Food allergies in dogs — a plan for change

Getting to the bottom of food allergies in your dog requires a comprehensive plan for change that includes an elimination diet made from novel protein and carbohydrate sources.

Some things never change. When it comes to food allergies in dogs, “no corn, no soy, no wheat, no yeast” (the first food mantra I learned) still comes to mind as people contact me about their dogs’ allergies. They’re still considered among the top food allergens in dogs — but many other foods can now be added to the list. For example, a lamb and rice combination was once considered the so-called hypoallergenic diet, but this is no longer the case. This article takes a closer look at the foods that can cause allergies in your dog — and the foods that can help him heal, along with some tasty and wholesome recipes to try.

Getting to the root of your dog’s allergies

Few things are more frustrating than watching your dog frantically scratch, lick and chew himself, or trying to cope with ongoing ear infections, hot spots, or gastrointestinal issues that you just can’t get a grip on. Even more challenging is figuring out is whether your dog has a food intolerance or an outright allergy, which can also be triggered by environmental factors, reactions to vaccines, or insect bites and stings.

TIP:  The trick is to reach beneath the surface of the skin to the core of the problem.

What happens during an allergic response?

An allergy is defined as a “hypersensitive state acquired though exposure to a particular allergen.” In simple terms, an allergy is an overreactive response or hypersensitivity that affects your dog’s immune system. Most reactions involve an antibody in the blood called Immunoglobulin E or IgE. IgE molecules combine with the allergen’s protein molecules and attach to mast cells found throughout the body. The mast cells release histamines and that leads to an allergic response. When it comes to food allergies, we are presented with a huge challenge, because there are so many variables to consider.

A plan for change — nixing her allergies

Because allergies can make your dog miserable, and lead to secondary infections, it’s important to get to the bottom of the problem and take steps to alleviate it.

Testing for allergies

Begin with a visit to a holistic or integrative veterinarian, who will discuss possible testing and dietary changes. When it comes to dietary allergies, feeding your dog a test diet, then monitoring clinical signs, can be more reliable than laboratory tests. The latter include radioallergosorbent (RAST) tests to identify specific foods causing an allergy; blood tests that measure levels of the IgA antibody coating and protecting the mucosal surface of the intestines; and skin tests that evaluate reactions to specific foods. Consider a thyroid panel too.

The elimination diet

Your goal is to determine the specific food or foods causing problems for your dog, and an elimination diet is one way to do it. This can be challenging, and requires commitment and patience. Every single person who spends time with your dog becomes part of this “plan for change.” Family members, visitors to your home, and even your post person, if they happen to carry treats, must be told your dog is not to be given any food item other than those you have designated as “safe.”

TIP: You need to start with a clean slate.

Once you have made the decision to try an elimination diet, it is important to make a commitment to stick with it for eight to 12 weeks. It is essential to write down everything that could have a potential impact on your dog, from the daily weather report to the areas you walk your dog, just in case environmental sensitivities are adding to the “whole picture” of her allergies. Also make note of any soaps and sprays you use or could come in contact with, both inside and outside your home. In other words, anything and everything!

Step 1: Stop your current feeding program, including all those tasty tidbits from your own dinner; supplements, vitamins and minerals that may contain fillers and added flavoring that could cause an allergic reaction; and all treats and chews (no sneaking). Even medications, such as chewable heartworm tablets, need to be considered in your elimination diet plan. You may feel as if you are taking on a monumental project, but the hard work is worth it when you remember you’re helping your dog towards a healthier and happier life.

Step 2: What should you feed your dog when he’s on an elimination diet and you’re making a fresh start with his food? Working with your veterinarian, choose one protein source and one carbohydrate source that your dog has never been exposed to before.

  • Novel protein sources could include buffalo, duck, elk, emu, kangaroo, ostrich, rabbit, and venison (although some of these are not so “novel” anymore!)
    • Buffalo is an excellent protein choice for dogs with allergies that include not only a skin-related allergic response, but gastrointestinal issues as well. it’s also heart-healthy because it is low in fat and cholesterol. Buffalo is a good source of vitamins B6 and B12, copper, iron, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, and zinc. It also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is recognized as a cancer preventive.
    • Kangaroo is another great source of high quality protein. It contains vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, niacin, iron, and zinc. Kangaroo also contains heart-healthy long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids and, like buffalo, contains CLA.
    • Ostrich has an ideal pH balance, so the meat does not attract bacteria like E-coli and salmonella.
  • Novel carbohydrate sources may include everything from amaranth, buckwheat and sorghum, to quinoa, teff, and Montina, as well as different types of squash, such as butternut squash, which has been found to be a great ingredient for allergy diets.

