Dog Food Allergies? Try Simplified Diet and Limited-ingredient Dog Food.

If you suspect that your dog has a food allergy, you’ll want to take a close look at the ingredients in his food. Most dogs start on a commercial dog kibble that can be purchased at grocery stores. Many of these foods work just fine for non-allergic dogs. However, if your dog exhibits year-round allergy symptoms that can’t be cleared up with flea treatments or by minimizing the effects of inhalant allergies, it’s likely that the ingredients in these commercial foods are causing problems for your pet.

Many owners have found that dog foods designed for allergic dogs have done wonders for their pet. These dog food brands refer to themselves as “simplified diet” or “limited-ingredient” food. This means they only include one unique protein and one carbohydrate. The unique protein is often lamb, bison, duck, or venison. The starch can consist of ingredients like potatoes and sweet potatoes. These formulas often promote the fact that they include “no grains,” which are often the cause of many food allergies. The key is that these foods don’t mix several kinds of proteins and carbohydrates, but focus on one key ingredient of each. This simplification eliminates the filler ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy, which can cause problems for many dogs.

If you consider switching your dog to a simplified diet or a limited-ingredient food, you’ll need to be patient. It will take eight to twelve weeks before you’ll be able to notice an improvement (or lack thereof) in your dog. What you don’t want to do is change your dog’s diet every couple of days or weeks. This will only make it harder for you to know what is causing your dog’s allergy symptoms. You may also find that the initial diet change can give your dog an upset stomach.

If you do move to a simplified diet, you need to remember that this special diet doesn’t just cover meals, but all snacks and treats as well. If you give your dog treats, you’ll need to find treats that match the ingredients in your special dog food. Most allergy dog food brands also make dog treats with the same ingredients. It does your dog no good to feed him a special diet, while feeding him table scraps and dog treats that include ingredients he’s allergic to.

Roughly a year into Elsie’s allergy problems, she was having serious cases of colitis, an inflammation of her colon. I did some online searching and read about a Boxer rescue owner who swore by Natural Balance’s Potato and Duck Food for colitis treatment. We decided to try it out and found that after a couple of
months, her colitis was gone—which was a good thing. She still had runny stools, but no more colitis.

Later, after we had Elsie tested for allergies and learned that she was allergic to feathers (among many other items), we decided to stay away from poultry and moved her to Natural Balance Sweet Potato and Venison Formula Dog Food. This was the magic formula for us. She rarely ever has bowel or stool issues on this new food and has been doing wonderfully. We feed Elsie a dried kibble version, but it also comes in a can and in the form of treats.

You’ll find that this limited-ingredient food is more expensive than the regular grocery store brand food. But if it helps your dog’s allergies, the extra expense could pay off in the long run by saving you vet visits.

Dog Allergy Stories. Clayton, the American Pit Bull Terrier.

Clayton the American Pit Bull relaxing.
Clayton relaxing

Clayton, an American Pit Bull Terrier, was six weeks old when his owner Cassandra brought him home.  Cassandra, a Veterinary Technician, first  suspected that Clayton had allergies when he was four months old and developed Alopecia (a condition which causes hair loss) on his outer thighs.  Cassandra thought that Clayton had Demodex (parasitic mites that can cause hair loss in dogs), but his skin scrapes came out negative.

Shortly after the Alopecia started, Clayton began constantly scratching and chewing at his skin.  This frequent scratching caused the hair on his ears to fall out and the skin under his arms to bleed.  He chewed on his feet and gnawed at his tail from tip to rear. Cassandra placed Clayton on an antihistamine for a month, but found it provided no relief.

Cassandra then asked to be referred to a veterinary dermatologist.  Being in the veterinary field, Cassandra knew how difficult allergies could be for dogs and their owners and she wanted to get Clayton on the right treatment as soon as possible.

Clayton, wearing a t-shirt and socks to prevent chewing and scratching.
Clayton, wearing a t-shirt and socks to prevent chewing and scratching.

