If your dog is suffering from itchy skin, hair loss, skin infections, recurrent ear infections or chews his paws, then he could be one of the growing number of dogs who suffer from food allergies. While food allergies can be frustrating to diagnose and require time and patience in order to remedy, with perseverance and the help of your veterinarian, your dog can live a long, happy life.
Because food allergies in dogs tend to develop over time, it isn’t unusual for dogs that have been eating the same diet for a long time to begin to develop symptoms of an allergy. Studies have shown that the most common culprits of food allergies are beef, chicken, wheat, eggs, corn and soy- and yes, these most common allergens are in fact the most common ingredients in commercially prepared pet foods. Dogs who suffer from food allergies may be allergic to just one ingredient, or many of them.
Common Symptoms of a Food Allergy
Symptoms of food allergies can be varied in both presentation and severity, which makes diagnosing allergies as the culprit more difficult. The most common symptoms include itchy skin, hot spots and hair loss, excessive chewing of the paws and recurrent ear infections. All of these might respond to and improve with symptomatic treatment such as steroids and antibiotics, but often come right back as soon as the treatment is stopped.
Because the symptoms of food allergies are also the symptoms of many other maladies, it is very important that you work with your vet to ensure that any other underlying problems, such as flea-bite allergies, skin infections, yeast infections, atopy and mange, are ruled out or treated. If all other causes of your dogs skin problems have been ruled out, it is time to look into food allergies as the culprit.
Unfortunately, there is no one-stop test or trial to diagnose and treat food allergies in dogs. The best way to diagnose a food allergy is through a food trial, where many of the most common allergens are eliminated from the pets diet. This “elimination diet” consists of one single, source of protein (such as rabbit, venison, duck, fish) and one single source of protein (potato, rice) that the dog has never eaten before. This diet must be strictly fed for at least 12 weeks in order to determine if the diet is causing a reduction in symptoms. It is essential during this time that the special diet is the only food the dog receives- no treats or table scraps allowed, as these can negate the effect of the trial diet.
Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the appropriate trial diet for your dog. Many of these diets are made available only through your veterinarian, and made by companies such as Hills, Iams and Purina. It should also be noted that although diets made from lamb and rice are not as commonly the culprits of allergies, a lamb and rice diet should not be used to conduct a food trial, as these are not novel food sources, and will be less likely to effect dramatic improvement in your dog.
If you prefer to make your dogs food at home, the same trial diet can be accomplished by carefully formulating a diet made of a novel protein and carbohydrate source. In order to ensure that the homemade diet is not deficient in necessary nutrients, you may need to consult a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to help properly formulate a homemade trial diet.
If your dog shows a vast improvement on the trial diet, you can choose to either keep them on that diet to help continue to prevent allergies, or you can begin to slowly re-introduce trigger foods, one by one, and see if the symptoms recur. If there is no recurrence of the original allergic skin or other signs, then the dog is not allergic to that ingredient. By repeating this several times with other ingredients, you will be able to chose a commercial diet that can be fed to your dog without side effects.
While lengthy and sometimes frustrating, conducting a food trial truly is the best way to diagnose a food allergy. Although many companies offer blood or skin testing to help determine food allergies in dogs, repeated studies have not shown the efficacy of these tests. While blood and skin allergy testing works very well for diagnosing inhalant and environmental allergies, conducting a food trial is the most effective diagnostic test to accurately test for and treat dog food allergies.