Monday, January 23, 2012

Food Allergies in Dogs and Cats

by Kelley Lindberg

Does your pet have a food allergy?
Believe it or not, dogs and cats can have food allergies. My dog-in-law Missy (who owns my brother-in-law and sister-in-law) is allergic to beef – so she has to have a restricted diet. No beef products in her food or snacks, and no rawhide chew toys for her. She also has to be careful of her toothpaste and medications, which sometimes contain beef flavoring. (This is Missy wearing her seatbelt and new bandana...Not just beautiful, but smart, too!)

Food allergies in dogs are more common than I realized. Food allergies are estimated to account for about 20% of cases where dogs suffer from itching and scratching. Most allergies occur after the animal has been eating the same food for a long time, even years. But food allergies are only the third most common reason for itchiness in dogs and cats, after flea bite allergies and airborne allergies, so taking your furry pal to the vet is a must, so that you can begin to identify the most likely culprit.

Food allergies in animals appear to act a little different from food allergies in humans, however. I haven’t found any mentions of anaphylaxis in my research – mainly itching and other skin problems, but symptoms can also include ear infections, hair loss, and hot spots.

Food intolerances are also common in dogs and cats. A food intolerance may cause diarrhea or vomiting, but usually not the itchy skin problems that true food allergies cause.

Animal food allergies don’t appear to respond well to skin prick tests or blood tests. The only recommended test for food allergies in a dog or cat is a food trial, where the dog or cat is fed with a completely new protein and carbohydrate source for 12 weeks, completely eliminating all other foods. (Talk to a vet before starting such a test, because the vet can help determine an appropriate hypoallergenic diet.) After that, former foods are reintroduced one at a time to see if the itchiness returns. If symptoms come back, a food allergy is strongly suspected.

After that, treatment is the same as for humans – complete elimination of the offending food.

If you suspect that your dog or cat is allergic to or intolerant of a particular type of food, here are some resources that might be helpful:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Peanut Butter Cheerios

by Kelley Lindberg

The makers of Cheerios have announced a new flavor -- peanut butter -- and it's created quite an uproar in the allergic community. Read the Chicago Tribune article about it here.

I'm a little bit amazed at the sudden furor over this. Yes, there will now be a peanut butter flavor of Cheerios, which means toddlers might be carrying around a peanut butter snack. But the manufacturer has indicated that there will be no cross-contamination with regular Cheerios, and they indicate that they use stringent manufacturing processes that will prevent cross-contamination.

And yet there are apparently a lot of people screaming foul over this.

I'm not sure that's the right response. Here's why:

1. There have been several flavors of Cheerios for years now that have almond ingredients (Honey Nut Cheerios, anyone?), yet those of us with nut allergies in our families have still enjoyed regular Cheerios without fear of contamination. We have learned to eye any Cheerio with suspicion until we see the box it came from, of course, but if we're careful, we're safe. Nothing is changing, except that perhaps people who aren't allergic to almonds, but are allergic to peanuts, have just realized that they have to read labels closely, which they are probably doing anyway. People with milk and wheat allergies have been having to avoid all Cheerios all along.

2. Regular Cheerios aren't changing. If they were suddenly going to eliminate Cheerios as a "safe" food for those with peanut or nut allergies, then there would be room for disappointment, and I'd be the first to be on the phone with the company pointing out that they would be losing a non-trivial percentage of their customers by contaminating all their flavors. But that's not the case. Regular Cheerios will still be safe.

3.  Protesting a new nut flavor in a product line that already contains nut flavors doesn't make much sense, and takes energy away from making real changes where they can do more good.

4. A concern is that kids won't be able to tell the difference between safe Cheerios and non-safe Cheerios in places like preschool. Yes, that's true. But it's been true for years with Honey Nut Cheerios. It's been true for cookies, cakes, crackers, and every other type of snack that kids carry with them. Allergic kids shouldn't ever share food with other kids anyway, and this gives us a teaching moment to revisit that lesson and make sure it's still clear in their sweet little heads.

