Animal adverse food reactions echo human symptoms – study

A European position paper from a team in Vienna highlights the strong similarities in animal and human allergy symptoms, and triggers of adverse food reactions.

Pets suffer from very similar food intolerance and allergies as humans, research has established.

Adverse food reactions occur in cats, dogs and horses among other mammals, according to a position paper from a team of scientists in Vienna.

Researchers from the Messerli Research Institute (MRI) – a cooperation between the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna – have condensed the knowledge about human and animal food allergies and intolerances into a European position paper.

The paper, published in the journal Allergy, highlighted the strong similarities in animal and human symptoms, and triggers of adverse food reactions.

More importantly, however, it stresses the need for more comparative studies on the mechanisms and diagnosis of food intolerance, and on formulating adequate measures.


Lead author Isabella Pali-Schöll said: “Not only humans, but basically all mammals, are susceptible to developing allergies, as their immune system is capable of producing IgE.”

Normally, these special antibodies help defend parasites or viruses. At the same time, they are responsible for type I allergy symptoms, which are the best-known and immediately occurring symptoms, and include hay fever, allergic asthma and anaphylactic shock.

In the field of nutrition, very common non-immunologic forms of food intolerance also exist.

The position paper – primarily penned by Prof Pali-Schöll, an associate professor in comparative medicine at the MRI, and her colleague Erika Jensen-Jarolim – shows the symptoms of food intolerance are similar in animals and humans.

In the case of dogs, cats or horses, however, the adverse reactions mostly affect the skin, followed by the gastrointestinal tract.

“Asthma or severe shock reactions have rarely been observed in animals,” said Prof Pali-Schöll.

Even overlaps among the triggers of immune response to certain foods and ingredients exist. Pets may suffer from both lactose intolerance and outright milk protein allergies.

Some mammals are also liable to allergic reactions from certain proteins in wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, eggs and meat.

Precise knowledge

Precise knowledge about the active molecules of the allergens helps assess the risks of severe reactions – especially with food allergies.

Many of these allergenic molecules that affect humans have been identified and are already used in diagnostics, such as the so-called allergen microchip test. As far as animals are concerned, a big need for research still exists.

Similarly, a precise and comprehensive diagnosis is essential for establishing adequate measures against food intolerance.

But many mechanisms and triggers for animals have not been sufficiently researched – in part, because some test samples or substances are not even available.

  • Read the full story in the 11 September issue of Veterinary Times.