How to identify and treat food allergies in your dog
While most people assume their dogs itching and scratching is due to fleas or environmental allergies, one out of every ten dogs has allergies that have nothing to do with either of those things. Food allergies, although slightly less prevalent than fleas, account for 20 percent of all “itching” related veterinary visits. And unlike environmental allergies, food allergies have no preference when it comes to breed, size, shape, or age.
Studies have shown that the biggest food culprits are beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, corn, wheat, and soy. Unfortunately, these also happen to be the most common ingredients in most dog foods. It is thought that this is not a coincidence as overexposure to these ingredients can trigger an allergy. Other causes for food allergies are a dogs genetics and predisposition.
Food allergies can be hard to diagnose, and even harder to target the individual food or foods causing issues. Constant itching, scratching, watery stools, ear inflammation, swollen paws, excessive licking, and gassiness are some of the obvious symptoms, but others such as chronic ear infections, or several bowl movements per day can also be signs.
Because ingredients cannot be separated in dog food, it can take trial and error of eliminating specific ingredients. Many people will begin with a homemade diet (chicken and rice, for example), and add food back, one ingredient at a time. With elimination diets, it can take up to 12 weeks before proteins and other allergens are out of a dog’s system making the process slow and tedious. Blood draws, which have been the traditional way of testing food allergies, have proven ineffective for dogs, thus making the elimination diet one of the only effective methods for diagnosing and treating food allergies.
If your dog shows signs of allergies and you think that they might be food related, there are a few things you can do to find out for sure. Look at the primary ingredients in your dog’s food and make a change. Because protein is a big allergen, change to a food with a different protein. Also, try a food without grain or dairy, which are also big culprits. Before starting a new food, begin with a diet of chicken and rice for four weeks and then make the transition. While it can take a lot of work and time to pinpoint the allergen, it is well worth the effort, for the health of your pet.