Firstly: Let’s Identify What a Food Allergy Actually is:
When a dog has an allergic reaction, their immune system reacts and produces antibodies against some part of the food. Food allergies usually take time to develop and can manifest after your dog has been exposed to one brand, type, or form of food for a while.
What are the Symptoms?
Food allergies in your dog can be obvious or elusive. They can materialize as dermatological (skin) or gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) signs. They result from an immune-mediated hypersensitivity reaction to dietary proteins. Your dog may be extra itchy or they could be vomiting or having diarrhea. It’s important to observe your furry best friend for any signs of discomfort if you suspect a food allergy.
How to identify a dog food allergy
There are a lot of potential food allergens due to multiple ingredient content in commercial pet foods. It can be difficult to know which ingredient is the culprit.
The most common food allergens in dogs are proteins, especially beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, and soy. So, if you’re worried your pet has an allergy to the current food or treats you are feeding, your vet will likely ask you to perform an elimination trial. A food elimination trial is the gold standard (or the best) method to accurately diagnose food allergies in dogs. A food elimination trial consists of three steps:
- Eliminating the food allergen (i.e dietary protein source)
- The trial period with a very strict elimination diet containing either a novel protein source or a hydrolyzed protein source
- Re-challenge period with previous food to observe for any recurrence of clinical signs pointing to the food allergy
Options to Eliminate a Food Allergen
You have a couple of options. Firstly, you can try a novel or new protein source which should be something your dog has never been exposed to. For example, if you have been feeding your dog a chicken-based diet, you may be asked to try a novel protein like fish or insects. This is to see if your dog’s symptoms go away. Not only will this take time, but it also requires a lot of communication between pet owner and veterinarian. Your vet must be able to get a lifetime nutritional history to make sure the protein is novel.
Additionally, your vet may recommend trying a commercial hydrolyzed protein diet as an allergy treatment option. Hydrolysis uses water to chemically break down proteins into very small pieces so the dog’s immune system will not react to them. It’s important to consult your vet to figure out if a novel or hydrolyzed protein diet is the best option to try.
Exclusivity is KEY!
After finding the novel protein or hydrolyzed protein source, feeding that diet exclusively is imperative to the elimination trial working! This means no treats or other foods that may contain the offending ingredients.
Diagnosis & Management of a Dog food Allergy
The final step to successfully diagnosing a food allergy is to re-introduce. After the elimination trial, you can then re-introduce your former food to see if any symptoms recur. If they do, then a food allergy diagnosis can be made.
Usually, the only treatment to food allergies is avoidance of the specific food your dog may be allergic to. With an ever-growing market of novel protein diets and hydrolyzed diet options available this isn’t as impossible as it may sound. Check out our resource on hypoallergenic dog food to learn more!