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How Do I Know If My Dog Has Food Allergies?

July 18, 2019 4 min read

Food allergies in dogs have been a hot topic in the last few years, maybe your dog is itchy, or your vet suggested they may have food allergies. Food allergies can be frustrating, it is heartbreaking to see your dog itchy and uncomfortable. In fact, food allergies can cause a lot more than just an itchy pup, they can lead to behavior problems, vomiting, diarrhea, or even more severe medical conditions


Almost three years ago I was visiting a local animal shelter with a friend of mine. They were the ones who wanted to take home a new family member, but as dog lovers, we all know what happens when you walk into an animal shelter; you fall in love. That’s exactly what happened to me when I met this extremely underweight, almost hairless German Shepherd.


I immediately fell in love and quickly put in my application to adopt him. I knew it would take a while to get him back on his feet, but I had no idea what I was truly in for. The shelter thought he was 4 years old since he looked so disheveled, but after getting checked out by my vet, he was only 6 months! He had several infections as well as hearing and vision loss from his allergies going untreated. 


Several medications and food trials later, he was still having severe side effects of his allergies. That is when I decided to put him on a fully raw diet, and no one could believe their eyes. This underweight, almost hairless, scruffy puppy turned into a gorgeous, healthy, thriving, long-haired German Shepherd. 


Valhalla is almost three years old now and loving life! He no longer needs daily allergy medications. I truly believe a raw diet saved his life. 



So how do I know if my dog has food allergies?


The first step if you think your dog has food allergies is to visit your vet! There are many different types of allergy tests for dogs, or they might suggest a food trial! It is important to visit your vet to rule out any other conditions before pursuing treatment for allergies.

One over the counter alternative allergy test I found helpful was the Glacier Peak Holistics’ Life Stress Scan. 


Some common symptoms of allergies in dogs are:

  • Itchiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Hot Spots
  • Chronic Ear Infections
  • Chronic Skin Infections
  • Itchy and/or Runny Eyes
  • Constant Licking of their Body and Paws
  • Red or Inflamed Skin
  • Swelling 

What is an elimination diet?


Often when people think their dog is suffering from allergies they will try an elimination diet, so what is that? An elimination diet is a process where you feed your dog an entirely new food for 6-8 weeks while refraining from any treats or table scraps. It is recommended that this new food has a single animal protein. This allows you to see how your dogs’ body responds to the food and if their allergy symptoms increase or decrease. If they increase, you can try again with a new animal protein and repeat the process until you find a food that your pets’ symptoms decrease with. It is important to stay with one protein source for 6-8 weeks before switching unless your dog is having a severe reaction. It takes a few weeks for the body to clear everything out from the last food or protein source, so you may not see results right away, but hang in there!


It is also recommended to do an elimination diet with raw dog food. A biological appropriate food is only going to have ingredients in the food that nourish your dog. An over-processed kibble is packed with grains or starches as well as unpronounceable preservatives and additives. If you get a “Salmon Flavored Kibble” and your dog has a reaction, sure it could be because he is allergic to salmon, but it also could be that he is allergic to the starch, the added flavors, the chicken fat, or the preservatives. Did you know that kibbles that are labeled as “Salmon Flavored” are not required to have any salmon in it? Dry and canned dog food labels are incredibly misleading, so it is best to avoid them altogether during an elimination diet. 


When you are trying an elimination diet, be sure to read the label carefully. Often kibble companies will label food as “Salmon Recipe” that will contain salmon but often has other proteins included as well such as chicken, or chicken fat. 




How can a fresh food diet help?


Commercial kibble and canned food have so many ingredients it is hard to do any kind of an elimination diet. For example, my German Shepherd is allergic to preservatives. If I had kept trying to do elimination diets with kibble or canned food that were full of additives, he would have never gotten better. Most commercial kibble and canned foods contain common allergies such as wheat, corn, eggs, and soy. Companies add fillers to their food such as starches like potatoes that are not biologically appropriate for dogs. Overtime those foods end up putting pressure on the immune system, which can lead dogs to develop an allergy.


Raw and fresh food diets also have many more single protein options. All Cali Raw’s adult formulas are single animal protein, with the exception of added salmon oil for Omega-3s. Cali Raw is made with human-grade ingredients and manufactured in a USDA facility. There is a strong emphasis on purity and quality within the fresh and raw food community, unlike commercial kibble Cali Raw uses human grade meats, not rendered meats or low-quality sources of protein.  I always like knowing exactly what I am putting in my dogs’ bowls, but knowing what I am feeding them is exponentially more important when you are dealing with allergies. 


The first step if you think your dog has allergies is to speak with a veterinarian. You can find a holistic veterinarian here

Marissa Sunny CPDT-KA is a behavior consultant and owner of local dog training company, Epiphany Dog Training.


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