy: The fundamental cause of obesity is a chronic imbalance of energy, i.e. if they are consuming more energy than they are expanding. Over a long period of time, even a relatively small daily energy surplus will lead to gradual weight gain and obesity. This can occur when a dog has excessive dietary intake of calories (food and treats) or when there is a reduction in energy expenditure (reduced activity, illness or injury resulting in less exercise, etc).
  • Drugs: There are some medical conditions like endocrinopathies, hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism, and drugs such as steroids and anticonvulsants are responsible for obesity. But the primary reason that weight gain occurs in dogs on steroids or with hypothyroidism is that they have either increased food intake or decreased energy expenditure (or in some cases, both).
  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes cause change in levels of leptin, progestins, and other hormones that result in increased appetite, and reduced energy metabolism and metabolic rate.
  • Diseased condition: These include conditions like neutering, being middle-aged, inactivity or confined lifestyle. In addition, because feeding dogs is a social interaction, feeding and food interaction with the dog can become a problem resulting in overfeeding and inappropriate food intake patterns.

Diagnosis of obesity…

Accurate diagnosis of obesity is important for devising a treatment plan and achieving optimal weight loss for the animal companion. Comparing current BW to an estimate of ideal BW is a helpful starting point. Ideal BW can be estimated through a physical examination of the animal, obtaining information from the owner and from medical records of the pet’s weight shortly after attaining mature weight. The use of Body Condition Score (BCS) protocols provides an additional assessment of body fat and condition based on 5 or 9 points scale. BCS takes into account skeletal frame size and physical assessments of subcutaneous and abdominal fat deposits, and has been shown to provide a reliable method for diagnosis of obesity.

Comparisons of body composition data collected using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) with assessments using a BCS system have revealed significant and positive correlations between BCS and percent body fat in dogs. In addition to these diagnostic tools, subjective evaluation of the animal’s gait, exercise tolerance, and overall appearance can be used to support a diagnosis of obesity. The most precise and accurate tests that are used in research settings are costly, not easy to use and are invasive, and thus are not ideal for clinical practice. Examples of the most common research tools used for assessment of body composition include chemical analysis, densitometry, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), subcutaneous or visceral ultrasonography, CT or MRI.

Management of obesity in dogs…

The management of obesity includes a multifaceted approach as it is a long and tedious process with sincere involvement of not only our pets but their pet parents too. It is quiet difficult to overcome the feeding, behavioural, social, metabolic, and hormonal interactions but careful planning and its proper execution can give good results.

Dietary therapy

There are two important goals in establishing appropriate dietary therapy regimens, which include:

  • Caloric restriction: It must occur without concurrent protein starvation to prevent loss of lean muscle tissue during weight loss. Once you have set the appropriate weight loss target for the pet, then you can calculate the energy restriction that will be required to achieve the goals you have set. Ideally, the best way to set the new energy intake is to reduce intake to 60 percent to 80 percent of the pet’s current intake. To provide safe, but efficient weight loss, the dog should not lose more than 1–2 percent of its body weight/week. A slower rate of loss can be discouraging to pet parents, but rapid weight losses can result in excessive losses of lean body mass (LBM). Generally, it is reasonable to attempt to achieve a loss of 20 to 25 percent of BW over an 18-week period (provided the animal was already over weight). A primary goal during obesity treatment is to minimize lean tissue losses while allowing for safe adipose tissue loss.
  • Crude fibre: High amounts (10 to 20 percent) of crude fibre in the diet of animals. The purported benefit of these products is that the increased bulk, reduced caloric density, and decreased digestibility of a high-fibre diet will contribute to satiety and cause a decrease in voluntary energy intake.


In addition to reducing the energy intake of pets who are overweight, it is also possible to increase weight loss by increasing energy expenditure through increased exercise. In obese dogs, as in obese humans, it is important to start slow with an exercise program, and only very gradually and slowly increase the duration and intensity of the exercise. In some dogs, exercise may be impossible, due to severe joint problems or exercise intolerance or due to inability of the owners to exercise with their pet. In these dogs, very minimal activity, or low impact activity, such as a treadmill or water treadmill may be needed to allow safe, non-painful activity.

