Just like it is for us humans, the digestive system of a dog can be a messy and mysterious place. Dogs can develop intolerances, sensitivities and even allergies to certain foods. Also like we humans, dogs are fortunate to live in a time with more dietary options than ever. With the right adjustments, your dog can live a long, healthy and happy life regardless of any allergies.
Food allergies show themselves in dogs quite differently than in humans. Rather than seeing your dog’s throat close up or rashes, the number one sign is itching.
“Food allergies tend to come out of gastrointestinal upset, but usually it’s more commonly scratching and itching,” says veterinarian Walt Ingwersen. Ear and skin infections are also common signs of canine food allergies.
Changing your dog’s diet is a big deal, so make sure you get a professional opinion before taking any drastic measures.
“Don’t jump to conclusions. If you think your dog is having an allergic reaction, bring them into the vet.” says Dr. Ingwersen. “There are a variety of reasons why a dog can be itchy. It could be food-based, but less that 10% of dogs have food-based diets when they’re itchy. You don’t want to try and solve one medical condition while creating another.”
Once your vet has determined there’s an allergy, it’s time to move to a new diet.
“Dogs can develop allergies to meat-based proteins, like beef or chicken. Going to a source that uses an alternate meat source can do quite well for those dogs.” Dr. Ingwersen explains. This means finding a new dog food with a source of protein that your dog is not regularly exposed to, such as fish or venison.
In the search for a new protein, it’s very important not to go overboard.
“Those decisions shouldn’t eliminate meat, it should still be balanced.” Dr. Ingwersen says. "BEG diets are not the way to go forward."
BEG is an acronym that stands for "Boutique, Exotic (Ingredients), Grain-Free."
“Boutique simply means these are not products from reputable manufacturers. These are mom & pop, I’ll cook this at home and sell it in a store. Exotic-based ingredients are away from the traditional meat-based products like beef, chicken, etc. to kangaroo and bizarre ingredients. Grain-free is self-explanatory. They have all been associated with nutritional inadequacies and development of dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs.”
If your vet does not prescribe your dog a special diet, make sure the new food you try is from a trusted manufacturer and contains ingredients you recognize. Also, patience is key. It can take up to 12 weeks to determine if the new food is working or not.