There’s no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog food, one that any dog with a food allergy could eat, after which any previous signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction would disappear. Most of the hypoallergenic foods that are on the market tend to be effective to at least some extent, but as is often the case, a food item that causes an allergic reaction in one dog will not necessarily cause a reaction in another. Dogs are much like humans in that respect. You can eat all the peanut butter you wish to, but a friend of yours may have to avoid peanut butter altogether. Not all dogs have allergies and of those that do have them, not all have the same allergies. In addition, the allergies most dogs have are usually not even food allergies.
If you suspect your pet has some food allergies, you could simply switch over to a hypoallergenic dog treat. You might luck out in that many of these commercial foods have managed to eliminate what would be the most likely allergens. On the other hand, finding out what your household pet is allergic to, and finding out if it even has an allergy, can be a long, involved process. The following are nine steps you can take to treat and resolve any problems your canine pal may be having that could be associated with any food allergy. These steps do not necessarily have to be done in order, nor will you necessarily have to go through all of them. With luck, your efforts may come to a successful conclusion after only having gone through step 1 or 2.
1) Determine the Allergy Is Indeed a Food Allergy
Food allergies are not very common among dogs. In fact, they account for no more than about 10 percent of the allergies dogs can experience. The leading cause of canine allergies is fleabite. Quite naturally, a dog’s immune system will respond accordingly to a fleabite when it senses a toxic or foreign substance present, but in some instances, the immune system will overreact, just as is the case with humans, and the dog will suffer an allergic reaction. The second most common cause of canine allergies is an atopy. An atopy is an allergy from something that has been inhaled. The leading causes of atopy are house dust, molds, and pollen. Canine food allergies are the third most common type. What all this means is that if your pet is showing signs and symptoms of having an allergy of some kind, the cause is much more likely to be fleas or something in the air that is being inhaled rather than something in its canine snacks.
2) Determine if the Symptoms Are Those of an Allergy or Food Intolerance
One’s dog may not have an allergy at all, even when there are indications that might seem to indicate otherwise. If your dog has food intolerance, it means there are certain foods it cannot eat, or more precisely, there are foods the dog can eat, but cannot digest. In this particular case, the immune system is not involved and any symptoms that are experienced are not the result of an allergic reaction. Determining whether you’re dealing with food allergy or intolerance usually lies within diagnosing the symptoms. When a dog has any food allergy, the symptoms are usually those of an itching skin or some other skin problem. Chronic ear infections are often symptomatic of a food allergy. If it’s a case of food intolerance, the symptoms you will observe will most likely be diarrhea, vomiting, or both. It should be mentioned however that vomiting and diarrhea can at times be symptoms of food allergy as well, but food intolerance does not cause the skin problems that an allergy can. The problem dogs will have in either case is they usually don’t associate their symptoms with what they’ve eaten and they will continue to eat foods over and over that cause allergic reactions or the symptoms associated with food intolerance – because they taste good! If the problem your pet is having does turn out to be a case of intolerance, you can follow the same steps as you would for any food allergy in order to find a type of food your canine buddy can eat without a problem, which can in some cases be hypoallergenic foods.
3) Look for Ingredients that Are More Common Causes of an Allergic Reaction
One thing that can be said about these hypoallergenic foods is that in most cases they have been formulated in a manner such that they have addressed the most common food allergies that dogs are apt to have, and are therefore safe for most dogs to eat. The most common allergies include chicken, wheat, and eggs. Some dogs are allergic to soy as well. If your pet is showing some of the symptoms of having an allergy, a good first step might be to check the ingredients of commercial foods you’re feeding it to see if any of those ingredients are included. If so, you may still have to go through a process of elimination, but at least you’ll have a head start.
4) Test Specially Formulated (Hypoallergenic) Foods
Another approach would be to simply switch over to specially formulated canine foods, one that claims to be hypoallergenic. If that solves your problem, you may not need to go any further. You might not ever find out what your dog is allergic to, but that may make no difference if your dog is made to stick to the new diet.
As far as the hypoallergenic foods are concerned, most are characterized by some special formulation, that is, what is in them. Others are characterized by what is not in them: chicken, wheat, or soy, for example. Some of these hypoallergenic foods contain what could only be described as novel or exotic food items, such as buffalo or emu meat. The reasoning behind novel ingredients is that they are most likely food items your canine pet has never tried before and is unlikely to be allergic too. Naturally, a 20-pound bag of canine food based on ostrich meat rather than beef is likely to be somewhat expensive. Hypoallergenic dog foods in general tend to cost a bit more since extra effort has gone into their formulation.
As noted above, this same approach can apply to the situation where your dog has intolerance. Hypoallergenic foods can sometimes be substituted to treat cases of food intolerance as well.