Yes, this change requires that families with peanut allergies should increase their vigilance when it comes to random Cheerios on the floor. But I really don't think a hysterical reaction will accomplish anything except alienating the allergic community from the non-allergic community, and that is the exact opposite reaction we want. We need for the outside community to support us, not throw up their hands in annoyance when we over-react.

Several years ago, the makers of Pop-Tarts announced they would include milk in all their products. Now that was a change I felt strongly about protesting. While they might not be the healthiest of breakfast products, they were still a milk-free, nut-free, egg-free breakfast and snack option for allergic families, and suddenly they were taking all that away. After much protest (including my own emails and phone calls), they backed down and kept their facilities and recipes milk-free for some flavors. That was a great accomplishment and victory.

This Cheerios debate, however, seems less vital to me, because they are still retaining their nut-free versions. So I'm accepting the fact that some people like peanut flavor (gasp!) and their preference will not adversely affect me in this particular case, because I can still buy my regular flavor with confidence.

So what am I taking away from all this? First, I need to teach my son that there's a new flavor of Cheerios to watch out for, in addition to the other 3 flavors that already had nuts in them. Second, I need to save my indignant and strong response for cases where a manufacturer suddenly contaminates a whole safe line of foods with a new unsafe product. And third, I have to manage my reactions so that I accomplish the most good with the least amount of alienation. Remember that old adage about "honey catches more flies than vinegar"? I've found that a positive approach to correcting problems accomplishes so much more than a negative response. Like I always tell my son, no one will go out of their way to help a whiner, but they just might go out of their way to help a friendly person with a problem.

That's just my two cents' worth. I'm sure there are plenty of other opinions ranging all up and down the spectrum of outrage, but this just doesn't seem like a battle I can afford to fight when there are so many other battles that are.

On we bravely fight...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Virginia First Grader Dies from Peanut Reaction

by Kelley Lindberg

That’s the headline none of us ever want to read. But it happened on January 2 to a 7-year-old girl named Amarria Johnson, when a friend who didn’t know about Amarria’s allergies shared a peanut with her on the playground during recess. Amarria was taken to the clinical aid in school with hives and shortness of breath. By the time EMTs arrived, she was in cardiac arrest and pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital.

Amarria had an action plan at school, authorizing the school to give Benedryl to her, but they didn’t do that. The school’s policy states that the parent is responsible for giving the child’s medications to the school, but reports don’t indicate whether the mother actually did give Benadryl to the school, and I can’t find any information about whether there was Benadryl in the clinic at all.

What’s even more concerning, though, is the mother is quoted as saying that at the beginning of the school year, she tried to give the school’s clinical aid an EpiPen for emergencies, but she said she was declined and told to keep it at home.

It’s devastating news. Our hearts, thoughts, prayers, and condolences go out to the family, to her friends, and to everyone else who was touched by this little girl’s life. Food allergy support groups across the country, including UFAN, have been sending the family our condolences and loving thoughts.

But sending our heartfelt prayers isn’t the only thing we can do. At Amarria’s funeral service on Saturday, the Rev. Louis Kelly said, “If you want to honor Amarria, don't grieve for the rest of your life. Do something about it. Let's honor her memory by making sure that what happened to her never happens to another child.”

What a wonderful idea.

