Written by Dr. Greg Martinez, DVM
Throughout my 38 years in practice, I have seen hundreds of dogs and cats heal from skin, ear, stomach and bowel issues by changing their diet. It seems that certain breeds are more prone to food allergies or sensitivities, like Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, and Boxers. Some dogs just don’t tolerate certain ingredients in their diet. When a sensitive dog or cat eats something that he or she is intolerant or allergic to, it can negatively impact his or her health in a variety of ways. An elimination diet can help your pet with their food allergies and
may have a positive impact on your dog or cat’s health.
Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance
It can be difficult to know if your pet is dealing with a sensitivity or an allergy to food. Food allergies are caused by an immune system response, which can lead to hives, itching, inflamed ears or diarrhea. Food sensitivities, or intolerances, are much more common than food allergies, and they are caused by a digestive system response. If a pet is sensitive to a food, that food will not be digested well and will cause discomfort in the gut and elsewhere.
Some symptoms of a food intolerance include:
- Gas or noisy stomach
- Irregular stool or painful bowel movements
- Itchy skin
- Lack of interest in food
Protein sources are common causes of food sensitivity in pets, with beef, wheat and chicken being the most prevalent. Food additives, such as artificial flavors and dyes, are also frequent culprits for intolerances.
I was taught that these food-related issues cause less than 10% of skin, ear and bowel issues. However, from my experience in counseling pet parents on diets, I now believe that irritating food ingredients may cause 20% or more of allergy or intolerance symptoms in pets.
Elimination Diet for Food Sensitivities
Determining whether or not your dog or cat has a food tolerance will take a vet visit, along with some time. Your vet will likely recommend you try an elimination diet to try to discover the ingredient or ingredients that are causing your dog’s symptoms. An elimination diet is one that has a single source of animal protein and the fewest number of carbohydrates and does not contain wheat or wheat gluten. You might be surprised, but many commercial dog foods labeled “chicken” have additional animal proteins in the recipe. You can easily check this by looking at the ingredient label and reading through all the ingredients. Stella & Chewy’s offers many single-source animal protein recipes in all product lines, from raw to kibble to treats. Fish, venison, rabbit and limited ingredient kibble diets are good choices to try for those pets with moderate to severe symptoms. To help support your pet’s digestive system, look for foods that also contain beneficial probiotics. Sticking to a limited ingredient diet, like the limited ingredient Raw Coated Kibble options from Stella and Chewy’s, for 30-45 days will help you to determine which ones cause the least number of symptoms. If the ingredients chosen are the right ones, then the signs of chronic inflammation (itchy skin or ears; occasional vomiting and diarrhea) may subside or even disappear. If not, then another animal and/or carbohydrate should be chosen to start a new 30- to 45-day trial.
It’s important to not spoil the elimination diet with biscuits, rawhide, jerky or dental chews containing one or more allergenic ingredients. Those biscuits and treats may contain ingredients that cause problems. If your dog expects treats, try baby carrots or green beans or get treats made up of the same ingredients as those in the diet. Once you have determined which ingredients decrease their ear, skin, stomach or bowel issues, then you know which type of food works best for them.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your vet about any health concerns you have about your dog. You and your vet can work together to come up with a plan for uncovering any hidden food sensitivities that may have a negative impact on your pet’s health.
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Greg Martinez, DVM has been a partner/owner of Gilroy Veterinary Hospital in Gilroy, California for more than 30 years. He is the author of three books: Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet, Dog Diet Answer Book, and Feed Your Pet to Avoid the Vet. You can learn more about Dr. Greg by visiting his YouTube channel at youtube.com/DrGregDVM.