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Skin Disease Due to Food Allergies in Dogs

Dermatologic Food Reactions in Dogs

Dermatologic food reactions are non-seasonal reactions which occur following ingestion of one or more allergy causing substances in an animal’s food. The physical reaction is frequently excessive itchiness, with resultant excessive scratching at the skin.

While the pathogenesis of these reactions is not fully understood, immediate reactions and delayed reactions to food are thought to be due to a hypersensitive immune response.  On the other hand, food intolerance is a non-immunologic idiosyncratic reaction due to the metabolic, toxic or pharmacologic effects of the offending ingredients. Since it is not easy to distinguish between immunologic and idiosyncratic reactions, any negative response to food is generally referred to as an adverse food reaction.

Symptoms and Types

  • Non-seasonal itchiness of any body location
  • Poor response to anti-inflammatory doses of glucocorticoids generally suggests food hypersensitivity
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive gut sounds, passing of gas, and frequent bowel movements
  • Malassezia dermatitis (fungal skin infections), pyoderma (bacterial skin infections), and otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear)
  • Skin plaques – broad, raised flat areas on the skin
  • Pustules – pus-containing raised skin inflammations
  • Erythema – redness of the skin
  • Crusts – dried serum or pus on the surface of a ruptured blister or pustule
  • Scale – flakes or plates of dead skin on the skin’s surface
  • Self-induced baldness due to scratching
  • Abrasions/sores on the skin due to scratching
  • Leathery, thick, bark-like skin
  • Hyperpigmentation – darkening of the skin
  • Hives – swollen or inflamed bumps on the skin
  • Giant wheals (elongated marks) on the skin
  • Pyotraumatic dermatitis – infection of the skin wounds due to scratching excessively, and bacteria entering the wounds


  • Immune-mediated reactions – result of the ingestion and subsequent presentation of one or more glycoproteins (allergens) either before or after digestion; sensitization may occur as the food passes into the intestine, after the substance is absorbed, or both
  • Non-immune (food intolerance) reactions – result of ingestion of foods with high levels of histamine (an antigen known to cause immune hypersensitivity) or substances that induce histamine either directly or through histamine-releasing factors
  • It is speculated that in juvenile animals, intestinal parasites or intestinal infections may cause damage to the intestinal mucosa, resulting in the abnormal absorption of allergens and subsequent sensitization to some ingredients


Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, including a dermatological exam. Non-food causes of dermatologic disease should be ruled out. Your veterinarian will order a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel to rule out other causes of disease. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, especially regarding any changes in diet, and any new foods added to your dog’s diet, even if temporary.

Food elimination diets are advised for dogs thought to be suffering from adverse food reactions. These diets typically include one protein source and one carbohydrate source to which the dog has had limited or no previous exposure to. A clinical improvement may be seen as soon as four weeks into the new diet, and maximum alleviation of clinical signs may be seen as late as thirteen weeks into the food elimination diet.

If your dog improves on the elimination diet, a challenge should be performed to confirm that the original diet was the cause of disease and to determine what ingredient in the original diet triggered the adverse reaction.

Challenge: feed your dog with the original diet. A return of the signs confirms that something in the diet is causing the signs. The challenge period should last until the signs return but no longer than ten days.

If the challenge confirms the presence of an adverse food reaction, the next step is to perform a provocation diet trial: going back to the elimination diet, begin by adding a single ingredient to the diet. After waiting a sufficient amount of time for the ingredient to prove either agreeable or adverse, if there is no physical reaction, move on to adding the next ingredient to your dog’s diet. The provocation period for each new ingredient should last up to ten days, less if signs develop sooner (dogs usually develop signs within 1–2 days). Should symptoms of an adverse reaction develop, discontinue the last added ingredient and wait for the symptoms to subside before moving forward to the next ingredient.

The test ingredients for the provocation trials should include a full range of meats (beef, chicken, fish, pork, and lamb), a full range of grains (corn, wheat, soybean, and rice), eggs, and dairy products. The results of these trials will guide your selection of commercial foods, based on those that do not contain the offending substance(s).


