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Does Your Dog Have Food Allergies?

By Gene R. Sower

Because every dog is unique, it's sometimes very difficult to determine what causes food-related allergies and what doesn't. Common pet food culprits include wheat, corn and soy. Various proteins also create their share of problems in certain dogs.

I was shocked to learn that some dogs are allergic to chicken, while I know from first-hand experience that my Jack Russell Terrier Lucy used to be allergic to beef.

Itching and scratching
If excessive itching and scratching are the problems, that
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may simply be the lack of Omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids in your dog's diet that's making his skin and coat dry. Winter indoor heating may exacerbate the condition. Excessive and compulsive foot licking or chewing and biting other parts of the body are generally a sign that allergies are to blame.

Adding simple food additives to your dog's food may be the key without switching diets. Supplements like Mrs. Allen's Shed Stop, Flaxseed Oil, Pet Botanics Skin & Coat supplement, Royal Coat from Ark Naturals or Health & Shine from Dr. Harvey's are all viable solutions for supplementing your dog's diet with the needed omegas that dogs and cats need to lubricate their skin and coats.

Find the right food
Assuming it's food allergies and not environmental that are causing the problem, many vets and pet nutritionists recommend substituting a protein source that your dog doesn't normally eat. Lamb is often used for this purpose, because it's not as common a dog food ingredient. Lamb in and of itself is not "non-allergic," but it's less common than chicken and beef, so it enables you to introduce something new into your dog's diet — in effect, starting with a clean slate.

Some vets sell expensive "allergy-free formulas," but there are ways to figure this out on your own and a lot less expensively. Increasingly,pet owners who have dogs with food allergies are feeding various pet food mixes like Dr. Harvey's, Solid Gold Holistique Blendz or The Honest Kitchen's FORCE formula, which is grain-free, or Sojourner Farms' new grain-free Europa formula.

Pinpoint the problem ingredient
Mixes, while a bit more work, allow you to more closely control what your dog is eating by beginning with a good "base" that contains the proper nutrients and vitamins especially formulated for dogs. Then you can experiment by introducing your own protein sources (whether raw or cooked) and seeing how your dog reacts over the next few days.

Because The Honest Kitchen FORCE Formula is grain-free but chicken-based, I would stick to the Dr. Harvey’s or the Europa, which have no protein or grain sources. The Solid Gold Holistique Blendz formula is also a good choice but that already contains fish protein. Because fish-based protein is an unlikely protein source for your dog to begin with, it's unlikely that it will cause allergy problems now — same theory with the lamb or any other uncommon protein like venison or buffalo or rabbit. If later you find that chicken is ok, I would give The Honest Kitchen FORCE Formula a second look, too.

Beginning with one of these neutral, grain-free formulas, try adding chicken for a week. If that goes well, than your dog is probably ok with chicken. Then try beef. Then lamb. Try fish, too. If that goes well, than it was probably one or more of the grains.

The big picture
Now a picture is starting to form. Your dog's allergies have improved with a grain-free diet that includes certain proteins. As we mentioned before, the point of introducing a different protein source to test your dog's tolerance is because if your dog is suffering some type of food-related reaction, common sense tells you it's something she's already eating. Can't be having reactions to something she never had yet, right?

Please note that when switching a dog's food, do it gradually over five to six days. Begin with a four-to-one ratio of old to new food, than three to two on Day Two, than half and half on Day Three, than two to three on Day Four and one to four on Day Five. By Day Six, you've switched over completely.

Then the real allergy testing can begin in earnest. Stick with the new protein source for a week and then introduce a new one every week, taking note of your dog's reaction (or hopefully lack of one).

An itch-free life
As you've probably figured out by now, there's no one answer or silver bullet that will miraculously solve all your dog's allergy problems overnight. You have to break the cycle by moving your dog to a neutral, grain-free food and begin experimenting with different proteins. Once you find a protein or combination of proteins that work, try slowly introducing grain formulas back into the diet to see if there's a reaction or not.

Using this gradual, commonsense method combined with a good quality dog food should have your dog on the road to a happy, itch-free life.

© Gene Sower

Gene Sower is the author of the e-book "The Dog Food Report: Do You Know What You're Feeding Your Dog?" Download your free copy here:

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