Being a loving and devoted dog owner you probably always make sure that your dog is comfortable as possible, and keep a keen eye out for any signs or symptoms they may not be. Being that its spring, and the start of flea season, you may interpret your dog’s itching, scratching, and rubbing all over the carpet and furniture as a flea infestation and run out for flea meds and foggers.
It could be fleas, don’t get me wrong, those little buggers are extremely difficult to keep out of the house and off your dog; however, there could be other possible options if your canine continues to itch and scratch after being continuously treated month after month. Ruling out fleas is easy since we can see them, environmental stimulants aren’t as easy and require a trip to the vet for further testing, but one thing you can try at home before heading to the vet’s office is determining whether it’s a food allergy.
Yes, just like us humans who can be allergic to certain foods, or ingredients in foods (peanuts, wheat, etc.), our dogs can grow to develop such an allergy to theirs. Even if your canine has been eating the same food for months or years, he/she can still develop sensitivity to one of the ingredients in that food even with no prior problems. Over time their immune system can acquire enough antibodies to finally result in an allergic reaction.
Some dog owners can easily and often confuse food intolerance with a food allergy, so let’s clear that up:
- Food intolerance often appears as a bad reaction to a food the first time your dog eats it, is often caused by a toxin in the food, and usually takes the form of intestinal distress (nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, and/or vomiting).
- Food allergy exhibits symptoms of severe itchy skin, chronic ear problems, and dogs will usually lick their paws, and chew on their legs and feet.
Now that’s distinguished, let’s dive in on how this can be done at home (I suggest discussing this with your dog’s veterinarian before attempting to change your dog’s diet for any reason).
Finding the Source of the Allergy
In the past, the main allergens that tend to affect dogs the most are dairy products, cereal grains, and beef. When getting started on determining if your dog’s dealing with a food allergy, your best bet is to try and eliminate all of these from his/her diet, and feed a single protein and single carbohydrate you’ve never fed before for approximately two or three months. This is called an “elimination trial” diet, and it will be able to tell you if the change in diet has been working. Because a food allergy tends to take months, or years to develop, your dog should not become allergic, or exhibit signs of an allergy during that two or three months you’re doing the trial.
Here is a list of items you should try to avoid, and eliminate from your dog’s diet:
- Wheat, Barley, Rye (bread, snack crackers, treats, wheat/gluten, etc)
- Dairy Products (milk, cheese, whey, casein, dried skim milk, etc.)
- Corn (including corn gluten meal)
- Beef & Fish (only if allergy symptoms are present/persistent because these are “secondary” allergies)
- Artificial preservatives and colors (you want to see “preserved with Vitamin E”)
By eliminating these from the diet, you’ll be getting rid of 80% of all food allergens, including the three major sources of food intolerance (gluten, casein, and soy). You’ll also have to consider the types of treats, table food, and stop offering chew treats (raw hides, bones, etc.) too. For example, even Milk Bones® are full of wheat, artificial preservatives, and animal proteins many pets are allergic to, so you should take great care to read the list of ingredients before purchasing them. (If you need information about reading a dog food label, you can visit one of my previous posts HERE.)
Your vet may recommend a commercial food which will suit the purposes of your elimination trial diet, or suggest preparing your dog’s food at home. However, one precaution if you do decide to make it at home is to make it nutritionally balanced with all the essential vitamins, trace minerals, and fatty acids necessary to maintain proper canine health. A supplement may need to be added to the diet in order to achieve this, such as Pet-Tabs.
Here is a list of some recommended commercial diets that may work well with your elimination trial diet (be sure that you full read the list of ingredients before purchasing because not all flavors will work with the trial diet):
- Canidae Pet Foods
- Eagle Pack Holistic Select Lamb Meal & Rice Formula
- Hill’s Science Diet (potato-based foods)
- I.V.D. Potato-based Diets (available through your veterinarian)
- Lambaderm by NaturalLife
- Merrick Before Grain
- Natura California Naturals
- Solid Gold Barking At the Moon
- Timerwolf Organics (Dakota™ Bison Canid Formula)
- Wellness CORE
The list above is only a few of the diets that may be recommended by your vet to help determine if food allergies is truly the cause for your dog’s itching. If you have any questions about any specific diet that you find, check the ingredients against the common dog food allergens list I mentioned in the section above, and then contact your veterinarian to see if he/she feels it is appropriate for your dog’s personal medical situation.
If your dog’s symptoms have seriously improved after two or three months on the elimination trial diet, you’ll know that a food allergy has been the issue. But if your dog’s symptoms haven’t improved, or possibly worsened, you’ll probably have to take more invasive measures to determine the cause. There are blood tests available that can help you to identify other food allergies, environmental allergens that are affecting your dog which can tell you which specific ones are the cause of your dog’s problem.
So, if your dog is constantly biting and itching, and you are certain that fleas are not responsible, talk to your vet about what you can do to determine if a food allergy could be the culprit!
For more information you can check out this eBook HERE.