Understanding Your Dog's Food Allergies
Food allergies or hypersensitivities can lead to unpleasantness for you and your dog. As a pet owner, it's important to understand what possible symptoms can look like and what to do if your dog is suffering from allergies.
What signs should I watch out for?
Unlike a human's reaction to, say, a shellfish allergy, a dog's food allergies are generally expressed as out-of-season itching. Common symptoms include red skin or rashes, particularly on the ears and feet. In some cases, allergies may cause a dog to develop gassiness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Most commonly, these signs will appear before the dog's first birthday, but a food allergy can develop at any point in an animal's life.
How is a food allergy diagnosed?
Getting a proper diagnosis for food allergies can be a lengthy process and involves an 'elimination' food trial using hypoallergenic dog foods. Your dog should be fed the new food exclusively for at least 8-10 weeks — sometimes longer for breeds like Cocker Spaniels or Labrador Retrievers.
After symptoms improve, you'll need to switch back to the original diet to confirm the diagnosis. If accurate, the original symptoms should reappear within two weeks.
What diet options are available?
These days, there are many different options on the market, both over-the-counter and from your vet. Here are some of the most popular types of diet foods available:
Grain-Free Dog Food
Just like the name suggests, grain-free foods and treats are ideal if your dog has a sensitivity to corn, wheat, and other grains. These foods are also gluten-free, though be careful — gluten-free dog foods aren't necessarily grain-free.
Limited Ingredient Dog Food
These foods address the presence of allergens by reducing them to just one protein source, such as beef, lamb, or chicken. Sometimes, these are also reduced to a single carbohydrate source. If you are shopping for a limited ingredient dog food, you should be looking for a seal of approval from the Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO), as well as a "complete and balanced" claim from the manufacturer.
Novel Ingredient Dog Food
A novel ingredient in dog food scraps common proteins that can cause your pet's allergies to flare up — beef, chicken, etc. — and replaces them with duck, salmon, or other less-common proteins that are new to your dog's system. Many limited ingredient foods will often use novel carbohydrates, leading to combinations like venison and potato.
What's the right one for my pet?
Ultimately, your dog's best diet option is going to be specific to his or her allergy and needs. Your veterinarian is going to be able to correctly diagnose if your dog's symptoms are indeed a result of an allergy and make the best recommendations for your pet's health, including prescription dog food if need be.