Unfortunately, food allergies are an increasingly common problem in a number of breeds, including the Labrador Retriever. They can develop at any age and be to foods that your dog has been eating for years with no problems. In fact, most allergies take years of exposure to the allergen (item your pet is allergic to) to develop. For this reason, many special diets designed for dogs with food allergies make use of unusual proteins, grains, and vegetables. The hope is that your pet has had little previous exposure to the food components and so is less likely to react to them.
Most Labs experience itchy skin and ears. They may develop hives or open sores from the constant licking and chewing they do to try to relieve the itch. Many Labs develop ongoing yeast infections in their ears that re-occur as soon as the antibiotics are finished. The ears may appear red or swollen and irritated. Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting may also occur.
Diagnosing a Food Allergy
Food allergies can be difficult to diagnose. Few vets are set up to do an allergy skin scratch test like they do for humans. Instead, it tends to be a diagnosis of elimination. This means that after examining your Lab and using test to eliminate other possible causes for his symptoms, they decide it must be allergies. Chances are good that the dog food you feed your Lab has at least twenty ingredients on the label and maybe more. Your dog could be allergic to one or more of these ingredients.
Most vets try an elimination diet to pinpoint what your pet is allergic to. They may prescribe a special diet or have you prepare food for your dog for a few weeks to see if he reacts to any of the ingredients. Once the item(s) he is allergic have been determined, you can find a food that meets his nutritional needs without provoking his allergies. In cases with severe allergies to multiple items, some pet owners go the route of making their dogs food themselves. This can work well but you should always make use of a canine nutritionist to make sure that the homemade diet meets his needs in terms of vitamins and nutrients. You wouldn’t want to go to all that work and then cause malnutrition from an unbalanced diet.
Some dogs will develop new allergies as time passes and you may need to switch foods multiple times during your dog’s life to meet an increasing number of allergies. You can use creams and oatmeal baths to help soothe your Lab’s irritated skin. Keep a close eye on any chewing. Open sores can easily lead to problems like lick granulomas and skin infections. These need to be treated promptly. Chewing and licking can easily become a habit that stems from compulsion rather than itch after a while. If it reaches this stage, it is much harder to stop. Some dogs will literally lick their skin until they have gaping, open sores as a result.
Food is not the only thing your Labrador can be allergic to. Like people, dogs can be allergic to pollens, smoke, fumes, and plants. These can all cause reactions similar to those of food allergies although runny, red eyes tend to be more frequent with inhaled allergens and digestive upsets are more likely to occur with food allergens but they all cause itchy skin and skin irritation. Watch for patterns. Is your dog more likely to be itchy at particular times of the year or under certain circumstances? Food tends to be the same each day and so a food allergy generally doesn’t let up until there is a change in diet. Inhaled and contact allergies tend to be seasonal or require contact with the allergen, making them less constant. If you’re unsure, consider keeping a diary of your Lab’s symptoms. It can help you see if there is a pattern.