The veterinary dermatologist started Clayton on steroids, but the steroids did not end Clayton’s discomfort. For a while, Cassandra also had Clayton on Atopica, a drug designed for dog allergies, but it was also not effective in treating his condition. When the steroids and Atopica did not help, they started Clayton on a food elimination program to try to identify which foods he may be allergic to. They eventually found that Clayton was allergic to chicken, turkey, duck, beef, rabbit and fish. After trying different brands of food, Cassandra eventually found that Nutro’s limited ingredient Venison Meal and Brown Rice food worked. Clayton stopped scratching his ears and chewing on his tail.

Cassandra also made another important food allergy discovery. Many foods and medications contain gelatin, especially many medicine capsules. Gelatin is made from cow parts. Since Clayton and many other dogs are allergic to beef, they can have allergic reactions when they digest gelatin. Cassandra is careful now to avoid gelatins. If a medication is provided in a gelatin capsule, she first opens the capsule and sprinkles the powder on Clayton’s food. She also requests tablet forms of medication when available.

Clayton the pit bull showing hair loss on his ears.
Clayton showing hair loss on his ears.

In addition to food allergies, Clayton also has environmental allergies. Clayton had a skin test when he was seven months old. They found he was allergic to 70 of the 75 allergens, the top three being human dander, wool, and cat dander. He is now on weekly desensitization injections (allergy shots). To eliminate allergens in the home, Cassandra regularly shaves and bathes her cats. She also vacuums each day. Because her dogs sleep in her bed, Cassandra uses a special allergen detergent to wash her bedding.

In addition to his desensitization injections, Clayton receives weekly baths with a chlorhexidine shampoo. He also takes daily Zyrtec and Alaway eye drops. Although Cassandra has Clayton on small amounts of Prednisone, she is hoping to get him off of this steroid treatment soon. Cassandra also purchased a Lycra body suit from K9 Top Coat, which some dog owners use to protect their dog’s skin by reducing irritation.

Clayton the dog in a lycra body suit
Clayton in his new Lycra body suit.

Cassandra’s advice to other dog owners is to not give up. Eventually things will get better for you and your dog, but you will have to be willing to work for it. Think of it from your dog’s perspective, they are itching like crazy and can’t tell you what is making them itch. They need your help to make life more comfortable. Cassandra also recommends that if you find that your dog needs to be on a limited diet, don’t feel bad about not being able to feed them scraps or everyday treats. She suggests using your limited diet kibble as a treat. Your dog won’t know the difference and they’ll just be excited that you are giving them something to eat. Her final word of advice is to join a warehouse membership at a store like Costco or Sam’s Club. Benadryl, Zyrtec and other human medications used to treat dog allergies can be purchased much cheaper at these stores.

After months of trial and error, for the first time since he was a puppy, Clayton is starting to grow some hair on his ears. And, the skin on Clayton’s face and feet is no longer red and swollen. It is likely that Cassandra will always have to treat Clayton’s allergies, but through her efforts, she is giving him a much more comfortable quality of life.

Dog Allergy Causes. Food Allergies.

Food allergies are perhaps the most debated cause of skin allergy problems in dogs. As stated in “The Allergy Solution for Dogs”, by Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M., a true dog food allergy accounts for less than 10 percent of the allergy cases brought in to veterinarians. Yet, a dog’s food is often the first area where owners focus their attention.

However, there are still a number of dogs who suffer from food allergies. Here is a list of the top common food allergens for dogs:

  • Beef
  • Milk
  • Corn
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Yeast

Each of the above ingredients is commonly found in commercial dog foods. The less expensive the food is, the higher the chances are that it will include large amounts of cheap fillers like wheat and corn.

So what if your food claims to be “Lamb and Rice”. It should just be “Lamb and Rice”, right? Not necessarily so. It’s important for you to carefully read your dog food labels. Unless you are feeding your dog a “limited ingredient” formula, chances are, that so-called two ingredient food also includes many of the top allergen foods listed above, including wheat, beef, eggs, and more. Always read your labels.

How do you know if your dog may have a food allergy? If their allergy symptoms aren’t seasonal – meaning they are itching and uncomfortable all year round – chances are they have a food allergy. Dogs with food allergies also tend to have more stomach problems, resulting in frequent diarrhea and vomiting.

Later on, we’ll discuss different options for treating food allergies. If you suspect that your dog may have food allergies, it is recommended that you first talk to your veterinarian before making any dramatic changes to your dog’s diet.