What are Beef Allergies?
Beef is a common food allergen for dogs and can cause uncomfortable skin disorders as well as chronic conditions such as indigestion, ear infections, and breathing troubles. Allergies are due to an abnormally high defensive response to a protein, in this case, beef, that the immune system considers to be an intrusive substance. The process of digestion breaks down our foods into amino acids which are then absorbed by enterocytes, a type of white blood cell. If the digestive system doesn’t completely break down the proteins, the enterocytes see them as intruders and attack by releasing histamine into the system.
An allergy to beef is an over-reaction of your dog's immune system to an unwelcome protein, in this case, a beef protein, that is present in a particular ingredient of their diet.
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Symptoms of Beef Allergies in Dogs
Canine food allergies generally don’t develop until after 3 years old, although there are exceptions, and this can affect the young dog's growth if not addressed. Skin reactions are usually more concentrated around the face, groin, toes, and under the front legs.
- Bald patches
- Chronic ear infections
- Chronic gas
- Chronically inflamed feet
- Obsessive licking
- Paw biting
- Pawing at face
- Poor growth (puppy and adolescent)
- Shaking of the head
- Skin infections
- Skin rashes
There are many types of proteins that can take the place of beef in the patient’s diet. Using limited ingredient foods with novel protein sources should relieve the symptoms. Some foods may include beef as a flavoring even when it is not listed on the label, especially alternative red meats such as venison. New allergies are more likely to develop to related meats like venison or bison than dissimilar proteins like pheasant or duck. Alternative protein sources for your dog could include one or more of the following:
Causes of Beef Allergies in Dogs
Food allergy - An allergy to food is the immune system defending itself against what it perceives as a threat. An allergy response can’t happen the first time an individual is exposed to the allergen as the immune system has to encounter the protein more than once for enough enterocytes to recognize it as an invader. If your pet is sensitive to a particular food, an intolerance to the food may predict that an allergy is developing. Any individual ingredient can cause an allergic reaction, but certain foods, including beef, dairy, chicken, and eggs, tend to cause allergies in canines more often than others.
Food intolerance - Food intolerance is different from a food allergy because the reactions in food intolerance are not caused by histamine. Additional symptoms, including changes in the consistency or color of the stools, gurgling sounds from the digestive system, and abdominal pain, are common with a food intolerance. Food intolerance, although different from an allergy, can lead to allergies as the intolerance may cause the food to be improperly broken down by the digestive system.
Diagnosis of Beef Allergies in Dogs
The symptoms of food allergy in canines show up mostly on the skin and will prompt your veterinarian to collect skin scrapings from areas that have been affected by the allergic reaction, which will then be used to perform a cutaneous cytology. Cutaneous cytology is a procedure in which the affected skin cells are examined microscopically for signs of disease, yeast infections, or mites. This evaluation is likely to lead your veterinarian to suspect a food allergy.
The most common diagnostic tool for confirming and later pinpointing food allergies is an elimination diet. This involves changing the dog's food to either unseasoned human grade food or reduced ingredient commercial foods. Novel ingredients are generally the best choice for an elimination diet, meaning proteins and carbohydrates that are not included in the dog’s current food. All of the ingredients in the current food should be avoided when determining the proper replacement food. The elimination diet should cause the signs and symptoms to disappear and then additional ingredients will be added back into the diet one at a time, until the allergen is uncovered. It is essential to ensure your dog does not ingest anything other than the food used for the elimination diet during this diagnostic treatment. A single treat with the allergen can cause the allergy to resurface. Beef flavoring can be found in items as diverse as:
- Cow hooves
- Flavored medications (including heartworm preventives) or supplements
- Flavored plastic toys
- Flavored toothpastes
- Pigs Ears
Treatment of Beef Allergies in Dogs
Several weeks are often required before the elimination diet reveals the allergen. During this time your pet may continue experiencing symptoms. Corticosteroids and antihistamines can sometimes reduce swelling and control itching, however, use of these remedies can also make it harder to determine which ingredient in your dog’s diet is causing the allergic reactions by masking obvious symptoms, so many veterinarians prefer to complete the elimination diet before applying these types of medications.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to combat the secondary skin infections that are often seen with food allergies. Once the allergen has been ascertained, the initial course of action is the removal of the ingredient from the dog’s diet. Supplements, such as Omega-3 oils and probiotics, are often recommended to support the immune system and to protect the skin itself. The additions of these supplements are intended to assist your canine’s body in handling any accidental exposure to allergens as well as to prevent the cultivation of new allergies.
Recovery of Beef Allergies in Dogs
Although allergies to foods are not strictly curable, signs and symptoms should be relieved by the removal of the ingredient from their diet. Relapses can occur from any exposure to the allergen, so it is important that you are selective in the type of treats and flavorings you give your dog. Allergic responses to one type of food often indicate a likelihood of developing an allergy to the ingredients in the replacement diet over time as well.The approach to combat this situation varies within the veterinary profession, with some doctors advocating that your pet remain on a single source of food, while others maintain that a steady rotation of three of four novel protein foods is optimal.
Beef Allergies Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
my dog often licks his feet and under his legs, also scratches these areas to the point where his white fur is discolored. Can you advise what could be the cause and what can be done to improve his condition? He was given antibiotics which greatly improved his condition, but obviously this cannot be ongoing.
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My min-pin had goat milk allergy in the past, he was born on a goat farm, the breeder fed him goat milk, we continued feeding him goat milk because it is supposedly beneficial (our other two dogs did not have any reaction), he licked his feet constantly, his feet were bald, red rash, and oozing. We did not know that it was from the goat milk. When we stopped giving it to him, his feet cleared up within a few months - this was 8 months ago. At the end of May we started feeding him beef (home made dog food recipe) every third week, we alternated 3 different types of meat - one week chicken meat, next week donkey meat (never had any reaction to these two types of meat), and we added third week beef. We only fed him beef 3 times and he developed the same symptoms he had with goat milk. We strongly suspect the beef is the culprit. Is it possible that since he had a reaction to goat products that he is having the same reaction to beef?
Thank you, Dr. Turner.
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