How to choose the right diet for a dog with food allergies

Does your dog have food allergies? Here’s why a limited ingredient formula may be the best way to accommodate her dietary needs.

Is your dog licking her paws excessively? Does she seem to be itching her ears or body at every available moment? Chances are she may be suffering from food or environmental allergies. But how do you know for sure? And if it is a food allergy, what type of diet is best for your pup? Let’s look into this further.

Food allergies: what are they and how do they affect my dog?

Food allergies are immune system reactions to a certain ingredient that your dog is exposed to. Symptoms can include itchy skin, hives, upset stomach, swollen facial features, and  reoccurring ear or paw infections. Typically, food allergies develop when a dog has been exposed to the same ingredient repeatedly throughout her life. “Some think that rotating protein and fiber sources in your dog’s diet may help to minimize the occurrence of food allergies,” says veterinarian Dr. Bradley Quest. “Although this is not scientifically proven, it may help some individuals because the dog’s immune system is not constantly exposed to the same food ingredients all the time.”

According to Dr. Quest, a food intolerance – as opposed to an allergy – can occur at the initial exposure to a specific food ingredient and is usually not a result of an immune system reaction. “Food intolerances usually manifest as gastrointestinal symptoms,” he says. Gastrointestinal symptoms in dogs consist of but are not limited to a change in appetite, changes in stool quality or quantity, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

How to know if your dog has a food allergy

The best way to know if your dog has a food allergy is to talk with your veterinarian. He or she knows your dog best, and can properly diagnose your pup. Once the diagnosis is made, your vet may put your dog on a food elimination diet – a diet that involves feeding your dog a single protein and a single fiber source for anywhere from 8–12 weeks as needed. If you notice during this period that your dog’s allergic symptoms do not surface or reoccur, then you can rule that the allergy was not the result of the ingredients she was eating.

“It is important to remember that flea allergies and environmental allergies are much more common in dogs than food allergies, and that is why it is always best to consult with your veterinarian whenever you suspect your dog may have allergic symptoms,” says Dr. Quest.

A limited ingredient diet might be the answer

Limited ingredient diets usually consist of one or two protein sources and one fiber source, and typically do not contain common food allergens such as chicken and beef. This makes them a great option for dogs with food allergies.

When seeking a limited ingredient diet for your allergic dog, look for a brand that follows a clean and simple philosophy such as Essence’s Limited Ingredient Recipes. Each of their formulas uses two meat ingredients, two meals, and two sources of fiber.

“Limited ingredient diets are important if a pet parent has a dog that has been diagnosed with a food allergy or intolerance,” says Dr. Quest. “Once the offending ingredient or ingredients have been identified using an elimination diet, then a good limited ingredient diet can be used for that pet.”

While there may be an abundance of information on canine food allergies online, it’s always best to talk to your veterinarian to get expert advice. At your appointment, be sure to ask about the benefits of limited ingredient diets!