Dogs can get upset tummies just like people, especially whenever they eat something they are not supposed to. But when a dog develops a food intolerance, a food allergy, or a food sensitivity, there are a number of symptoms that they can develop, and that can make their pet owners confused and worried at the same time.
In some of these cases, even if the dog is tested for various allergens, a clear and accurate diagnosis might be impossible to make. That’s where an elimination diet comes in handy, as it could determine the exact food group that your canine friend might have problems with.
In today’s article, we’re looking at some of the basics of food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, the symptoms you can expect in all of these situations, the difference between all of them, and how you can apply an elimination diet for your pet.
Why would your dog need an elimination diet?
Besides one of the reasons we’ve previously mentioned, mainly the fact that the source of the allergy remains unknown despite the diagnosis and therapies attempted by a veterinarian, dogs can benefit from an elimination diet because they might be allergic to one or more different things at the same time.
The most common food ingredients that our canine friends become sensitive, intolerant, or allergic to are the following:
If you think that feeding your pet the same diet time and again throughout their life is a good idea, think again. When exposed to the same ingredient every single day, dogs can develop serious food sensitivities, not to mention the fact that they can also get bored of their kibble or canned food.
Apart from these ingredients, dogs can also develop allergies as a result of being exposed to the typical preservatives, artificial colors, stabilizers, and whatever other chemicals that can now be found in commercial pet food, especially cheap varieties.
Is your dog sensitive, allergic, or intolerant to a food group?
Although the term that has become an umbrella for all of these conditions over the past years is ‘allergy’, and that’s what your vet might use when diagnosing your dog, the truth is that all of these three outcomes have different clinical manifestations.
A dog can be both allergic and sensitive to a food group, which means that they can experience symptoms of both conditions.
Food sensitivities are perhaps the least severe of the three in the sense that dogs that have them will experience some type of digestive distress like diarrhea, bloating, or vomiting but will not go on to have full-blown allergic reactions.
Food intolerances are a bit more serious in terms of the clinical signs they cause, so the dog will develop a more challenging indigestion case, might experience abdominal pain, and might get itchy or develop skin inflammation or erythema on various body parts.
If your dog is truly allergic to something, you will know not only due to their digestive symptoms but also because they might develop potentially life-threatening complications such as not being able to breathe and not being able to swallow, along with other signs of them going into anaphylactic shock – such as tachycardia, hypotension, shock, and loss of consciousness.
Fortunately, situations where a dog is truly allergic to a food type to the point that they experience an anaphylactic shock are rare – most dogs develop allergic dermatitis that can lead to all sorts of additional complications such as skin infections, ear infections, hair loss, and more.
How to set up an elimination diet for a dog
If your canine friend has been showing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned above, refer to a vet before attempting to discover the source of your pet’s allergy/sensitivity. The reason we’re urging you to go to the vet first is that you really can’t know whether your dog is indeed allergic to a food ingredient or something entirely different.
Changing your dog’s food brand doesn’t mean you’re putting them on an elimination diet. Many pet food manufacturers these days, especially those that you might have heard of before, use a lot of the same ingredients. You can actually put your dog on an elimination diet by opting for a novel protein or carbohydrate source from the same brand.
Switching from chicken kibble from one company to chicken kibble made by another is not going to solve anything – especially if your dog is allergic to chicken.
Your vet can recommend a therapeutic diet with unique ingredients that not only eliminates the ones they might have become sensitive to, but might actually solve some of the clinical manifestations – for example, some diets are made specifically for skin health, so they may contain ingredients such as biotin or omega 3 fatty acids.
After your vet tells you what you need to eliminate from your dog’s diet and what it needs to be replaced with, you can feed your dog the new diet for a period of at least two to three months. This is necessary because you have to be able to assess how the condition is progressing, whether it’s responding to the new food or not. Make sure you jot down your dog’s symptoms for the entire period of the trial so that you can communicate them to your vet.
You can also feed your dog a home-cooked diet if you have the time to prepare it, but please make sure to refer to your veterinarian so that the result is nutritionally balanced for this species.
To give you a clue as to what protein sources you may be able to use for an elimination diet, here are a few ideas:
- Pork or lamb (if you haven’t fed your dog a lamb or pork diet before)
- Kangaroo or wallaby
In terms of carbohydrate sources, some suggestions are the following:
- Sweet potatoes
- Black beans
Another note that we have to make is that elimination diets have to be as rigid as possible. This means that you are not allowed to give your dog any treats or even standard medications such as dewormers for that time – if your dog has parasites, treat them before you start the elimination diet.
In most cases, elimination trials are quite successful, with more than half of the pets they are performed on experiencing an improvement in terms of their symptoms. Itchiness, skin redness and skin inflammation can be significantly reduced, and so can any digestive distress coming from your dog’s sensitivity to certain food ingredients.