Does your canine companion have food allergies? An elimination diet will help you determine what the cause of it is.
Two decades ago, I prepared an action sheet for a dog rescue organization entitled Out, Out Darn Hot Spot! Back then, it seemed sensitivities and allergies most often presented with smelly ears from yeast and bacteria, and itchy skin that often led to nasty hot spots and bacterial infections. The sound of constant licking was a real giveaway.
As time went on, however, it became obvious that these common symptoms were just that – symptoms – and that we needed to look beyond “surface” inflammation to “inward” inflammatory responses, like diarrhea and vomiting.
What is an allergy, anyway?
An allergy is defined as a “hypersensitive state acquired through exposure to a particular allergen”. The effects may be immediate or delayed, but either way, they can reduce us to tears of frustration as we try to soothe our dogs’ frantic scratching and licking, or try to cope with episodes of vomiting and diarrhea.
While many things can lead to an allergic response, from vaccinations to fleas to pollen, pesticides and herbicides, and everything in between, including household cleaning products and synthetic carpets, veterinary offices are flooded with animals whose diets are the root cause of their allergic symptoms.
The elimination diet
An elimination diet is a great way to find out what your dog can and can’t tolerate, but it takes time and patience, and you should work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian who is well-versed in canine nutrition. Basically, you throw out everything you are currently feeding your dog, and start from “scratch”. Then, you select one protein and carbohydrate that your dog has never been exposed to before, and let that be your starting point. Following are some examples of alternative proteins and carbohydrates you can try.
1. Kangaroo is a very lean protein, containing only 2% fat. It is considered one of the finest game meats. Kangaroo is a valuable source of Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins B6 and B12, iron, niacin, riboflavin and zinc. Its CLA (conjugated linolenic acid) has been found to have anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetic properties. Kangaroo is a great choice for dogs with food sensitivities or allergies.
2. Elk is another game meat and novel protein, containing just 3% fat. It is a very rich source of vitamin B12, and a very good source of vitamin B6, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, zinc, iron, thiamin, niacin and phosphorus. It also contains iron, magnesium and copper. Elk has a good ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 essential fatty acids.
3. Ostrich has quite a “pedigree”. It is endorsed by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Association, and the American Diabetic Association. It is lower in fat than chicken breast and turkey. Interestingly, due to the ostrich’s perfect pH balance, it does not attract bacteria like E-coli or salmonella.
Alternative grains, nuts and seeds
Amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat are considered pseudo grains and are technically not members of the Poaceae botanical family. Yet they’re usually included alongside the true cereal grains, because their nutritional profile, preparation and use are so similar. For an elimination diet, consider teff, an African cereal grass, or whole flours made from chia seeds, coconut, almonds or whole oats:
1. Chia seeds contain more healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and fiber than flax and are a good source of protein and antioxidants. They are a rich source of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a plant-based form of Omega 3 that helps combat skin inflammation.
2. Coconut (raw) contains medium-chain saturated fats that transform into energy and can help decrease bacterial growth, irritation and inflammation, and lauric acid, which helps decrease the production of yeast. Coconut sugar, meanwhile, is made from 100% pure coconut flower sap. It is gluten-free and contains B vitamins, amino acids and minerals.
3. Almond flour (raw) is non-GMO, 100% pure, unblanched, gluten-free, and a great alternative to traditional whole flours, especially for dogs with sensitivities or allergies. Almonds contain the entire vitamin E family of tocopherols and tocotrienols and are an excellent source of B vitamins, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc and bioflavonoids, along with a trace of Omega 3.
4. Oat flour (pure whole grain) is easy to get these days, and is made with stringent production protocols. It is both wheat-free and gluten-free, and is processed in an oat-dedicated facility. Oats have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and contain more than 20 unique polyphenols.
The ingredients and recipes accompanying this article are a good starting point for creating an allergy-free diet. However, every dog is an individual, so again, be sure to work with a veterinarian. With his or her help, along with lots of patience and commitment, you’ll eventually get rid of your dog’s itch!
1 pound elk, ground (you can also use ground kangaroo or ostrich for this recipe)
1 teaspoon dried organic/medicinal mushroom blend (could include shiitake, maitake, reishi, turkey tail, cordyceps, mesima, poria, oyster, suehirotake, lion’s mane, agarikon, true tinder – try to choose whole mycelium and fruiting steam-activated powders and extracts)
½ teaspoon organic garlic powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Himalayan crystal salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
First-pressed olive oil, for the pan
Try to choose organic ingredients wherever possible. Combine all ingredients, except the first pressed olive oil, in small mixing bowl. Then, make approximately 21 meat balls. Drizzle the olive oil in a medium-sized pan, and turn on heat to medium high. When you see the first bubble, add your meat balls. Sauté on medium low heat. Remove from pan, place on plate, and cool completely before serving.
Garnish with goat or sheep yogurt, hummus, and a vegetable/fruit mash. Begin by choosing one vegetable and one fruit that your dog has never had before, and see how it goes. A garnish of hummus is easy to make. All it takes is a can of chickpeas (1½ cups), tahini (3 tablespoons), garlic (1 clove, finely minced – optional), and salt (½ teaspoon Himalayan crystal or sea salt). Whirl in a food processor or blender and serve. The whole family can enjoy this!
Chia coconut crisp
1½ cups rolled oats
½ cup coconut flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ tablespoons chia seeds
1 cup almond butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon whole vanilla bean extract, in glycerine
2 whole eggs
Cover a large edged cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Press mixture into cookie sheet and flatten gently with a wooden spoon or fork. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely before serving. Store in the refrigerator, in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.
4 cups whole oat flour (or other whole flour or combination of your choice)
1 cup whole almond flour
2 teaspoons coconut sugar or other sweetener of your choice
1 teaspoon Himalayan crystal salt
½ cup goat yogurt
1 tablespoon camelina oil
1½ teaspoons Saigon cinnamon
Choose organic ingredients if possible. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 325°F, on the convection setting if available. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
There are three easy ways to prepare these biscuits. Simply divide the dough into four pieces, knead gently, roll out on a counter or cutting board, and cut into desired shapes. Or, take small pieces of dough, roll out to the thickness of a crayon, and using a sharp knife, cut small treats, according to your dog’s size. Another way is to place your ball of dough in the center of your cookie sheet, use a rolling pin to roll it out to the edges of the cookie sheet, and lightly score with a knife.
Bake for 30 minutes. Then, turn the oven down to 200°F, on the convection setting if available, and bake for a further 30 minutes. If convection is not available, bake 15 extra minutes. Allow biscuits to completely cool in the oven before storing in an open container, cookie jar or Ziploc bag.