Cutaneous Adverse Food Reaction (CAFR) is caused by an allergy to a component of the pet’s food. The food allergies tend to be towards the proteins present in food. In dogs, the most common food allergies include beef, chicken, dairy products, wheat and lamb. In cats, allergies to beef, chicken and fish are most common. Usually there is prior exposure to the particular food in order to develop an allergy to it. This means that the food allergy will likely be something that has been in your pet’s diet for a while.
Clinically, Cutaneous Adverse Food Reactions are difficult to distinguish from other types of allergies, such as Atopic Dermatitis. CAFR is recognised as a potential cause of non-seasonal itching and occasional gastrointestinal signs in dogs and cats. The clinical signs that you might see with CAFR are very similar to Atopic Dermatitis. The distribution of lesions and areas affected may range from just ear inflammation to whole body itching. Some pets may have concurrent gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence or even increased toileting habits. A common presentation in cats is itching around the neck and face, however it can also be generalised.
Similar to Atopic Dermatitis, these patients are very prone to secondary bacterial and yeast infections. The presence of these secondary infections can complicate reaching a definitive diagnosis and can make management more difficult.
Food allergies cannot reliably be tested for with blood tests. To determine whether a food allergy is present, an elimination diet trial must be performed. This consists of feeding your pet either a hydrolysed diet from your veterinarian, or a home cooked diet that contains ingredients that your pet has not had previous exposure to (a novel diet). The trial should be continued for 8-12 weeks, or as advised by your veterinarian. When doing a food trial, you may need to discuss with your veterinarian alternative non flavoured parasite prevention to avoid possible contamination with a food type that you are trying to avoid.
At the end of the 8-12 week period, if the itching stops, your veterinarian will guide you through reintroduction of your pet’s previous diet to identify the cause of your pet’s food allergy. A diet that avoids the specific allergen can then be chosen for long term use. It is important that the long term diet chosen for your pet is a complete and balanced diet.
The prognosis for CAFR is good once the food allergen has been identified and can be avoided. Occasionally, animals may experience further dietary intolerances and may require repeat elimination trials, as they can over time become intolerant to other foods.
Continue reading about the other common types of allergy below.