This is an all too common story: “My dog scratches nonstop. It licks and chews on its tail. It does this to no end, as if doing so provides relief. But obviously, there’s no relief because the gnawing and scratching just goes on and on.
I can see my dog wounding itself if I don’t do something quick.”
In moments like this, many pet owners are quick to blame food allergies. So much so when itching is accompanied by stomach upsets. The internet is flooded with websites touting about the best dog food for allergies. It’s tempting to simply buy these products and, fingers crossed, hope things will improve the day after.
Intense itching is a symptom of various diseases including allergy, insect bites, pyoderma, alopecia X, yeast infections, and Cushing’s disease. Likewise, stomach upset is a symptom of dozens of underlying conditions. Pancreatitis and food intolerance are just a couple of likely causes of gastrointestinal issues.
So how do I know if my dog actually has food allergy?
How we wished there was a short and sweet way to walk you through food allergy in dogs. Unfortunately, there isn’t, but we can answer basic questions to help you make decisions.
What is food allergy in dogs? Explained in very simple words.
Food allergy occurs when your dog’s immune system sees harmless food ingredients as intruders. Talk about mistaken identity. It immediately launches war against the perceived enemy and releases antibodies and histamines.
Antibodies are made of plasma cells and white blood cells. They are the soldiers that fight intruders (a.k.a. arch-enemies or antigens).
Histamines, on the other hand, are chemicals that carry messages to nerve cells. They also dilate blood vessels and make them more porous. This is necessary to allow white blood cells and plasma to seep through the walls of veins and arteries. In other words, histamines make it easy for the soldiers to reach the area where there’s supposed to be a war or intrusion.
Unfortunately, histamines also cause the skin to itch and get swollen. The same chemicals cause the secretion of gastric acid.
These acids kill harmful bacteria and break down food (again, the intruder). Unfortunately, gastric acid is also responsible for vomiting and stomach upsets. If you’ve seen how sometimes good intentions go awry, this should sound familiar.
That’s food allergy in a nutshell the immune system
mistakenly identifies a harmless ingredient as intruder.
While the dog’s natural defense wages war against the enemy, it unleashes certain chemicals that cause itching and sometimes gastric problems.
How do vets diagnose food allergy?
Vets are the best person to conduct tests and to diagnose food allergies. He or she will guide you to identify the offender and prescribe the best dog food for allergies.
- It starts with history taking. Be prepared to answer questions, which will be exhaustive, not to mention exhausting.
- The vet will examine your dog’s nose, eyes, ears and skin. He will also confirm or rule out the presence of fleas and parasites during this clinical observation.
- Intradermal allergy testing may be conducted. Hopefully this will expose the allergen (e.g. pollen, dust mites, molds, dander, shampoo, and other particles your dog is exposed to in your locality).
- If the previous step is unsuccessful, the vet will proceed to food elimination diet. This procedure is also called exclusion diet. It is the standard method used to confirm food allergy and identify the trigger.
What happens during a food elimination diet?
Common protein sources, like chicken, beef, and pork, are the main suspects in food allergy cases.
Corn, wheat, and dairy are also known to trigger reactions.
In an elimination diet, the vet will use a base diet in place of your dog’s usual fare. This diet normally contains a novel protein and a novel carb. There will be minimal ingredients.
Expect this procedure to take some time. Meanwhile, the vet will prescribe soothing shampoos, itch cream for dogs, and antihistamines to relieve discomfort and pain. The vet will be able to confirm food allergy when the symptoms subside several days after carrying out the exclusion diet.
You will then reintroduce your dog’s usual food one by one.
You have to closely coordinate with your dog’s vet. Report your dog’s reaction to each food. If symptoms recur after feeding a particular food or ingredient, it means one thing – you’ve found the allergen.
What is the best dog food for allergies?
We have mentioned about novel food, which are what you feed your dog in the course of an elimination diet. During this period, the best dog food for allergies will have the following characteristics:
- It does not contain the usual ingredients that your dog normally eats.
- Instead, it contains a novel protein (maybe venison, kangaroo, or lamb meat) and a novel carb source (potato instead of wheat).
- There has to be limited ingredients. Fewer ingredients means there’s less chance that your dog has an allergy to the ingredients. A limited-ingredient diet does not mean limited nutrition, so choose brands that provide balanced nutrition.
- Vets may also recommend prescription diets. These special diets contain hydrolyzed protein, which will not likely trigger allergy responses.
Remember, these diets do not prevent allergy.
They’re just a way to provide your dog proper nutrition while you and your vet isolate the problem.
Based on the results of the elimination diet, the vet will help you find the best dog food for allergies. This will become your dog’s regular food. It may or may not be the same food that you used as base food or novel food. What’s important is that it does not include the identified allergens.
The moral of the story is that you can’t do guesswork with your dog’s itching. There are countless possible reasons for skin and stomach issues. You have to know what exactly ails your dog. By gambling on random solutions, you will only be prolonging your dog’s agony.
Remember – Do it right and do it quick!
Before you buy the best dog food for allergies, refer first to a veterinarian for proper diagnosis. And, whatever you do, don’t give up!