Step 3: Within a few weeks on an elimination diet, if you’re lucky, your dog’s problems will begin to improve. As a result, you can be fairly certain there was something in your dog’s old diet that was triggering her allergies. If fairly certain isn’t good enough for you, reintroduce the food you think was the allergy trigger. If symptoms reappear within seven to 14 days, you will have confirmation of a food allergy. If you don’t want to be so adventurous, and your dog is doing well on his elimination diet, new foods can be added one at a time. You can then carefully monitor your dog for any adverse reactions.

TIP: Write everything down as you move through the elimination diet process. I have always found that keeping a little journal in the kitchen is beneficial, as I can “feed and write.”

Step 4: When the time comes to reconsider adding supplements to your dog’s diet, start by looking at whole fish body oils, like wild salmon oil, which are beneficial to dogs with allergies; as well as evening primrose and borage oils, which are also known to have a positive impact on allergies. If fish oils are a problem for your dog, there are some great alternatives to consider, such as hemp and camelina, which is a fabulous source of vitamin E.

Useful nutrition facts

Turmeric belongs to the ginger family. It contains curcurmin, a compound that acts as a decongestant and an antihistamine, which can help reduce histamine release. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antibacterial properties. More does not mean better — too much turmeric can result in gastrointestinal upset.

Kale is packed with nutrients, including vitamins A, B6, C, and K, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, and potassium. It is a valuable source of fiber, and is packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, and carotenoids.

Olive oil is a very rich source of vitamins A and E, helping to neutralize cancer-causing free radicals. It is also rich in Omega-9 oleic acid, a monosaturated fat that is heart-healthy and supports skin health. Oil that comes from the first pressing of the olives has less than 1% acidity and contains the most health benefits; it is high in vitamins D and K as well as A and E.

Hemp seed oil is rich in linoleic, linolenic and gamma-linolenic acids. Hemp seeds contain 25% high quality protein and 40% fat.

Camelina oil is like almond oil in texture and flavor. It’s a rich source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids and supports healthy skin and coat. Camelina oil has a high smoke point of 475°F, which makes it a great alternative for baking. It also has a very long shelf life and is not prone to becoming rancid like other oils, due to its high levels of vitamin E.

RECIPES

NOVEL PROTEIN STIR FRY

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground novel protein of choice – e.g. elk, kangaroo, buffalo, ostrich
  • 3 tablespoons first-pressed virgin olive oil or camelina oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric or turmeric paste, made with ground turmeric root

Instructions

Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Place olive oil in pan and turn heat to medium high. Add ground protein, gently mix with the olive oil, add spices, and continue to stir. As soon as bubbles appear, turn heat down to simmer, and continue to stir until there is no pink remaining in the meat. Cool and serve. Top with Kale Koctail or alongside Kale Krunch.

Note: This dish can also be served raw.

KALE KOCKTAIL OR KALE KRUNCH

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 1 tablespoon first-pressed olive oil, camelina oil, or hemp oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder or turmeric paste made from turmeric root (for making Kale Kocktail)

Instructions

Kale Kocktail: Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Whirl all ingredients in a food processor or blender and use don’t lose their “crunch.” This is a treat the whole family can enjoy!

Kale Krunch: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper for easy clean-up. Remove the leaves from the thick outer stems of the kale, and cut or tear the leaves into big bite-sized pieces. Wash the leaves with filtered water, then dry them in a salad spinner or pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the kale pieces on the cookie sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with sea salt and turmeric. Bake for ten to 15 minutes, until the edges of the leaves are turning golden in color. Remove from the oven, as a topper on raw or cooked “novel” protein.

ELIMINATION DIET TREATS

Ingredients

  • 2 cups novel protein of choice – e.g. elk, kangaroo, ostrich
  • 2 1/2 cups whole flour – e.g. paleo baking flour that is grain- and gluten-free or made from a pseudo grain, like quinoa or teff
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup filtered water

Instructions

Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Preheat oven to 350°F and cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the protein and water in a food processor or blender, and whirl until smooth.

Begin with 1/4 cup water, and add more as needed. Add flour a little at a time, until thoroughly blended. Transfer dough to the cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork or the back of a spoon until the dough reaches the edges of the cookie sheet. Score with a sharp knife. Bake for half an hour, then turn down oven to 275°F and bake for another 11/2 hours. Turn oven off and allow the biscuits to cool completely before storing them in an open container or the fridge. Biscuits should have a good crunch and can be dehydrated too.

Just as we are all different, our dogs are too, and food allergies can develop at any time. Managing a food allergy means always being alert, but when you know what to look for and what to do about it, you are a long, long way along the road to ensuring health and happiness for your dog. To get even further along the way, try one or all of the recipes accompanying this article!


Suzi Beber has been successfully creating special needs diets for companion animals for two decades. She founded the University of Guelph’s Smiling Blue Skies® Cancer Fund and Smiling Blue Skies® Fund for Innovative Research. She is the proud recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and was honored with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, for her work in cancer, from the University of Guelph/Ontario Veterinary College. The Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund is also the recipient of the “Pets + Us” Community Outreach Champion Award.

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