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Submitted by: K.C. Jones
Allergies to food happen to be a very common allergy in dogs, only behind flea-bite allergies and atopy (allergic reactions to the environment, like pollen and dust). All of these allergies can lead to itchy skin, ear infections, and even paw irritation and swelling. In the case where your dog is constantly itching and scratching, you are probably not dealing with atopy, which tends to be seasonal. If you are using flea control, double check your dog for fleas, as they are still the number one reason for dog scratching. If your flea control seems to be doing its job, then you really should consider a food allergy as a cause.
It is sometimes complicated to identify dog food allergies, due to the fact that skin allergy testing (where the allergen is injected into the skin) doesn’t always yield accurate results with food, and neither does an allergy blood test. A food trial, called the elimination diet, is really the only effective way to determine a food allergy. The problem is, it can take a lot of time and patience to determine the problem.
In case you think that your dog’s itching will not be food associated since he has eaten the same dog food for quite a while, then think again. Dog food hypersensitivities and allergies can build over time, by being exposed to the same ingredients over and over. This tends to happen more with cheap dog food, where much of the nutrients are stripped out of the food through processing and the fact that they are by-products to begin with.
Other pet owners complain that they have switched dog foods, but the itching and scratching continue. And there are a couple of reasons why this can happen. For one, just switching to a new dog food will not necessarily help. If the ingredients are similar to the original dog food, then you cannot expect different results. The second reason is that it takes time for a dog’s allergic reactions to go down, just like it took time for them to get bad enough for you to notice them. So while the new dog food may actually be helping your dog, it was not given enough time. Ideally, your dog needs to be on a dog food for at least eight weeks before you can definitively say that the food does or does not make a difference.
To provide the right dog food, you need to perform a food trial, or elimination diet, that consists of completely new ingredients. While you can’t guarantee that your dog is not allergic to these new ingredients, it is extremely uncommon that a dog has an allergy reaction to a brand new ingredient. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look for a limited ingredient dog food. These types of food will only contain four to eight ingredients, making it much easier to provide brand new ingredients. Another plus to these types of dog food is that many of them tend to use novel ingredients, since they know that is what you are looking for. For example, you can find limited ingredient dog food that uses proteins like elk and venison and carb sources such as sweet potatoes and peas.
The elimination diet needs to last for at least eight weeks. It is essential that this is the only food your dog eats – no table scraps, dog treats, or midnight raids of the garbage can. While this is not easy, as your dog’s skin and itching improves, you will feel good knowing you are helping your baby. Once they are better, you can try to introduce some of his original food back in to see if the condition gets worse again. In this way you will know what is causing the problem. However, most pet owners are just happy to have their dog not exhibiting any allergy symptoms anymore, and do not go back to the original food. If you fall in this latter category, make sure you at least save the original dog food (the food that was causing the problems) ingredients label, so you know what to stay away from in the future!
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