A disease of the skin in which it emits pus


To be allergic to or sensitive to a certain vaccine or medication


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


A lesion on the skin that is filled with pus


A medical condition in which the ear becomes inflamed


A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed


A reaction to a certain pathogen that is out of the ordinary


Any substance or item that the body of an animal would regard as strange or unwanted; a foreign disease or virus in the body (toxin, etc.)


A product made of fluid, cell waste, and cells

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Loss of Appetite in Dogs

Anorexia in Dogs

Anorexia, as it applies to humans, has been in the news so much that most of us are aware of it on some level. Anorexia is a very serious condition causing an animal to refuse to eat totally and its food intake to decrease so much that it leads to drastic weight loss. Dog owners should consult a veterinarian immediately to identify the cause.

The condition or disease described in this medical article can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.


  • Fever
  • Pallor
  • Jaundice
  • Pain
  • Changes in organ size
  • Changes in the eyes
  • Distention of the abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart and lung sounds are diminished


There are many potential causes which can be attributed to a dog not eating. For example, most diseases (including infectious, autoimmune, respiratory, gastrointestinal, bone, endocrine and neurological diseases) will cause a dog to avoid eating because of pain, obstruction, or other factors. Anorexia can also be due to a psychological problem, such as stress or changes in routine, environment or diet. Other causes include:

  • Aging
  • Cardiac failure
  • Toxicities and drugs
  • A growth (mass)


The veterinarian will generally conduct a thorough medical history on your dog, including any changes in diet, environment, or routine. It will help if you have observed your dog’s eating habits and identify any problems it may have picked up, chewing or swallowing food. The veterinarian will then conduct various tests including:

  • Ophthalmic, dental, nasal, facial and neck examinations
  • Heart-worm exam
  • Retrovirus exam
  • Blood analysis
  • Urinalysis
  • X-rays of the abdomen and chest
  • Endoscopy and tissue and cell samples


The digestive tract containing the stomach and intestine

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Ingestion of Feces and Foreign Objects in Dogs

Coprophagia and Pica in Dogs

Pica is a medical issue referring to a dog’s craving of a non-food item and the subsequent eating of said item. Coprophagia, meanwhile, is the eating and ingesting of feces.

Generally, neither of these conditions are the result of an underlying disease, however, it can occur. Fortunately, there are treatment options in these types of cases, or behavior modification practices that can be implemented if it is a non-medical issue.

The condition or disease described in this medical article can affect both dogs and cats. If you would like to learn more about how this disease affects cats, please visit this page in the PetMD health library.


Symptoms and Types

You may observe the dog eating dirt, clay, rocks, soap, or other items that can endanger the dog’s health. The largest organ system that is affected by this behavior is the gastrointestinal tract, especially if foreign objects are being swallowed. You may notice that the dog is vomiting, has loose stools, or has diarrhea. There may be weakness and lethargy in the dog.


There are several possible causes of dogs eating feces or other non-food items, including malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, increased appetite, or conditions such as diabetes, or thyroid disease. Parasites can be another of the causes for this behavior.

Sometimes a dog will eat their feces if there are undigested articles of food in their stool. Mothers with newborns will also commonly eat the feces of their newborns. As such, puppies may eat feces as an observation of the mother’s behavior or as part of exploration. In addition, a dog may eat feces as a response to recent punishment, to get attention or because it desires to clean its environmental area

Medical Causes:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diabetes
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Anemia
  • Increased hunger
  • Neurological disease
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Malnutrition
  • Thyroid disease


Your veterinarian will be looking to distinguish between medical and behavioral causes. A full physical examination will be recommended to rule out underlying medical causes. If it is not due to a medical condition, the veterinarian will conduct a full history on the dog, including its diet and appetite, handling practices, and information about its environment. This will assist the veterinarian in developing a proper treatment plan.


The term for the nostrils and muscles in the upper and lower lips of an animal; may also be used to describe a type of tool used to keep an animal from biting


A condition of poor health that results from poor feeding or no feeding at all


The condition of being drowsy, listless, or weak


The digestive tract containing the stomach and intestine

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Do Carrots Naturally Improve Your Dog’s Vision?

