Feeding a Dog with Food Allergies

There was a time when feeding a dog with food allergies was hard.  You could only get hypoallergenic food from your veterinarian — and that was expensive.  Times have changed and you can get hypoallergenic dog food from most pet supermarkets.  However, the food the veterinarian sells is better for diagnosing allergies than the food pet supermarkets sell.  The food the veterinarian sells usually just has two products in it — a protein source and a carbohydrate source. Both are substances that the dog is unlikely to have had before, such as duck and peas.

How do you know if your dog is allergic to his food?  One clue is that he itches all over.  He may just itch on his feet or ears.  This is especially important if he itches more about thirty minutes or so after he eats.  He can also develop chronic ear and skin infections, vomit, develop diarrhea, or have excessive gas.

An allergy, or hyposensitivity, occurs when a dog develops an immunologic response to a food he has eaten before.  The food can be anything from wheat to duck.  Food intolerance occurs when the dog gets sick from his food.  This can happen the first time the dog eats it.  Both have similar symptoms and it usually takes a veterinarian to determine for certain what kind of reaction your dog is having.

When a dog eats something, it is digested into proteins.  These proteins are spread throughout the body to feed your dog’s cells.  At some point, your dog’s immune system misidentifies the protein from a food as a toxic substance and starts attacking it.  This is what makes the dog sick.

Diagnosing the food the dog is allergic to can be difficult.  The top offenders are beef, wheat, dairy, and chicken.  The veterinarian will put your dog on a strict diet with foods that dogs are rarely allergic to.  This is called an elimination diet.  You must not give your dog any treats or bites of food from the table or you will sabotage this diet.  Your dog will have to stay on this for eight to ten weeks.  If the dog’s itching goes away, then you know a food is the problem.  Feed his regular food for two weeks and if the scratching starts again, you know it is something in the food you are feeding him.

The dog goes back on the hypoallergenic food until the scratching stops.  He is then fed the hypoallergenic diet while his allergies are evaluated.  At this point, a single new food, such as poultry, is added to the hypoallergenic food and tested for two weeks.  If the dog starts scratching again, you withdraw the new food and wait until the scratching stops.  You gradually introduce new foods, testing to see if they cause the dog a problem.  When you have identified the allergen, your veterinarian will work with you to determine what dog food the dog can tolerate.