Consultation with a veterinary physical rehabilitation specialist is often very helpful in determining appropriate activities for the dog. This can also be part of the overall diet and weight reduction plan, and evaluation of the pet’s progress can occur in conjunction with the visits to the rehabilitation programme.

Hormonal management

Elevated blood levels of the hormone leptin are another physiological alteration that occurs with overweight conditions. Dietary manipulation of leptin levels may be important for the control and management of obesity.

Pharmacological approach

The different pharmacological approach to weight management include some drugs that reduce fat uptake from the intestine by inhibiting gastrointestinal lipases e.g. orlistat and sibutramine. Some drugs reduce appetite and increase metabolism (fat burning).

Neutracitical approach

Nutraceutical therapy is also an increasingly important aspect of therapy of weight loss. L-Carnitine, an amino acid synthesized from methionine and lysine in the liver, has been used for several years to enhance fat metabolism and help maintain lean muscle mass during weight loss. Incorporation of 100–300 ppm of L-Carnitine into diets has been shown to reduce lean muscle mass loss during weight loss lab animals, primarily due to enhanced fatty acid oxidation and energy availability for protein synthesis. Other nutraceutical alternatives that may enhance weight loss, but require additional evaluation include conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and dietary diacylglycerol (DAG).

Social behaviour management

Many dogs become obese due to social bonding that occurs with pet parents and their dogs during feeding. This human-animal bond activity results in a strong behavioural component to the development of obesity that must be addressed. In order to achieve success in changing these behaviours, it is important to substitute low calorie treats, games, or grooming activities for table scraps or other high calorie treats. Begging for food is more of a behavioural problem than a hunger problem, and if this relationship is not considered in weight loss programmes, the plan is doomed to fail. In some cases, consultation with a veterinary behaviourist is an important part of the overall plan for weight loss.

On a concluding note…

Management of obesity is a multifaceted task. But, not to forget it’s the enthusiasm and strict sincere efforts of pet parents that will lead to successful management of obesity.

(Dr Shrikant Soma Patil and Dr Amit Sharma are asst professors at College of Veterinary Sciences & AH, Agartala; Dr K B Kore is asst professor at College of Veterinary Sciences & A.H., Navsari Agriculture University, Gujarat; and Dr Pallavi Mirajkar is MVSc in livestock economics.)

Dog Health

Watch out … for that extra flab

It is interesting to know that the disease, which is one of the most common stalkers of humans, is also hunting down our pooches. Yes, we are talking about Obesity. Busy city life hardly spares any moment for us to exercise with our pets. Obesity brings with it several health issues, which need to be tackled properly.

Obesity is the most common health problem amongst civilized breed, be it pets or human. The equation is simple – people feed their pets while eating themselves; they don’t exercise and hence their pets don’t exercise as well. Consequently, dogs and their parents simultaneously drive themselves towards obesity. How can one blame the poor pet who doesn’t know how much is too much? His only fault is loving food! But then, who doesn’t love food!The bottom-line remains that you are entirely responsible for your pet and if your dog is overweight or obese, you are most likely to be responsible for it. So, you might take responsibility for fixing the problem too.Have I put on weight?The all-important question is – how do you decide whether your pet is obese? A simple check up will give you an answer. Run your palm across the chest area of your dog. If you are unable to feel the ribs, your pet is likely to be overweight.

Finding cause to cure!

Reasoning: To prevent your pet from being a victim of obesity, it is important to start determining the factors or causes, which may force your dog into displaying signs of this disease. For pet parents, it is also Dog healthhelpful to know that certain breeds are more prone to obesity. For example, Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds and Beagles are more commonly diagnosed with this disease, as compared to other breeds.

Eating habits: For all those who may complain that your dogs are ‘fussy about food,’ let us deal with your situation first. In other words, these pets are ‘choosy’ about what they want to eat and will not even wish to smell what they do not fancy. Interestingly, even this trait is manmade. In this situation, the pet has been offered with a variety of food items to choose from. Like any child, the dog will, on any given day, prefer these delicacies to healthy dog food and overeat. The solution here is to keep your dog off food that is harmful, right from the very first day. Where the diet is concerned, it is wise that you make the choices, not your pet.