Can Eating Carrots Improve Eyesight?

By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM

We’ve all heard the saying that eating carrots can help improve vision. But does this apply to our dogs as well? While there is some hint of truth in the concept, eating bushels of carrots will not give your dog (or you) super vision during the day (or night).

Carrots are indeed a nutrient-rich source for a variety of vitamins and minerals, including beta-carotene, a pigment that gives carrots and other vegetables their signature orange (or sometimes yellow or red) color. It is the beginning form of vitamin A (called retinal) that is necessary to maintain good vision — especially in dim light.

How Does Beta-Carotene Help?

When your dog eats foods containing beta-carotene, it is absorbed by the intestine and transported to the liver. There it is combined with fats in the diet, converted to vitamin A, and stored until it is required by the body. When called upon, it is released through the bloodstream, and from there travelling to the retina of the eye.

The retina is critical for normal eyesight. Found in the back of the eyeball, it is made up of millions of cells called rods and cones. These cells are sensitive to light and use vitamin A to tell the brain (via the optic nerve) what is being seen. The rods are most important in low-light situations, and the rods are sensitive to low levels of vitamin A in the body. So, if your dog has a deficiency of vitamin A, eating more foods that contain beta-carotene could help improve eyesight, especially at night.

Beta-carotene also works as an antioxidant, helping to prevent disease and infection. Its role as a precursor of vitamin A makes it important for healthy skin and hair coat, normal bone development, reproductive health, general eye health, and cancer prevention.

Beta-Carotene/Vitamin A in the Diet

Carrots are not the only source of this important nutrient in your dog’s diet. Ingredients such as liver, eggs, sweet potato, spinach and broccoli also contain beta-carotene. Vitamin A and beta-carotene are also created synthetically and added to dog food to make sure the levels provided are adequate for daily nutrition.

There is, however, such a thing as having too much vitamin A in the diet. Dogs that have too much in their diet (hypervitaminosis) can develop bone problems and muscle weakness. Thankfully, reaching a toxic level of vitamin A would require a very high dose over a long period of time, and giving your dog a few carrots now and again isn’t going to come close to providing an overdose. If you do choose to give your dog carrots as an occasional treat, it’s best to cut them up into small enough pieces to reduce the risk of choking or gastrointestinal discomfort.

At high levels of beta-carotene supplementation, the pigment may cause your dog’s skin (or white hair) to turn yellowish or orange in color. Dogs with red or brown hair coats may develop a darker color hair coat at higher levels of ingestion. Once the high levels of beta-carotene are reduced, the color will go away quickly.

While feeding your dog carrots or buying dog foods that contain sources of beta-carotene can provide health benefits, there is not much chance of your pet’s eyesight becoming better than it was before. That said, there is little chance that beta-carotene supplementation will improve diminished eyesight caused by injury, cataracts, glaucoma, etc. However, beta-carotene has even been shown to prevent cataracts and other eye diseases when used prophylactically.


Chew BP, Park JS, Wong TS, Kim HW, Weng BB, Byrne KM, Hayek MG, Reinhart GA. “Dietary beta-carotene stimulates cell-mediated and humoral immune response in dogs.” Journal of Nutrition Aug. 2000: 130(8);1910-3. 

Karutz, M. “Stable β-carotene Formulation for Petfood.” Petfood Supplement, Issue 10.

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Chocolate Poisoning in Dogs

Dogs are known for eating things when they are not supposed to. This is especially true of puppies. Also, dogs have an excellent sense of smell, making it fairly easy to find any secret hiding spots for the chocolate. This can be a dangerous combination when there is chocolate around the house.

Chocolate is derived from the roasted seeds of Theobroma cacao, which contains certain properties that can be toxic to animals: caffeine and theobromine. If ingested, these two ingredients can also lead to various medical complications and may even prove fatal for your dog.

If you would like to learn how chocolate poisoning can affect cats, please visit this page in the petMD Health Library. Also, go to our Chocolate Toxicity Meter for more information on the dangers of chocolate poisoning and its effects.

