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13 signs your dog may benefit from a limited-ingredient diet

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, pets...

Limiting the types of foods your dog eats may be just what the doctor ordered

It's rough when your dog is under the weather. It's not like he can climb up on your lap and tell you what's wrong, right?

Instead, we have to play detective when things seem a bit off. We follow them around, using our eagle eyes to try and catch any sign or symptom that could give us a clue as to what's amiss.

It turns out, our dogs aren't that much different to us. A lot of seemingly unrelated health issues can be traced back to their diets — even if you think you're feeding them something top-notch. Just like much of the food we eat, dog food is often filled with ingredients that can lead to allergy triggers, sensitivities and general intolerances. Putting your dog on a limited-ingredient diet may be just what the doctor ordered.

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What is a limited-ingredient diet?

Limited-ingredient dog foods cut out all the unnecessary and unwanted ingredients, giving your dog just what he needs and nothing else. Most of them contain one animal protein and one carbohydrate, and you'll find that they are usually wheat, corn, soy and dairy-free. Cutting out all those extras means there's a lot less chance they'll have a negative effect on your pup.

Signs you should try a limited-ingredient diet with your dog

The list of symptoms that may be diet-related is quite long, and some of them may be surprising. The most common food-related issues for dogs are food allergies and sensitivities, and both have a wide, and often overlapping, range of symptoms. If your dog is experiencing one or more of the below symptoms, talk to your vet about possible causes and whether introducing him to limited-ingredient foods may help. It's important not to diagnose your dog with food allergies yourself, since many of these symptoms can also signal other, unrelated health issues.

  • Itchy skin (primarily the face, feet, ears, forelegs, armpits and anus)
  • Ear infections, chronic or recurrent
  • Hair loss
  • Excessive scratching
  • Hot spots
  • Skin infections (usually recurring)
  • Increased bowel movements
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive gas
  • Yeast infections
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Anal gland issues

Is it an allergy or a sensitivity?

Since the symptoms for food allergies and sensitivities are often similar, it can be difficult to figure out which one you're dealing with. There are no diagnostic tests for either, so veterinarians tend to diagnose them based on eliminating other possibilities and by seeing decreased symptoms when triggers are avoided.

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In most cases, food sensitivities and intolerances tend to stay limited to gastrointestinal issues — much like when you have a dinner that just doesn't agree with you. If all of his issues start and stop with the stomach, there's a good chance it's not an allergy. True food allergies tend to result in symptoms related to the skin and ears, though they may present along with gastrointestinal issues, as well. Still, none of those theories are conclusive, so only your veterinarian can tell you for sure whether or not you're dealing with an allergy or a sensitivity.

Treatment of allergies and sensitivities

Though you can use medicines and other treatments to cover up the symptoms of food allergies and intolerances in your dog, the best treatment is avoidance. Work with your veterinarian to discover what foods may be causing the symptoms and then select a limited-ingredient diet that doesn't include those foods. Because most food sensitivities in dogs stem from proteins, select a dog food, such as Blue Buffalo, that uses novel proteins, like duck, lamb, turkey and salmon, and uses easily digestible carbohydrates, such as potatoes and peas.

Making these simple changes can go a long way toward the health and happiness of your pet, and as pet owners, that's all we really want, right?

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Limiting the types of foods your dog eats may be just what the doctor ordered
Image: Tiffany Egbert/SheKnows

This post was sponsored by Blue Buffalo.

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