Does your dog have unexplained itching? Trouble with digestion? Chronic ear or skin problems? If you can’t think of any other explanation, your precious pup might be suffering from food allergies. This is a common problem in dogs, and about 10 percent of all allergies in dogs is caused by the food they eat. Food allergies in dogs is usually a generic issue, and most dogs that have allergies are not allergic to only one thing. The most common dog food allergens include egg, beef, wheat, dairy, lamb and chicken. Pork, fish, soy and rabbit may also cause allergy symptoms. What is the best way to improve your dog’s condition? Switch to a hypoallergenic dog food.
What does Hypoallergenic Mean?
The definition of ‘hypoallergenic’ is ‘having little likelihood of causing an allergic response,’ according to Merriam-Webster. In other words, a dog food that is hypoallergenic is less likely to cause an allergic reaction in your dog than food that is not hypoallergenic.
When it comes to dogs, however, there is a significant variation in the ingredients that are likely to cause allergies versus another. For instance, lamb was long thought to be a ‘hypoallergenic’ food source for dogs, but in a study, it was shown that about five percent of dogs are allergic to lamb. This doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you compare these numbers with other common allergens in dog food, you find that only about three percent of dogs were allergic to pork and corn, two percent were allergic to fish and only one percent was allergic to rice. The conclusion here is that for dogs who are not allergic to lamb, this lamb-based diet is certainly hypoallergenic, but if your dog is one of those who are, the ‘hypoallergenic’ diet will cause allergy symptoms.
There is also another way to look at the study. In the same study, it was shown that 34 percent of dogs were allergic to beef. So, you might think that beef cannot be hypoallergenic. To dogs that are not allergic to beef, however, it is definitely hypoallergenic.
When people have a dog with food allergies, they often reach for foods that have protein sources such as venison and duck and carbohydrate sources such as sweet potato, and these are almost always labelled as a hypoallergenic option. However, there are certainly dogs out there that have, or will develop, allergies to these ingredients.
What does this mean? It means that depending on the allergies of your dog, a dog food with a hypoallergenic label might not technically be hypoallergenic. So, it is up to you, as the owner, to employ a system of trial and error to find the best food for your dog.
Common Signs of Dog Food Allergies
There are a number of signs that may indicate that your dog has a dog food allergy. They include:
- Scratching and itching
- An oily or smelly coat (Dogs that eat healthy food should have almost no odour, should have shiny coats and not scratch excessively)
- Constant ear infections
- Constant licking of the feet
- Upset stomach that includes gas, diarrhoea, vomiting or bloating
- Unexplained hyperactivity or lethargy
If your dog is showing these symptoms, it is likely that he or she has a food allergy, though the type of allergy may not be as easy to determine.
The Main Causes of Food Allergies in Dogs
The primary cause of a food allergy in dogs is the high protein/high carbohydrate content in the food that is fed to them. In addition to that, the cheap, easy to access dog food brand on the market are filled with additives and preservatives. Pet owners often exasperate these problems by showing their pets love by giving them human food that might not be good for dogs.
A dog may eat food it is allergic to for years before any symptoms appear, and there are currently not totally accurate of significant blood tests that can be done to show which ingredients a dog may be allergic to. So, again, a system of trial and error is often used to find food that works for a dog suffering from allergies.
Trial and Error: Finding the Best Hypoallergenic Dog Food
To find out what ingredient your dog is allergic to, or which dog food brand is best for your dog, you must actually feed the dog the food. To do this, however, it takes 8 to 10 weeks of your dog eating the food to actually determine if there is an improvement or not. Unless, of course, your dog shows quick signs of an allergic reaction.
During this trial period, it is imperative that the dog is only fed the dog food. This means no treats, human foods, supplements or any other kibble during this period. This way, you can be totally sure that the new food you are giving your dog is good or not.
You may also want to do an elimination diet to find out why your dog is having an allergic reaction. This type of diet is extremely simple. It usually only contains two main ingredients, a protein and a carbohydrate, such as chicken and sweet potato or fish and millet, until the allergy symptoms subside. After a few weeks, the owner should add an additional ingredient each week and then observe the effects, if any.
The Features of a Hypoallergenic Dog Food
Before you start looking for a dog food, you should know what some of the most the common characteristics of this food are. Often they have these features:
- Protein with a low molecular weight
- Highly digestible
- Low allergy proteins, such as soy protein isolates
A good dog food that is hypoallergenic should also be high in antioxidants, which will counter the free radical damage in the dog, just as it does for humans. This helps to prevent the growth of cancer. Antioxidants to look for in your dog’s food include Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Lutein and Taurine.
The Pros and Cons of Hypoallergenic Dog Food
For most dogs, a dog food is the best food choice, however, there are also some considerations that pet parents should consider before switching their dog’s food.
The Pros of This Type of Dog Food
These dog foods are often easier for dogs to digest than other foods, as they do not contain the same additives, such as preservatives. Also, the ingredients in this type of food are less processed than those in typical food, which ensures that the natural vitamins and minerals of the ingredients remain intact.
