Dogs with food allergies suffer every day from discomfort such as itchy skin, upset tummy, ear infections, and so on. How can we find out which food items a dog is allergic to? Can we give dog treats to those with food allergies? What exactly is a hypoallergenic dog treat? Read on to find out...
It seems that these days food allergies in dogs are getting more and more common.
How can you tell if your dog has food allergy?
Usually, dogs with food allergies show symptoms all year round; as opposed to those with other allergies such as atopic dermatitis or flea allergies - they tend to be seasonal (unless your home is infested with fleas all year!)
Dogs with food allergies develop symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and skin problems such as hot spots, itchiness, skin infections, as well as recurring ear infections.
There are many possibilities. One common possibility is the exposure to one protein and/or carbohydrate source for years on end. Say, if you have been feeding your dog the same food (e.g. chicken and rice) for over 10 years, there is a high possibility that he will develop allergic reactions to these food ingredients.
Another possible trigger is all the fillers and grains, flavor enhancers, dyes, and preservatives that are present many commercial dog foods. Sometimes, low quality meats contain impurities, hormones and chemicals, which can cause food intolerance in dogs. Over time, full-fledged allergies can develop as a result.
Sadly, there are quite a few common food items that can trigger food allergies in dogs, and the list is getting longer by the minute!
Some common foods that are potential allergens include:
Of course every dog is different and while Fido may be allergic to chicken, Rover may be totally healthy on a chicken diet.
The only way to accurately find out the food culprits for your dog is to do what is commonly called an "elimination diet".
The dog is put on a novel protein AND novel carbohydrate (i.e. food that the dog has never eaten before) for at least 2 months (preferably three). It could be turkey and rice, or kangaroo and potato, and so on. During this period, the dog cannot eat any other proteins or carbs - that means even treats that you give your dog have to be the same novel protein and carb as the food, and no table scraps!
It is important that both the protein AND the carbohydrate need to be replaced with novel ingredients.
If, at the end of the elimination period, the dog has shown significant improvement, then you know that the novel foods are good to go - these items are your dog's "hypoallergenic foods".
If, however, the dog still shows allergic symptoms, it means he is also allergic to these items, then you need to find another novel protein and carb and try again.
So... If you have found a novel protein and a novel carbohydrate that your dog can tolerate, does that mean you should stick with these 2 food items for the rest of your dog's life?
The unfortunate thing is, a dog who is prone to food allergies is more likely to develop similar problems to the replacement protein over time. Therefore, it is important to find additional novel proteins and carbs that your dog can tolerate so that you can rotate the food items every 3-6 months. This way, your dog is less likely to develop allergies over such food items.
It may not be easy these days to find novel proteins since many commercial dog food companies are using a lot of protein sources, some of which are novel, in their dog foods, so these days if your dog is on a commercial diet, chances are he has been exposed to a lot of protein sources.
Generally speaking, however, try to find a protein source that is uncommon (e.g. duck, venison, rabbit, goat, kangaroo, ostrich) and clean. Clean proteins are foods that are non-toxic (e.g. fish not laden with mercury, or fish meal not preserved by ethoxyquin). Animals raised on a natural diet (e.g. grass-fed cows) and hormone-free animals are also sources of clean proteins.
Dog parents whose dogs have food allergies are always on the lookout for "hypoallergenic dog treats" and/or recipes for such treats. There are a lot of myths about what a hypoallergenic dog treat is. Be sure to visit this page for more information on this important topic!