A friend called last week and asked if I would go into more detail on how a dog owner could put a dog on an elimination diet. I agreed, because I didn’t go into great detail when I wrote about using the elimination diet to test for allergies.
I took the information from an article “Finding the Food Foe,” by Caroline Coile, Ph.D., published in the June issue of the AKC Gazette. I would like to quote her last paragraph first because it is so relevant.
The areas of the dog’s body that are most often affected by allergies are: ears, feet, groin area, armpits, the inside of the foreleg, and lastly, around the face. Some breeds are more susceptible to food allergies than other breeds, but the itchiness brought on by food allergies can be found in individuals of any breed, according to Coile.
I was surprised to learn that most dogs have been eating the offending food for two years before signs of allergy appear. Allergic reactions are not something that normally appear immediately after introducing a new food, according to Coile.
Before starting a trial diet, rule out other possible causes for the dog’s scratching. Coile says blood tests are unreliable to the point of uselessness, for checking food allergies. To start an elimination diet, you must limit the foods given to one unique protein and one or more carbohydrate sources that the dog has never eaten before. Coile suggests checking your current food for tuna, salmon, rabbit, game meats and pinto beans, and if none are in the current food, selecting one protein source from the list. She suggests checking the current diet for yams, pumpkin, oats or barley and selecting one for the carbohydrate source.
If you plan to use a commercial dog food diet, your veterinarian may choose something with fish, duck, venison, rabbit, kangaroo or modified soy for protein. However, the vet may choose to prescribe a commercial diet containing hydrolyzed proteins. Coile lists Hills, Purina and Royal Canin as sources for hypoallergenic diets with hydrolyzed proteins. These diets usually have increased levels of omega 3 fatty acids which help decrease skin inflammation and itching.
For dogs that rebel against the trial diet, Coile suggests slicing the canned trial food and baking it to make dog cookies. The trial period usually lasts four weeks, but some breeds take longer to show a reaction. Don’t be surprised if you need to extend the period up to 12 weeks.
Coile recommends keeping a daily journal listing how much food is eaten, any problems, any licking, chewing or scratching. Show this journal to your veterinarian when you check in. Follow the vet’s advice during this period, which will probably include adding ingredients to the diet to see which ones are the allergens.