puppy and kittenYou’re feeling a lot better now that you’re on a wheat-free diet.  No more vomiting and diarrhea. Your hair is glossy again, the rashes have disappeared… and your paws don’t itch. Thank goodness the vet diagnosed you properly!

While cats and dogs have very different digestive and nutritional needs than do humans, they can still have in common a sensitivity to certain grains. Unlike us, dogs and cats have evolved to eat primarily meat. Ancestral cats, strict carnivores, primarily ate small rodents, while wild dogs were scavengers and ate bones, rotten vegetables, pieces of carcasses, animal guts and heads, and some discarded seeds and grains.

Today vets recommend that the diets of both cats and dogs be high in protein, fat, and water and low in carbohydrates (although some are necessary). However, most dry foods for pets are the opposite because of the high costs of meat and fish versus the low costs of grains and food coloring. This cheaper diet can give pets diabetes and inflammation. Furthermore, some pet food manufacturers get away with posting a high protein content on their labels when in fact much of that protein is indigestible because it comes from hair, feathers, or hoofs instead of egg whites, muscle and organ meats, and fish. There are three ways you can make sure your pet is eating healthy food: 1) The more expensive it is, the better it probably is 2) Read the label to see if the food’s suitability has been evaluated by feeding trials specified by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) 3) Make sure that the first ingredient on the ingredients list is a meat and that the next two ingredients are also acceptable — by law ingredients are listed in descending order of weight.

Food intolerance in animals gives some owners one more dietary stumbling block to overcome. The top food allergens for cats and dogs are dairy, corn, wheat, soy, yeast, potato, beet, beef, and fish. Irish Setters are known as a breed for their gluten intolerance, but other dogs can show symptoms of intolerance to wheat and to a less extent other gluten-containing grains. Symptoms of food intolerance in dogs and cats include dry, itchy skin; red, swollen ears; itchy face and chin; and compulsive licking of the paws. However, these symptoms in dogs are similar for an outbreak of Scarcoptic Mites. Vomiting and diarrhea are further symptoms of food intolerance.

To check your pet for food intolerance, a vet will usually place your pet on an 8 to 12 week elimination diet. After this interval, possible allergenic foods will be introduced one at a time every two or three weeks.