Symptoms and Types

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased reflex responses
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Advanced signs (cardiac failure, weakness, and coma)

The amount and type of chocolate ingested is also important, as they are the determining factors for the severity of the toxicity. The three types of chocolate that you must be aware of are:

  1. Milk Chocolate – Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight is ingested; severe toxicity occurs when two ounces per pound of body weight is ingested (or as little as one pound of milk chocolate for a 20-pound dog).
  2. Semi-Sweet Chocolate – Mild signs of toxicity can occur when 0.3 ounce per pound of body weight is ingested; severe toxicity occurs when one ounce per pound of body weight is ingested (or as little as six ounces of semi-sweet chocolate for a 20-pound dog).
  3. Baking Chocolate – This type of chocolate has the highest concentration of caffeine and theobromine. Therefore, as little as two small one-ounce squares of baking chocolate can be toxic to a 20-pound dog (or 0.1 ounce per pound of body weight).


In the right quantities chocolate can become toxic for any dog. So be wary of feeding your pet anything that might contain chocolate and always keep it out of reach.


Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam, including a chemical blood profile, electrolyte panel and a urinalysis. These tests will help determine if there is a chocolate/caffeine overdose.

Blood can also be taken to test for theobromine concentrations, while an ECG is performed to help determine if the heart is showing any abnormalities in rhythm or conduction of heart beats.


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness

blood pressure

The amount of pressure applied by the blood on the arteries.


Any substance used to combat the effects of certain poisons.

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Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

Dogs love to munch away on grass, and some even make it part of their daily routine. Fortunately, most experts believe it isn’t something you should worry about. So why exactly do they gobble up that green stuff in your yard?

Scavengers ‘R Us

Dogs, unlike their catty counterparts, are not carnivores. But they’re not like your garden-variety omnivores, either. For tens of thousands of years, these opportunistic scavengers have devoured anything and everything, as long as it fulfilled their basic dietary requirements.

The modern dog, partly because of evolution and domestication, is no longer like its ancestors, which frequently ate their prey entirely, including the stomach contents of plant-eating animals. Instead, dogs today seek out plants as an alternative food source. Most commonly the plant is grass — since that is what is closest at hand — but wild canines are known to eat fruits, berries, and other vegetable matter, too.

Clearly, dogs can find their nutrients in a wide range of plant foods, but that doesn’t explain why Fido usually throws up after eating grass.


A type of animal feed that is high in fiber; may include hay or pasture crops


The ability to create a disease where a disease might not normally be found, usually due to an ill timed or unlikely weakness


The eating of grasses and plants that are low to the ground

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Vitamin B12 Supplementation in Pets with EPI

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) impairs an animal’s ability to digest and absorb the nutrients available in food. Because there are insufficient digestive enzymes created by the pancreas, food passes through the body basically undigested. The affected animal will begin to lose weight and have loose, foul-smelling diarrhea. Animals with EPI eat voraciously because they are not able to gain nourishment from the food they do ingest.

Treatment for this condition focuses on the use of enzyme replacements in the food. Replacements are typically required for the remainder of the animal’s life. Other factors will play a role in this disease condition, and your veterinarian will need to monitor your pet long-term to see if additional supplements, such as vitamin B12, or medications are necessary to maintain control.


Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) Deficiency

Both dogs and cats with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) are at risk of developing a vitamin deficiency at some point. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency is extremely common in cats with EPI, and is seen in more than half of dogs with the condition. Because the body can store up the vitamin under normal conditions, it may take some time before it reaches a critically low point. The reason an animal becomes deficient is that vitamin B12 is not absorbed from the food eaten by animals suffering from EPI.

Dogs and cats with EPI may be additionally compromised by decreased production of a substance called intrinsic factor (IF) by the cells of the pancreas. This substance helps the body to absorb the vitamin into the bloodstream. Without sufficient IF, the animal will have even greater difficulty in getting enough vitamin B12. In the cat, the pancreas is the only site of intrinsic factor production. and when the pancreas is compromised, IF deficiency (and thus B12 deficiency) results.

