The reason that I have included the word ALLERGY twice in the heading is the common misdiagnosis and alarmist information from unqualified people about dog food allergies.
Contrary to popular opinion, dog food allergies are not the most common issues for causing allergies (only account for 10% of the allergies), and the allergies in this are also split between grains and meats.
That means that dog food allergies might in fact by any number of other allergies, and hence testing and ruling in or out a specific food that a dog might be allergic to is very important before a dog is treated for a food allergy (that it might not have).
Before I go into the testing, be aware that many vets and dog food stores will get you buying expensive often unnecessary hypoallergenic dog food, so that you spend money with them and keep coming back. If your dog improves it might only be coincidence.
Recap on dog food allergies
Unlike the process of general (air borne or contact allergies) that are far more common with dogs, a dog if allergic to a food item will most likely be allergic to the specific protein in the food. The allergy reaction can present itself in many forms and have many symptoms. The primary are related to the gastro tract, however severe itching, diarrhea and many other painful and nutrition depleting symptoms can exist.
NOTE Food allergies are genuine allergies and have symptoms of itching and skin problems whereas Food in tolerances usually result in diarrhea or vomiting but don’t have a typical allergic response.
SPECIFIC Dog Food allergy Diagnostic Tests
Because of the difficulty in diagnosing food allergies and the difficulty in treating it (there are no pharmaceuticals that can assist), all other allergies must be irradiated first. Because other allergies can usually be identified by blood panel tests and skin tests, this path is possible.
The reason for eradicating or ‘curing’ other allergies first is that : Atopy, flea bite, intestinal parasite, yeast and bacterial infections can all have the same symptoms as food allergies which hence clouds the real culprit. ONLY once you have treated the other allergy sources should food issues be dealt with.
ELIMINATION DIETS or food trials are the blunt instrument that are used to identify if a dog has a specific food allergy. This is a very blunt tool, a very primitive diagnostic test – but it is the only true and trusted method because of the complexity of diagnosing a specific food protein allergies.
The concept of an elimination dog allergy test diet is very simple. Feed a dog a ‘novel’ food source of protein and carbohydrate for 12 to 16 weeks and see if the allergy has stopped.
If it has stopped, it was something that you were feeding the dog before the diet. If it continues, they are either allergic to one of the new novel foods, or it is another allergy type.
Vets put dogs on elimination diets when they are pretty sure that its a food allergy, this just confirms it.
You then introduce a new meat or new carb one at a time. Varying this each new week until you have identified what is causing the allergy.
What is a novel food source ?
The trick is to get a protein and carb that your dog hasn’t eaten before and is a low allergen source for most dogs. Tried and true combinations are rabbit and rice, or venison and potato even kangaroo or buffalo.
Specialized manufactured dog food diets do exist that can help called ‘limited antigen’ or ‘hydrolyzed protein’ diets. These are foods that have the proteins and carbohydrates reduced into such small molecular sizes that they are not expected to cause an allergic food response.
Once a food allergy is discovered (sometimes it can be to additives etc) a few people prefer trying their won homemade diet as they know exactly what goes into their dogs food.
Besides feeding your dog only TWO food sources for the 3 or so months, you will need to restrict other medications, treats, rawhide or anything that is not water.
What other tests or diagnosis methods for dog food allergies?
NONE ! The antibody reaction due to the food protein is so complex that modern science and medicine still cant do better than an exclusion diet!
Some vets may recommend a blood panel but there are not accurate tests using blood for the diagnosis of food allergies.
So essentially after three months if you have no allergic reaction, and you put your dog back on its old pellets or whatever you regularly feed it and it has no reaction, you will suspect that you have found a food allergy, but it may take a while to come back.
If the dog still has a dog allergy while on the elimination diet, and you don’t think that its atopy (air ) or contact or flea, perhaps its the food in the elimination diet.
If you get a food allergy as soon as you put a dog back on its food you will need to then narrow down what pecific food is causing it.
As you can see this can be cumbersome and take time, but as of 2015, this is still the best iron clad way of knowing if a food allergy exists in your dog – don’t take someone’s word for it.