Chicken allergies and chicken fat
August 24, 2020
A food allergy is an immune-mediated adverse reaction to a food protein. The immune system is composed of many biological structures in the body whose jobs are to respond to substances such as pathogens, viruses, toxins, or parasites that may be potentially harmful. When the body is introduced to a substance that the immune system deems harmful, the immune system will respond by producing blood proteins called antibodies that attack that substance to prevent it from causing harm to the body. Immune responses result in inflammation related symptoms like redness, itchiness, and hives due to increased blood flow as the antibodies attack the antigens in the blood.
However, sometimes the immune system might identify something as harmful even if it is actually safe. In the case of food allergies, this is what is happening; rather than seeing the food protein as just another food protein, the immune system identifies that protein as an antigen, and this induces an immune response, resulting in those notorious allergic reaction symptoms: redness, itchiness, swelling, and hives. In severe food allergy reactions, the throat can become so swollen that it inhibits breathing, and blood vessel walls can become more permeable to allow more antibodies to gain access, causing a drop in blood pressure and anaphylaxis.
Chicken allergies are one of the most common allergies in dogs. When a dog has a chicken allergy, their immune system is reacting to a specific protein in the chicken. The immune system identifies that specific protein based on its size, shape, and amino acid composition. Some types of proteins are so similar to each other that the immune system might identify both of them as allergens; this is why many dogs have allergies to not just chicken but all poultry and/or both poultry and eggs.
Dogs with chicken allergies can still eat some chicken products if the immune system doesn’t identify the allergen protein. This is how hydrolyzed or “hypoallergenic” prescription diets work: the food might still contain chicken products, but the proteins in that product have been hydrolyzed or denatured (broken apart into smaller pieces), so the immune system doesn’t recognize it as an antigen.
Chicken fat is safe for dogs with chicken allergies because fat doesn’t contain any protein. Without protein, the immune system doesn’t identify anything as an antigen, and the dog doesn’t suffer allergy symptoms.
However, dogs with food intolerance may suffer symptoms similar to allergy symptoms, even in the absence of protein. This is because dogs with food intolerance have issues with malabsorption rather than an immune mediated response. Malabsorption means the digestive system isn’t properly breaking down and absorbing the food like it is supposed to. Malabsorption can be a result of genetic or environmental factors. Dogs with IBD, digestive enzyme deficiencies, or other GI diseases are likely to have food intolerance.
If you are unsure if your dog has a food allergy or a food intolerance, talk to your vet about diagnostic options.