It's not uncommon for dogs to have food allergies, and dealing with this issue can be difficult. It takes dedication and time to figure out what foods cause problems, and a lot of effort to create a diet plan that will ensure your dog’s long-term health. Here's what you should know about this diet.
What are Food Allergies?
Dogs can suffer from allergies just like humans do, and about 10% of all allergy cases in dogs are food allergies (Verlinden et al. 2006). This is a genetic problem and it's triggered by exposure to the food that dogs are inherently allergic to. In addition to genetics, the environment can also play a certain role in developing food allergies.
The road to diagnosis is a complicated one. The first thing to do is to eliminate other possible allergies, like skin or blood allergies, which is done with simple commercial food tests using the elimination diet. Multiple studies have shown that the most common ingredients that cause food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy products, chicken, lamb, fish, chicken eggs, corn, wheat and soy (Mandigers et al. 2010).
Breeds or gender has no relation to food allergies. All kinds of dogs, both female and male, as well as neutered/spayed and non-fixed dogs are an equal probability of experiencing food allergies. Symptoms of food allergies can appear any time throughout the dog's life, in puppies of 6 months and up to senior dogs of 12 years old.
Dog's food allergy or food intolerance?
Food intolerance in dogs is different to food allergies (Griffin et al. 2001). If your pooch has a food intolerance, he's likely to experience usual symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea rather than typical allergic reactions. Food allergy, on the other hand, will have your dog itching, and there are likely to be associated skin problems.
Dog Food Allergies and Diet
The first thing to do if your dog has food allergies is to start with an elimination diet, or a food sensitivity diet, to figure out which ingredients are responsible for adverse reactions. This means that you should take your canine off all the food you’ve been feeding him and put him on a limited ingredient diet with novel proteins that he never ate before (Tapp et al. 2002).
Once the food allergy symptoms subside, you should start introducing back the old foods that you suspect have caused the problem. If your dog reacts badly to it, you have found your culprit. Some dogs are allergic to multiple foods, and to do this process properly, you should coordinate this with veterinary check-ups.
You shouldn’t feed your dog any treats or rawhide bones while you administer the elimination diet. Since it takes around six weeks for allergens to leave your dog’s body, any foods other than those included in the sensitivity diet that you chose can harm your dog and bring the allergy back.
Food Sensitivity and Allergy Diets
Consult with your veterinarian about the plan to rule out food sensitivities in your dog and which allergy dog foods to pick. There are many variations of formulas to choose from, but there are three most popular ones that show the best results.
Novel protein diet – This diet has you pick a single source of protein for your dog, usually in form of some non-typical meat that your canine has never eaten before. Some popular choices include salmon, buffalo, duck, or venison. Since your dog never had this type of protein before, chances that he never developed an allergy to it are pretty high.
Hydrolyzed protein diet – This diet consists of proteins that have been broken down into small pieces of amino acids that make up the protein. Since they are small, your canine’s body probably won’t notice the protein, allowing your dog to avoid an allergic reaction. Most hypoallergenic dog food diets are made of hydrolyzed protein.
Therapeutic diet – This diet is basically novel or hydrolyzed protein diet, but with higher levels of omega fatty acids because they can decrease the symptoms of food allergies. You'll only be able to acquire this type of diet through your veterinarian, and these dog foods are usually the most expensive.
Dietary Guidelines for Food Allergies
Once you pinpoint the foods that cause your dog’s food allergies, you'll need to avoid those trigger foods. Look for these foods in your dog’s treats and medications, as well as anything else he ingests. For example, some toothpastes made for dogs have chicken as an ingredient, and if your dog is allergic to chicken, this can cause a reaction as well.
If your dog shows some symptoms of food allergies after you have eliminated the trigger food, that means that he might have another allergy. You might have to do the elimination diet again if that's the case.
Pick commercial foods that are easy on the dog's stomach, and if cooking for the dog, then make all meals easily digestible for the dog – cook starchy vegetables and healthy wholesome grains that you sure are your pooch isn't sensitive to.