Here are some ways we can all make a difference in our own children’s lives and in the lives of other allergic children in our schools. Hopefully Amarria’s story can make a difference.
  1. Make sure you have filled out a medical action plan and given it to your school. Here are links to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network’s (FAAN) allergy action plan in English and allergy action plan in Spanish. If you don’t have one filed with your school, DO IT TODAY. And print 2 extra copies: one to hang in your child’s classroom, and one to hang in the cafeteria.
  2. Make sure you have EpiPens and an antihistamine (such as Benadryl) in your child’s school or on their person, labeled with their name, a photo if possible, and simple instructions for use. If you’ve already got the meds in the school, check their expiration date, and replace them if they’ve expired.
  3. If you haven’t sat down with your child’s teacher to explain his or her food allergies, make an appointment right now. I’ve never had a teacher say no to such a meeting – most are very relieved to know exactly what they should be aware of. Show them how to recognize a reaction, how to administer the medication, and when to call 911.
  4. Call your school’s principal and ask how their staff is trained for food allergies and EpiPen use every year. If they aren’t trained, ask them to please bring in someone to train them during a staff meeting. Your allergist or a school nurse might be willing to do a short training session. If you are in Utah, contact me (kjplindberg @ or someone else in UFAN (, and we can help hook you up with someone who can do the training quickly and easily and for free.
  5. Make sure your child has at least one pair of EpiPens with them at all times. Some schools require medicine to be kept in the office. That’s okay, but by law in Utah (see H.B. 101, available on UFAN’s website), students are allowed to carry EpiPens and inhalers on their person. So my son has one set of EpiPens in the office, and another set in his lunchbox. If your school says the child can't carry their own EpiPen, show them H.B. 101 -- it's been legal since April 2008.
  6. Especially for younger kids (kindergarten and elementary grades), offer to do a short presentation to your child’s class. FAAN has some great videos that teach young kids about food allergies, designed to make students aware of their allergic classmates’ needs. Here is a link to a short but effective slide-show presentation created by FAAN, called Food Allergies for Elementary Students. I’ve found that if you enlist kids’ support, they are usually far more receptive, much more interested, and much more concerned about keeping their friends safe than adults are, so kids can be your child’s best allies. Keeping your child’s food allergy a secret doesn’t help, and can definitely harm. I can’t even imagine how terrible the child who gave Amarria a peanut feels now. If she’d known about the allergy, she probably wouldn’t have put her friend in danger. The FAAN website has a whole section of FAAN downloads with presentations for adults and older kids, and other resources.
  7. 7. Even if your child doesn’t eat school lunches, take your child to meet with the lunchroom workers. Introduce your child to them and tell your child that these adults are the people they should tell if they think they’ve eaten something they’re allergic to, or if some other kid is threatening them with food. Make sure the lunch staff knows your child and show them how to recognize a reaction and how to use an EpiPen and call 911.
A story about Amarria’s experience was on the Huffington Post website, along with a poll asking: “Should schools stock EpiPens just in case?” Here are the poll’s results as of this morning:
  • 91.83%  Yes
  • 8.17%    No
Unfortunately, with school budgets so limited, I doubt many districts will ever be able to squeeze out enough to foot the bill for new EpiPens every year. But that’s still encouraging to know so many people think it’s a good idea. Overwhelmingly, most people want to protect children. That’s a no brainer. But they can only protect them if they understand what they’re protecting them from, and how to do it. That’s where we come in. Call your school now and make sure they know what to do in an allergic emergency. You may be saving your own child’s life, or the life of a child you’ve never met.

Do it for Amarria.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year Headlines

by Kelley Lindberg

So, are you doing a little New Year’s cleaning today, too? Going through closets, drawers, and cabinets, trying to live up to that “decluttering” resolution on your New Year’s list?

Yeah, I gave up about an hour ago, too.

So instead of moving dusty papers out of one pile and into another (which is the highly practical activity I’ve been doing for the last couple of hours), I thought I’d post a few “dream headlines” that I’d like to see in 2012. These are stories I would really love to wake up some morning and see staring at me from the newspaper (yes, I still read those things).

1. Food Allergy Cure is 100% Successful, and Is Available Now for Free! (And no needles are involved!)

2. School Nurses are Reinstated in Every School

3. Class Sizes Restricted to 15 Students Per Teacher

4. National Debt Was Just a Typo – Billions in Surplus Redirected to Medical Research, Billions More to Education

5. Vitamin K Deficiency Discovered As Root of All Hatred. Wars, Gangs, and Bigotry Eliminated Overnight. Sales of Kale and Spinach Through the Roof. (And no one is allergic to kale or spinach anymore!)

6. Potato Chips Are New Health Craze

7. New Design Lets Desk Chair Tone Muscles, Burn Calories

8. Kids Lose Interest in Video Games Overnight! Books Are to Blame, Say Librarians

9. All Email Spammers Vanish from Earth. Officials Link Disappearance to Strange Lights in Sky Over Roswell, N.M.

And last but not least:

10. The Mayans Were Wrong: 2013 Will Be Seen at Its Regularly Scheduled Time

Hope your New Year is full of peace, health, comfort, and love.