5) Try Switching from Kibbles to Canned Food, or Vice Versa
A food allergy will sometimes be caused by the way a food item is processed more so than by the food item itself. For example, if your pet is allergic to the beef found in kibbles, it may not be allergic to the beef that’s present in canned foods or for that matter a piece of cooked or raw beef. Preservatives added dog foods could sometimes be a source of an allergic reaction. You can always try switching from dry dog foods to canned foods that have many of the same ingredients to see if your pet’s allergy disappears, or vice versa. While switching, it may be a good idea to avoid giving your dog treats, since there’s always the possibility that the treats themselves could be to blame. Keep track of what you feed your pet, especially if you give it treats occasionally, as that information will be important to know if you plan on finding the source of your pet’s problem through a process of elimination.
6) Try Switching from One Brand to Another
One of the more interesting facts that have come out of a number of studies focusing on food allergies in dogs is that for the most part, dogs do not appear to be naturally allergic to any particular foods. Dogs tend to develop allergies rather than being born with them and these allergies tend to be associated with foods a dog commonly eats. This is one reason why simply switching a brand of canine foods might solve an allergy problem, another approach worth considering. A few dogs develop food allergies early on, but many do not until they have reached, for a dog, an advanced age. Another thing to take into account is the quality of foods you’re feeding your dog. If it is high-quality foods that keep your pet in the best of health, the indications are that it is much less likely to have a problem with allergies, one reason being that its immune system has not been allowed to become weakened.
7) Follow a Process of Food Trials and Elimination Diets
The best way, and often the only way, to determine which foods your dog is allergic to is to go through a series of food trials and/or elimination diets. While a blood test analysis would seem to be a much faster way of solving an allergy problem than food trials, which typically last for weeks, there is no evidence to indicate that blood tests are of any value in pinpointing allergies. Skin testing is quite often useful in diagnosing cases of atopy, but appears to be of little or no value in diagnosing food allergies.
Food trials can take a long time to determine whether a dog is sensitive to certain foods – up to 12 weeks according to those who are familiar with the process. A food trial usually consists of putting the dog on a novel diet, a novel diet being one the animal isn’t familiar with. Novel diets generally consist of foods rich in protein and carbohydrates, while the food items themselves can vary widely. If after 12 weeks or so the dog shows a marked improvement, it is slowly placed back on its original diet to see if the symptoms return. This is the only way to confirm that the allergy was caused by something in the original diet. If a dog does not respond positively to a novel food trial and the symptoms remain, another trial with another novel food must be attempted.
One of the most difficult aspects of any food trial, especially for the owner or handler, is that other food items must be kept away from dogs while the trial is in progress. This can be difficult or even impossible for dogs that are allowed to roam, but it is important if a trial is to be successful. Your pooch should not be given treats during the course of a trial, a possible exception being if the treat is based on the same ingredients that make up the novel diet. If you have more than one dog in your home, you may need to put the other dog or dogs on the same novel diet, which is unlikely to hurt them in any way, and you don’t have to worry about the dog that is being treated getting into another pet’s food.
8) Select Hypoallergenic Foods that Work or Develop Your Own Recipe
Finding hypoallergenic dog foods on the market isn’t usually very difficult. Your local supermarket may or may not carry one or more types of brands, but pet stores, feed stores, home and ranch stores, and many veterinarians will. It’s often best to check with your vet first in any event to get a recommendation as to which brand or type of dog foods might be best, especially if you intend to have your dog on a novel diet for some time.
If you have the time and love to experiment with things, you can create your own trial diets for your pet, adding and subtracting ingredients until you come up with a diet that does not give your canine buddy an allergic reaction or you’ve been able to pinpoint the exact source of the problems. You may need the assistance of a veterinarian or canine nutritionist, if one can be found; or you can read up on the subject if such assistance is not readily available. Professional dog handlers, trainers, and breeders can sometimes be good sources of information. One of the basic features of any diet you can create on your own should of course be that it provides the dog with the nutrition it needs over the weeks or months it is being held to that diet.
Many novel or trial diets are based on rice, with meat and vegetables then added. These trial dog foods are cooked of course, and they can usually be frozen for later use. Rice is most often used because wheat is one of the more common allergens. If your pet’s former dog foods were based on beef, try chicken, or if it was based on chicken, try lamb. A good assortment of vegetables to consider would be green beans, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Never add onions or any member of the onion family to the dog foods as they are highly toxic to dogs. In fact, if you’re planning on making your dog’s food rather than purchasing commercial foods, it’s a good idea to check first to see what is good for your dog to eat and what is not.
If you’ve had to go through every one of the above steps, you can be excused if you’ve found the experience to be a bit exhausting, but if you’ve been able to find the proper hypoallergenic foods for your canine best friend, you should be feeling quite a bit better and your beloved pet should as well. If you’ve ended up making your own pet foods, you’ll likely find it to be an interesting project and one you can take pride in. Who knows where that bit of success may lead you.