In order to make your dog’s digestion process easier, feed him more often in smaller meals.
Foods to Avoid
What foods you should avoid in your dog’s diet depends on what he is allergic to. If he is only allergic to one specific food, that is the only thing you should avoid. If he is allergic to multiple foods, then you should avoid them all.
Foods to Include
After you determine the foods that you should avoid, then find the best possible substitutions for them. There are many options out there, regardless of what your dog is allergic to.
If your dog is allergic to some of the common protein sources like chicken, lamb, beef or fish, you can simply make a change to other protein sources. Turkey, duck, rabbit, pork, venison, buffalo and other exotic meats are all great substitutes for the protein source your dog is allergic to.
Eggs are also a good protein source, but animal-based proteins are better for your dog. They are the best source of important amino acids, which are necessary for growth, repair and reproduction since they are the foundation for his organs, tissues, cells and antibodies.
Even though carbohydrates are not nutritionally necessary for dogs, they are good for his intestinal health and they provide your canine with energy. Carbs are also a natural source of antioxidants, fiber and trace minerals.
If your dog is allergic to grains like wheat and corn, you should substitute them with brown rice, barley or barley flour, rice flour, potato flour or any other flour that is not made of corn and wheat. Keep these to a very minimum, as your dog doesn't really need that many carbs, especially those with high glycemic index.
Most fruits and vegetables are also rich in carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, pumpkin, apples, pears, etc. They will be lower in calories and higher in fiber, which is why they should be your first choice for the source of carbs.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins are important because they help your dog’s metabolism, while minerals are good for his bones and teeth. Both of these ingredients are found in many things, especially in vegetables and fruits like apples, pears, pumpkin, beet, carrots, turnip, green beans, broccoli, etc.
Dairy products are also rich in minerals. However, many dogs are allergic to dairy, or even lactose intolerant, and if that is the case, you should stick to fruits and veggies. As far as dairy goes, even if your dog is not allergic, you should stick to low-fat cheeses, like cottage cheese.
The best source of minerals are organ meats, like heart, liver, kidney or lungs.
Fat is a great source of energy, but it also protects the organs of your dog and provides insulation. Fats from sources like fish (salmon or sardines), fish oil, flax-seed oil are also rich in essential fatty acids like omega-3, which are extremely important for healing purposes and their anti-inflammatory properties. Other good fat sources can be other meats, poultry, eggs, pumpkin seed oil and soybean oil.
Probiotics are great for your dog’s digestive system and they can help him with his food allergies as well. Studies have shown probiotics help with many allergic reactions in humans but there are no trials with dogs yet. You can use probiotic supplements or just put a couple of teaspoons of yogurt in your dog’s meal to help him with digestion.
Homemade Dog Food for Food Allergies
The safest way to ensure that your dog is protected from foods that trigger his food allergy is to make your own food from scratch. Many commercial foods are made from ingredients that are themselves made from other ingredients. For example, corn is used in many commercial foods, in one form or another.
However, if you haven’t cooked for your dog before, before you switch to a homemade diet you should talk to your vet or an animal nutritionist in order to ensure that your diet is well-balanced and nutritional enough.
Here are a couple of video examples of homemade dog food for allergies:
Chicken and Carrot Meal
This meal is pretty simple to make, so if you are just starting to cook for your dog, you might want to consider this recipe. It is also great for his digestive tract because it has potatoes and carrots which are full of fiber to help his digestion.
- 1 1/2 tablespoon of cottage cheese
- 1/2 pound of fried, ground chicken
- ½ cup of grated carrots
- 1 cup of mashed potatoes
Mix carrots, mashed potatoes and chicken in a pot until all the ingredients are distributed evenly. Then put them in the microwave oven and heat them for 3-4 minutes. After the mix cools off, add cottage cheese and serve it to your dog.
Remember that you can always substitute any ingredient from the recipe if your dog is allergic to it. If your dog is allergic to chicken, use different meat, like turkey or duck. If he is allergic to dairy, simply don’t use cottage cheese or any cheese at all, your dog will still love this recipe.