Over indulgence: In most cases though, dogs are smart enough to know how to get their ways. Or, may we say, they know how to make you ‘give in.’ Their most common tactic would be to first soften your heart with those soulful looks and if that does not work, they become more vocal with their tantrums, which include barking, crying, growling, jumping around (or do whatever it takes) to catch your attention, until you submit. Sounds familiar? What happens is that, your pet has been oriented to believe that such behaviour will fetch him a delicious treat. He begins to understand that the treat is a reward, which you are bestowing on him, each time he acts like that. Beware, it is a vicious circle!

Reward good health: What you need to remember is that, your affection for your pet may end up being the cause for his ill-health and consequently, his suffering. Even though it hurts to be harsh on your adorable buddy, but it is in his interest only. Let your pet ‘earn’ his treat. Reward him with a treat for playing, exercising or performing a similar activity. This will ensure that your dog is staying healthy, despite the indulgence. It is also a good idea to substitute treats with other things for rewards. New toys, grooming sessions and outdoor games can make your pet feel equally special. In fact, it is perhaps your ‘attention,’ that is likely to be your pet’s favourite reward!

Believe it or not: Some parents of obese pets may argue that they have never encouraged over-eating and they give them a healthy and strict diet. There are a few ‘unassuming’ factors, which play tricks on your mind and on your pet’s belly. If your pet has food lying around for him all day, he is encouraged to nibble at it from time to time. Sometimes, dogs overeat, simply because they have nothing much to do and find eating a good way to pass their time and overcome boredom! So, here’s another reason to keep your pet involved in an activity. Besides, it is also true that dogs who live amongst other dogs or pets, end up eating more. They tend to guzzle large volumes of food, as quickly as they can. Thus, it is advisable to feed your pets separately, so that they do not eat each other’s food.

Healthier and happier doggies

Nonetheless, whether your dog is obese or not, planning and adhering to a healthy and strict diet, it is imperative to ensure for him, a happier and longer life. Also, let your vet examine him for any medical problem, which may be a cause of weight gain.

Food supply: The first step towards this effort requires one to determine how much food your pet needs in order to remain healthy. This quantity will be established by consulting a veterinary doctor. The factors normally taken into consideration for this purpose will include – the frame of the dog; the amount and kind of activities he indulges in and the type of food that the dog is normally fed at home. Always serve the recommended diet in the right quantity.

Meal management: In combination with the above principle, it is also important that certain ‘rules’ be established and followed, to avoid unnecessary consumption. Firstly, it is better to feed your pets three or four small meals in a day, rather than one or two big meals. Secondly, if you like to treat your pet with snacks frequently in a day, then the main meal time must consist of very small amount of food. Thirdly of course, avoid offering table scraps to the longing eyes and wagging tail.

Strict No-No to junks: Ensure that your drooly dear has his own meal. It will be difficult but keep the sumptuous snacks during a party away from him and treat him with his healthy food/treats. These small things will go a long way in taking care of him. Make him feel special with love, and interactive play.

Ensuring weight loss: In consultation with your vet, determine a healthy eating pattern and then monitor your pet’s weight over a period of time. Other than laying emphasis on the eating patterns, the crucial need for adequate exercise also cannot be ignored for the health of your pet. Walking your dog regularly, for instance, is one of the most effective ways to weaken the chances of obesity taking a toll on his health. Again, depending on your pet’s body frame and food intake, appropriate forms of exercise should be administered in consultation with your vet.

As insignificant as it may seem, obesity needs to be recognized as not just a ‘problem,’ but a ‘disease,’ and weight-related issues of our pets need to be addressed seriously. Because after all, if we love our pets, there is no reason why we should contribute to shorten their life span.

– by Manta Sidhu


Obesity… and more! Do not ignore the fact that corrective measures, if not implemented on time, can lead to irreversible problems that will cause a setback in the life of your pet. Huge risks that are commonly associated with obesity in pets include diabetes mellitus, heart related problems, damage to joints, bones and ligaments, difficulty in breathing, decreased stamina, etc.