French Bulldog Food Allergies
A food allergy or food intolerance means that your Frenchie is hypersensitive to a certain ingredient in the diet. The ingredient to which the dog reacts hypersensitively is called the allergen as with other allergies. In most cases, this is a certain protein such as beef, chicken or wheat gluten.
The body can react hypersensitively in different ways, namely through an allergy and through an intolerance. These terms are often used interchangeably, but despite the fact that the symptoms can be the same, they are two different disorders.
Food allergy: With a food allergy, the body exhibits a hypersensitivity reaction in which the immune system is activated. Hereby histamine can be released that causes the symptoms of an allergy.
Food intolerance: The body shows signs of hypersensitivity, but this does not involve the immune system. Intolerance often involves multiple, vague symptoms, while the symptoms of an allergy are usually immediate and clear.
Allergens are antigenic substances, these allergens can cause allergic reactions in dogs that are sensitive to them and thus stimulate the immune system while these substances do not do so in ‘normal’ cases.
French Bulldogs are known for their allergies, they suffer from different forms of allergies that lead to health problems. In the case of food hypersensitivity, the allergens are absorbed through the diet. The most common allergic reactions are caused by chicken, beef, dairy products and wheat (gluten). Reactions to pork, corn, fish, and rice are much rarer. However, Frenchies can also be allergic to, for example, dyes or chemical preservatives and anti-oxidants such as BHT. In most cases, they are allergic to multiple food components. However, the fact that the dog reacts allergically to a diet does not mean anything about the quality of the diet!
Symptoms of food allergy
French Bulldog food allergies complaints can be expressed through the skin as well as through the stomach/intestines. These complaints also occur in combination. Of course, the other way around does not mean that these complaints always point to a food allergy. For example, a flea allergy is a much more common cause of skin disorders.
The skin forms a barrier against harmful external influences, the skin also regulates body temperature and is a storage place for water and fat. When the skin is damaged, these processes are disrupted and the skin, for example, will dry out or start to stink. If your French Bulldog starts scratching or biting itself, the skin will be damaged and bacteria can enter to cause even more damage. The resulting skin inflammation (dermatitis) stimulates the skin glands, which will cause extra irritation and spread extra fragrances. Due to this imbalance, all kinds of secondary inflammations and infections can occur.
Itching is the most common symptom of a French Bulldog with a food allergy, causing an unpleasant feeling and causing the dog to scratch, bite or lick itself. Some dogs have very little itchiness and only show symptoms such as persistent pyoderma and/or external ear infection, others have more symptoms and in severe cases have bite marks that continuously affect most of the skin.
The itchiness may be regional or generalized, some typical places are:
- The head
- The ear cups
- The armpits
- The abdomen
- The genitals
- Foot Soles
By scratching and biting the dog can seriously injure himself, sometimes they even cause bleeding. Bald spots are created, the skin is going to be opened and open spots are created that can be inflamed. Due to the constant irritation, the skin turns locally black and often there are pimples visible that later burst open and form small scabs, this is called a superficial pyoderma.
With French Bulldog food allergies, the itch is not seasonal. A difference between itching caused by fleas or a food allergy is that with fleas we mainly see itching on the tail and the back.
Pruritis can occur with a large number of conditions, most animals with itching don’t have food allergies:
- Fleas allergy
- Anal gland inflammation
- Other ectoparasites (lice, ticks, mites, and fungi)
- Stress (due to tension or boredom)
- Ear infection
- Autoimmune disease
To cure these we need to determine whether the itch is caused by a food allergy, so it’s therefore important to first exclude all other causes of skin problems as much as possible.
Secondary infections are mainly caused by the itching and the fact that the dog will scratch, lick and bite as a result. This can lead to skin infections which in turn can be exacerbated by a bacterial infection or a yeast infection.
Not every French Bulldog suffers from these secondary infections, but it is good to know that they exist so that they can be taken into account.
- Pododermatitis: inflammation of the footpad
- Otitis externa: ear infection
- Seborrhea: oily skin due to excessive sebum secretion in combination with many skin flakes
- Erythema: redness of the skin
- Edema: swelling due to the accumulation of moisture in the tissue
- Pyoderma: inflammation of the skin with pus formation
- Alopecia: local baldness
Gastric/intestinal complaints are seen in approximately 10-15% of Frenchies with food allergies. They can occur in combination with the previously mentioned skin complaints but they can also be stand-alone symptoms. They can be the result of French Bulldog food allergies but can also be caused by other allergies or deceases.
- Abdominal pain
- Flatulence / flatulence
- Diarrhea / varying stools
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): collective name for various disorders due to chronic intestinal inflammation. Although food allergy is not the direct cause of IBD, it does play a role because the allergy causes increased permeability of the intestinal wall, so that antigens can penetrate the intestinal wall.