Once a deficiency of B12 does occur, the animal will have difficulty gaining (or maintaining) weight, even when he or she may have been doing well on enzyme replacement therapy. The dog or cat will also become lethargic and confused. This is because vitamin B12 plays an important role in intestinal health, as well as brain function.

Because of this, any animal that is not improving on enzyme replacement therapy should be checked for B12 deficiency to determine if supplementation is necessary. Your veterinarian will need to run blood tests to check your pet’s levels of B12 in the blood. Low levels of vitamin B12 are sometimes associated with another condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This build-up of bacteria can lead to B12 deficiency in dogs as the organisms bind the vitamin and make it unavailable for absorption by the intestine.

Treating Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Those animals who are not properly treated for B12 deficiency will have a very poor prognosis and will not show improvement when only treated for EPI. Because animals with EPI are unable to absorb certain nutrients and have a diminished capacity to produce intrinsic factor, giving them oral supplementation of B12 doesn’t help. Thus, the most effective method of vitamin B12 supplementation is by injection.

Doses are typically given weekly for many weeks, followed by every two weeks for many weeks, then monthly. Your veterinarian may consider teaching you to give your pet these injections at home, depending on the situation. Blood tests will be taken again after the course of injections has been given. This will allow your veterinarian to determine if the animal has reached sufficient levels of B12.

Your pet will continue to receive injections of B12 until levels are high enough and any secondary intestinal problems are improved. Once an animal has a normal level of B12 in the bloodstream, he or she should begin to gain weight and improve considerably, even in the face of EPI.

Image: aspen rock / via Shutterstock

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Herb ‘N’ Living: Growing a Home Garden for Your Pet

Some animal experts have asserted that pets intuitively eat plants according to their specific medicinal value — that is, as long as they have several plants to choose from. The problem, however, is that we choose our plants for beauty rather than edibility. So when a pet has only household plants or landscaping to choose from, it can lead to something more serious than a bellyache, especially if the plants are toxic or sprayed with chemical pesticides and fertilizers. But, given the right plants to choose from, your pet will be able to treat itself and you won’t need to worry about potential side effects. 

Whether you have a large yard space, a small four-foot by four-foot plot, or a windowsill, you can grow a healing garden for your cat or dog. Most of these plants are simple to grow and inexpensive to boot. Even better, many double as home remedies for you and your family.


So without further ado, here are a few tips that will earn you an honorary green thumb.


For an outdoor garden, the burdock herb is an ideal plant. Known for its ability to treat allergies and digestive and kidney issues, the burdock is a traditional medicinal plant used worldwide. A rich soil works best, but be careful to not let this plant grow too large, for it will take over your entire garden when given the opportunity.


Milk thistle, good for liver disorders, is low on demands. It can be grown in wet or dry soil, and in a sunny or partly sunny location. However, remove the flowering heads to prevent it from becoming too weedy.


Peppermint is another easy-to-grow herb. Go to the store, buy the plant, and place it in rich, moist soil — that’s it. Your pet will find the leaves of the peppermint herb, which does well in both sun and shade, useful for indigestion and nausea. Just don’t forget to cut the springs back regularly to encourage healthy growth.


The Astragalus herb, meanwhile, is useful for lowering blood pressure, decreasing blood sugar, improving digestion, and promoting healing. The Astragalus seeds need to be scratched before planting in a sandy soil.


Similarly, garlic is a well-known immune booster. Garlic grass is easy to grow, indoors and outdoors, and can be started from a bulb bought at your local grocery store. Just push the cloves under a quality soil, pointed side up. Keep in mind that the garlic clove, eaten in large amounts, can make your dog ill, and it is toxic to cats. Garlic cloves should not be given to your cat under any circumstance, but the grass that grows from the clove can be nibbled on as your cat feels the need.



A type of decay that is caused by fungus or bacteria


To slow something down or cause it to stop


A medical condition in which the digestive process is disturbed in some way from something like too much food, spoiled food, etc.

blood pressure

The amount of pressure applied by the blood on the arteries.