Does my dog have a food allergy or not?
Whether your dog has actually developed an allergy to its food is not easily answered for several reasons:
- The symptoms of itching, inflamed skin or diarrhea, vomiting and flatulence occur not only in food allergies, but also in many other diseases.
- Most allergic reactions to food in dogs are so-called late reactions. They sometimes show up only after several days, so it is difficult to determine what exactly triggered them.
- Affected dogs sometimes have other allergies (atopias) at the same time, e.g. to dust mites, flea saliva, grasses and pollen. They complicate the diagnosis.
- Unlike other allergies, there is no quick test that can reliably detect a food allergy. Only a so-called elimination diet and a subsequent provocation test bring certainty.
- Besides a real allergy, there are a number of other undesirable reactions against dog food. Veterinarians refer to them, for example, as feed intolerance, hypersensitivity, intolerance.
To make the diagnosis for sure, you need to feed a special allergy diet for about 8 weeks. If your dog tolerates this diet, gastrointestinal symptoms will disappear relatively quickly (within two to three weeks), while it may take up to three months for the skin to fully recover. Itching, however, should subside at least somewhat within the first few weeks of this elimination diet.
True food allergies are not as common in dogs as many think. They are often intolerances with which the immune system has nothing to do. However, the distinction between allergy and intolerance is secondary to treatment anyway: in both cases, your dog must be given a special food for allergy sufferers that he can tolerate. Medications such as cortisone can only support the therapy.
Which Dog Food is Suitable for Allergy Sufferers?
In the case of a real food allergy, your dog’s immune system reacts to actually harmless components of the food with a violent defense reaction – and almost always to certain proteins (proteins or glycoproteins). There are two ways to prevent this:
All proteins in dog food are broken down by a process called hydrolysis to such an extent that the immune system no longer recognizes them. This does not change the nutritional value of the proteins in such a hydrolyzed diet.
One uses a single source of protein (Single Protein or Selected Protein Diet) and, if possible, only one source of carbohydrates in the allergy food. Preferably one that the dog has never eaten before or to which allergies very rarely develop.
The most important and difficult part of treating food allergy is:
Your dog must be fed exclusively his allergy food and nothing – absolutely nothing – else.
What Characterizes a Good Food for Allergy Sufferers?
Whether it’s a hydrolyzed diet or a single-protein food, producing a good complete food for allergic dogs takes a lot of effort.
It must meet high quality standards:
- All ingredients must be of particularly high quality. For example, the protein sources must be selected so that your dog can utilize them optimally. This in turn promotes skin and intestinal health.
- All raw materials must be purified so that they are not contaminated with proteins to which your dog might be sensitive. For example, fish oil – which is often added for its anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids – should not contain any fish protein.
- All ingredients should be easily digestible, as dogs with food intolerances often have digestive problems.
- It also makes sense to add certain dietary fibers or probiotics, which help rebalance the disturbed intestinal flora (microbiome) and strengthen the intestinal barrier.
Substances to which intolerances frequently occur should not be included.
- Only certain dyes or preservatives may be used, because some of these additives can increase allergic reactions.
Therefore, unfortunately, it is not enough to buy a cheap dog food in the feed market, which is called, for example, lamb and rice. Because even though it says lamb on it, it doesn’t mean that such a food has only lamb in it.
Allergy sufferers should instead get a high-quality veterinary diet food, such as from Royal Canin, Hill’s or Specific. Only then is it guaranteed that all requirements for an allergy diet are met.
Should I Rather Cook the Dog Food Myself?
Many owners are unsure whether they should not rather cook for their allergic dog themselves. In principle, this is possible. However, cooking dog food for allergy sufferers yourself has two disadvantages that you should consider:
- Getting fresh, high-quality ingredients for an allergy food and preparing them properly is costly and time-consuming. You will have to make this effort every day for a long time. For example, you may have to drive long distances to a horse slaughterhouse and freeze a supply of fresh horse meat in portions.
- Home-cooked allergy diets must contain all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your dog needs. To reduce the risk of malnutrition, you must follow a veterinarian’s cooking recipe exactly.
There are dogs that respond better to a home-cooked diet than to a branded product. Probably because they react to substances produced during the processing of diet foods. However, this is rare. If an exclusion diet does not bring success, it is usually because your dog ate something else unnoticed and did not tolerate it. The lion’s share of all allergic dogs (and their owners) are happy and satisfied with a purchased special diet.
Our veterinary advice is therefore: save yourself stress and uncertainty by feeding your allergic dog a balanced special diet from the vet. If that doesn’t lead to success, try home-cooked allergy food for 8 to 10 weeks and then try switching back to a veterinarian-recommended brand.
There is a wide selection of high-quality dog foods (e.g., from Royal Canin, Hills, or Specific), so you can switch between different protein sources or hydrolyzed diets if problems arise. We will be happy to advise you.