- Colitis: Inflammation of the large intestine without an immediately identifiable cause. In certain forms, hypo-allergenic food can reduce the number of anti-inflammatory drugs required in the long term.
Both skin disorders and gastrointestinal problems can have many causes and only a relatively small part of this type of complaints is caused by a food allergy. It is therefore important to be able to distinguish food allergies from other conditions that cause similar symptoms:
- Flea allergy
- Atopia allergy
- Contact with chemicals or household products
- Malassezia dermatitis
Of these disorders flea allergy is most common, atopy is second and food allergy only comes in third, so it is necessary to exclude the first two before starting treatment.
When a dog comes to the vet with mainly itching as a complaint, he or she will be the first to rule out things like parasites and fungi. After or in addition, flea treatment will normally be the first to be carried out. If this has little to no effect, an elimination diet is often advised. There are also vets who prefer to have an atopy test first. However, this test is quite pricey and contains only a part of all possible substances in the environment that the dog can develop an allergy to. In addition, it is not yet excluded whether food allergies also play a role.
My preference is to start with a hypoallergenic diet anyway, possibly at the same time as the blood test.
The elimination diet
The elimination diet is a test diet that contains only foods that the dog has never had before to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction. Because the food allergy is usually caused by something in the dog’s daily diet, your veterinarian will usually ask which food he is receiving now and what animal protein sources he has had before. Based on this, it is determined which diet is most suitable for use as an elimination diet. An elimination diet based on one protein source (and possibly one carbohydrate source) is the most reliable method to determine if your French Bulldog has food allergies because the chance is then made as small as possible to see if your Frenchie reacts to something. When giving an elimination diet, there are two options, a self-prepared food or commercial hypoallergenic food.
Both have advantages but also disadvantages, some veterinarians will recommend commercial food to make sure that the nutrients in the diet are balanced and that the dog will not get any shortages. These diets contain either only 1 animal protein source or, in most cases, hydrolyzed proteins. In that case, the protein fractions are reduced so much that the body hardly recognizes them any more. In that case, the immune system, in turn, does not respond with an allergic reaction. However, many of these diets do contain chemical antioxidants such as BHT that are known to cause allergic reactions. Therefore, take a good look at the ingredients or check what it contains exactly.
However, it is also perfectly possible to prepare a well-balanced diet yourself, this requires the necessary effort and knowledge. In general, the dog eats the elimination diet for 6-8 weeks, this period is so short that it should not cause any problems if, for example, you choose to feed your Frenchie single fresh meat. Nowadays it is very easy to follow a raw elimination diet with the help of ready-made fresh meat for dogs from the supermarket or the pet shop. This saves you getting raw meat from a farm or butcher and you don’t have to worry about the proportions either.
Before treatment with the elimination diet is started, the secondary infections due to the pruritis must first be treated. If this is not done, it is more difficult to observe a positive reaction to the diet. While following this diet, the dog should eat absolutely nothing other than this food. For example, when the dog receives duck meat, it is not allowed to eat dried duck meat from the pet shop, because although this is not stated, these dried snacks are generally treated against deterioration and these preservatives can cause a wrong result.
When the complaints have significantly improved after the end of this diet or even disappeared, one can start to ‘provoke’: slowly add 1 single ingredient to the dog’s menu (keeping a good record of what he has had and when) and see if the complaints come back. The easiest way is to provoke this using single frozen meat, this contains no processed or unknown ingredients, unlike many ready-made chunks and snacks.
If you still want to give your dog snacks during the elimination diet without the chance of an unreliable result, you can dry snacks yourself. You can dry the ready-made frozen meat or raw products from the same kind. This is easy to do yourself. Some brands of dry food have snacks or wet food to match the hypoallergenic diet. This can possibly be added, but again pay attention to the ingredients.
There is a chance that the elimination diet accidentally contains food to which the dog reacts allergically, so if there is no improvement, it’s ok to try a second (totally different) diet. Allergies can also change, so there is a possibility that the dog will also become allergic to the hypoallergenic diet at some point, always keep this possibility in mind! French Bulldog food allergies can develop or change at any time during its lifetime.
A strongly changing diet increases the chance that the dog becomes allergic to other food components so that causes the problems to return.
Whether you choose dry or raw food, it is advisable to let the dog work for his or her food. Not only does this cause the dog to spend more time on food and therefore a better intake, but it also provides mental stimulation: after all, the dog has to think and work for its food. Just like his distant relatives have to do in nature. There are various ‘brain work’ puzzles and adapted food bowls on the market for this. For a good robust and recommended variant CLICK HERE.