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The 411 on dogs and food allergies

Laura Willard is a law school grad who has successfully avoided using her education for eight years and counting. She's a wife and an adoptive mom to two kids. Motherhood is the best job she never knew she wanted so much until she had it...

Is Fido's food making him sick?

Does your dog have signs of food allergies? From constantly itchy skin to chronic ear infections, there are some telltale signs that your best friend’s food might be making him sick. Find out from an expert how to determine whether your dog has food allergies and what to do if he does.
Scratching dog

IS Fido's food MAKING HIM SICK?

Does your dog have signs of food allergies? From constantly itchy skin to chronic ear infections, there are some telltale signs that your best friend's food might be making him sick. Find out from an expert how to determine whether your dog has food allergies and what to do if he does.

Is your dog suffering from various physical discomforts? It's possible that your four-legged friend has food allergies. Granted, this isn't preschool: you don't need to put Fido on a special diet just to keep up with the other pooches at doggy day care. However, if your dog has any signs of food allergies, you don't want to ignore them.

How to find a trustworthy doggy day care >>

Say what? Dogs can have food allergies?

Dr. Oscar Chavez, DVM, assistant professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and veterinary consultant at Just Food For Dogs, says that 20 to 40 percent of veterinary visits are a result of allergies. Of those, 10 percent are food allergies. In fact, food allergies are the third-leading cause of itching, scratching, skin lesions and hair loss in dogs.

Signs of food allergies in your dog

If you notice your dog is experiencing certain problems, it's possible he could have food allergies. Dr. Chavez says the following could by symptoms of food allergies:

  • Itchy skin
  • Scratching
  • Biting at paws
  • Bald spots
  • Hot spots
  • Redness
  • Skin infections
  • Chronic ear infections

Furthermore, some dogs have food intolerances. Maldigestion (upset GI) signs include:

  • Soft stools
  • Mucous in the stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Common causes of food allergies

So what the heck is your dog allergic to? "Studies have shown that what the body is reacting to is the proteins in the diet," explains Dr. Chavez. "This is usually a meat source, but can also include the protein found in wheat."

If you suspect your dog could have food allergies, Chavez says you should read the first 10 ingredients in your dog's food to determine the protein. Common ingredients are beef, chicken, lamb and fish. And while we're reading a lot about wheat allergies and gluten intolerances in humans, they're not so common in dogs.

"Some vets are also suspicious of the various preservatives, fillers and additives found in commercial dog food, although more research should be done in this area," adds Dr. Chavez.

The elimination diet

If your pet's veterinarian suspects food allergies, the way to find out is through an elimination diet. "The vet will send home a special 'hypoallergenic' prescription diet that is not known to be recognized by the dog's immune system and is therefore unlikely to cause a reaction," says Dr. Chavez.

"The owner must give this diet, and only this diet -- no treats or no scraps at all -- for a minimum of 12 weeks. If the clinical signs resolve, then the vet should recommend a 're-challenge' with the original diet that was suspected of causing the allergies. If all the symptoms return within three to four weeks of switching back on to the old diet, then you have your diagnosis: food allergy."

Diets for dogs with food allergies

Feeding your dog a healthy diet isn't impossible -- or even difficult -- if you discover he has food allergies.

"Whole food diets are best, with no preservatives and no processed ingredients," says Dr. Chavez. "Traditionally, commercial pet foods are heavily processed. Look for diets that are whole, fresh and minimally processed. The more wholesome the diet the less likely it is to trigger the immune system."

Learn what to look for in pet food ingredients >>

Dr. Chavez says that if you're ready to don your chef hat, you can work with a vet or veterinary nutritionist to make your own dog food. Or, if dog cuisine isn't your thing, "look for a commercial whole food source (i.e., Just Food For Dogs)," recommends Dr. Chavez. "The food should be able to go bad quickly if left out. You don't want it to actually go bad, but you do want it to be able to go bad. If your food lasts weeks or months in a bag, then that should be a red flag when it comes to nutrition!"

Allergies? Don't panic

Dr. Chavez reminds us that if your dog has food allergies and you're able to confirm it, it's not bad! "In the world of allergies, this is the easiest one to manage," he says. "Find a food that works and stick with it strictly."

More on your dog's health

Why do dogs eat grass?
Top 5 healthy treats for pets

Bow wow chow: The essential dog food guide

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