Feeding your dog a hypoallergenic diet is also healthier for your dog based on independent reviews. Most pet owners who feed their dogs a hypoallergenic diet claim that the skin and any digestive products quickly and significantly improve.
This type of dog food often has more meat than other dog food, which is the most important protein source for a dog. These animals are natural carnivores, so a high-meat content is essential for their overall health. This is even more true for dogs that are intolerant of grain.
The Cons of This Dog Food
- It can take months to find which brand or type of dog food is right for your pet. A good trial period ranges from 8 to 10 weeks, and switching food can be hard on your dog’s digestive system.
- There are many brands available, but they can be difficult to find in certain locations.
- This dog food is almost always more expensive than regular dog food, and it simply will not fit into everyone’s budgets easily.
The Types of Hypoallergenic Food on the Market
Here are some of the hypoallergenic foods for dogs that you will find on the market, and a bit of information about each:
Royal Canin Hypoallergenic – Royal Canin Hypoallergenic is a highly digestible and palatable formula that is specifically formulated for both an elimination diet or trial and error, or for long-term use for dogs that have allergies to certain ingredients. This food contains all of the amino acids, proteins and vitamins necessary for boosting the immune system and fixing the symptoms of allergies. This formula contains high levels of Vitamin B12, beet pulp, taurine, hydrolysed soy protein and long chain omega-3 fatty acids, which help to promote a healthy coat and skin.
Orijen Dog Food – Orijen is a dog food that receives high marks from almost every person or organisation that reviews it. This formula offers one of the freshest dry dog foods available. The company raises their own poultry and use fishermen that bring in a fresh catch. Whole eggs and organic vegetables are also in this food. There are no fillers and many people report that their dogs had an almost immediate positive reaction to this food after starting to eat it.
Addiction Dog Food – The Addiction brand features protein and carbohydrate combinations such as Kangaroo and Apple, New Zealand Lamb and Berries, and Chicken and Apricot. There are also antioxidants in these blends, and simple to digest ingredients.
Acana Dog Food – Acana is a dog food brand that has been consistently one of the highest-rated food according to veterinarians. There are a number of formulas available through Acana including Large Breed, Light & Fit and Small Breed. Acana foods mainly contain proteins such as chicken and fish and carbohydrates such as peas, oats, potatoes and alfalfa.
Nutro Dog Food – The Nutro brand is another top performer in the world of dog food. With formulas such as Venison & Chickpeas, Chicken & Brown Rice, and Lamb & Rice, you will have many combinations to try with your pet. This food has Vitamin C and Vitamin E, omega-6 fatty acid and zinc.
Making Your Own Dog Food
Though there are many outstanding dog foods on the market for dogs with allergies, you may want to make your own. However, making a quality dog food that has all of the nutrients that your pet requires is not as easy as it may seem. It also may be more expensive than buying a hypoallergenic food. Here are some tips for anyone who wants to make food for their dog:
Start With The Right Recipe
Most dog food recipes out there fall flat on certain nutrition that your dog requires including calcium, copper, zinc and iron. There are even some recipes that come from vets that are not enough to adequately meet the needs of your pet. The best recipes are those that have been created by those who have training in dog nutrition. There are pet nutritionists out there to research and also experts in making dog food. If you cannot find resources online, you can also talk to your vet about recipes that he or she would recommend.
Keep in mind that your dog will require a primary protein source, such as dairy, animal meat, seafood or eggs, fat, which should come from meat or a healthy oil, and carbohydrates, such as vegetables or whole grains. Just remember not to put any ingredient that your dog may be allergic to.
Your dog also requires calcium in their food, and this can come from egg shells or a dairy source, and there is also a requirement for essential fatty acids. These come from egg yolks, certain plant oils, oatmeal or other foods.
Prepare the Correct Food
Don’t focus on experimenting when cooking for your dog, as it is best to not make substitutions or improvisations when cooking for your pet. You want to follow the recipe exactly, for instance, as altering it may have an unintended effect. For example, if the recipe calls for a chicken with the skin and bones, and you use the same amount of chicken thighs, you can change the nutrient profile of the recipe, and ultimately, may not give the dog the nutrients he or she requires.
Also, when cooking for your pet, make sure that you are not swapping ingredients. For instance, if the recipe calls for walnut oil, you should use walnut oil, not coconut oil or olive oil. By making substitutions, you could unbalance your pet’s diet.
Using a food scale is also recommended, as this is more accurate than other forms of measurements, such as measuring cups. Thoroughly cook all of the ingredients in order to kill bacteria; cooking will also help to make the good easier to digest. Finally, do not add any foods that may be lethal to your dog such as grapes, chocolate, onions, raisins, avocados and certain nuts. It is best to stick to the recipe, exactly.
Dog food allergies can simply be an annoyance to your pet, or it can turn into a very serious condition, and if you are like most pet owners, you want to ensure that your dog is as comfortable and as healthy as possible. By giving your pet the right Hypoallergenic Dog Food, you will make him or her feel her best and perhaps even add years to their lives.