Just like people, our four legged friends can have allergies too. Sometimes pet allergies are seasonal, often they can be allergic to dust, flea bites or even grass (poor puppy!). Still other times, your dog may exhibit allergic reactions to the food that they eat.
So what is a dog owner to do?
You may want to start feeding your dog a limited ingredient diet to help narrow down the allergen affecting him.
What is a Limited Ingredient Diet?
Just as the name implies, a limited ingredient diet (or ‘Hypoallergenic’) dog food is a food that, you guessed it, contains limited ingredients. Usually, these dog and cat foods will contain protein in a reduced amount, or have limited sources of proteins (since dogs are most likely to have a reaction to proteins).
Since these foods have fewer ingredients, they can help reduce the possibility of a pet having a negative reaction to a particular host of ingredients. Additionally, if your dog’s allergy persists, a limited ingredient diet will help to easier identify the ingredient causing the issue.
Often referred to as LID, a limited ingredient diet is a diet plan that can be used to;
Pin down a specific allergen that is affecting your dog in a negative way
Feed dogs that demonstrate sensitivities to other foods
In other words…sometimes less ‘ingredients’ is more!
What Causes Food Allergies in Dogs?
The terms ‘allergy’ and ‘hypersensitivity’ are used to describe immunologic reactions to food allergens. In order for your dog to exhibit a negative reaction to one of these allergens, he must first be introduced to an allergen that his body doesn’t agree with. Sometimes this can take months to even present itself, and becomes even more difficult to identify if you switch your dog’s foods often.
Dogs with food allergies are typically allergic to proteins. Beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken are the most common ingredients to cause an allergic reaction, however other ingredients have been found to bother our furry friends.
Symptoms of Food Allergies in Dogs
Have you noticed your best friend licking at her paws? She could be having a reaction to her diet. Note: She could also have a yeast or bacterial infection, another health problem that needs to be identified by a vet. Make an appointment with your vet if you have any concerns
The following signs could signify that your dog has a food allergy:
- Heavy and persistent licking of the paws, and groin area
- Itching that occurs year round, not just seasonally
- Habitual scratching that leads to red, raw and irritated skin patches
- Skin infections, bacterial, fungal or yeast infections
- Vomiting, diarrhea, frequent bowel movements, gas
When Should I Feed my Dog a Limited Ingredient Diet
If your dog is exhibiting any of the above signs, you may want to consider a food trial. Using a ‘hypoallergenic’ dog food can be the most reliable way to identify that your dog has problems with food allergies.
Look for dog foods that are hypoallergenic, limited ingredient, and contain ‘novel’ proteins. A novel protein is one that is ‘new’ to your dog, or one that is not commonly used in commercial dog foods.
Examples of novel proteins are:
Once you choose a hypoallergenic, or limited ingredient dog food, feed that food to your dog for 8-10 weeks. It is important to avoid all other foods and treats during this time period. Remember, we are trying to pin-down the allergen affecting your dog.
Within 4-6 weeks, you’ll probably notice a difference in your dog, but don’t stop there. Some dogs will require the entire 2-3 months to show results.
Once the food allergy has been diagnosed, switch your dog’s food back to what they were eating before your 8-10 week trial (the food you believe was causing the allergic reactions). Within a week or so, if your diagnosis was correct, you’ll notice your little buddy showing the same signs they did before the new diet. If so, congratulations—you’ve found their food allergy!
Public Service Announcement: If you are unsure or not confident in your ability to identify food allergies, please visit your vet immediately.