Discovering what individual foods a dog is allergic to or has an intolerance to is difficult.
In Food Allergies and Intolerances: Part 1 we defined food allergies and intolerances. The symptoms were explained as well as the problems associated with each. If you haven’t yet read that article, you might want to as this article is a follow up to the first one.
Although allergy tests have gotten much better over the years and can reliably identify allergies to many substances, including pollens, molds, mildews and many other things, they are not yet good enough to identify foods that cause allergic reactions. The best test to determine a food allergy is one that has been in use for many years—the elimination diet (often also called a food trial).
What is an Elimination Diet?
In an elimination diet, your dog is fed a new (to him) protein and new (to him) carbohydrate. This might be something like rabbit and quinoa or venison and barley. These should be foods he hasn’t eaten previously and no other foods are to be provided; he’s allowed to eat only these new foods.
This severely restricted diet is to be fed for at least 12 weeks, although in some cases your veterinarian might even recommend that it be followed for 16 weeks. At the end of this time period, your veterinarian will ask if your dog’s allergy symptoms have changed, lessened or disappeared. If the symptoms have not significantly gotten better, then the problem is not a food allergy. If the symptoms have gotten better but are not gone, your veterinarian might suggest a second food trial with a different protein and carbohydrate.
If the symptoms have disappeared, then your veterinarian will have you introduce one new food at a time, usually one a week or one every two weeks, and have you watch for reactions. If a reaction appears, then you can identify the cause of the reaction. For example, if your dog is eating rabbit and quinoa and all his symptoms disappear, then your veterinarian might have you add chicken on the first week, turkey on the second week, and beef on the third. If your dog is fine until he’s had beef for several days, then you know beef is one allergy trigger and your vet will have you stop feeding the beef. That doesn’t mean you’re done though, as your dog might be allergic to more than one food. Most dogs with food allergies are sensitive to a few foods, some to many.
Elimination Diet Tips
The food your veterinarian recommends for your dog to eat during the food trial depends on what he’s eating now, what symptoms your dog is showing and the severity of the symptoms. Because there are few commercial foods that contain only one protein and one carbodydrate with no other ingredients (including no flavorings, no artificial colors, preservatives or other ingredients) it’s often much easier to cook your dog’s new diet yourself. However, your vet may have a commercial diet in mind, and some recommend a prescription diet.
During this time while you’re feeding the elimination diet, do not give your dog any other foods or treats. That means no training treats, no dog biscuits, no chews, not even any flavored toys. Talk to your veterinarian before giving any food-based or flavored medications such as heartworm preventives. Stop any nutritional supplements and vitamins unless your veterinarian recommends them.
Food Allergies and Intolerances: Part 2 | The Honest Kitchen Blog