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Food Allergies


Many experts state that food allergies only account for 10% of the allergy problems in dogs. From our personal experience, we think that number is a lot higher. Of my five, unrelated dogs, four of them have known food allergies and the fifth has suspected allergies although I have not had her tested yet. Of the six dogs I have owned who have now passed, all but one of them suffered from food allergies. Does this sound like 10% to you?

If your dog is showing signs of itching or chewing itself incessantly, has chronic ear infections, hair loss, mucous covered stools, or chronic diarrhea, you are probably facing a food and/or environmental allergy.

The recommended method of determining food allergies is the elimination method in which you start with a bland diet and then slowly change or add ingredients to see if your dog shows any symptoms. There are several problems with this method.

First of all, it can take weeks or months to test all the foods you feed your dog. If you are feeding kibble, it is difficult to find one that contains few ingredients. In addition, most brands of kibble contain some ingredient that is constant, such as rice. For example; you feed a chicken and rice food and your dog shows an allergic reaction. So you switch to a lamb and rice, and your dog still shows symptoms. Are they allergic to chicken and lamb or just the rice? Moving on, you try a fish and potato variety, and your dog still shows symptoms. Now you are very confused, and in the meantime your dog is itching and scratching and just plain miserable. If you think this sounds farfetched, it isn’t. It is what happened to my dog, Abigail – our poster child for allergy dogs. It turned out that she was allergic to rice, potatoes, fish and several other things.

Second, food allergies don’t always immediately show up and often dogs only develop allergies to certain foods after eating the same thing year after year. This means you could test a brand of food or a certain type of meat/grain/vegetable and, after a week of no symptoms, make the false assumption that your dog has no allergies to these foods. There are few people who have the time to test every possible ingredient out there for an extended period of time, and there is little hope that their dog is receiving a balanced diet in the process of this testing.

So, you may ask, what should you do?

Radioallergosorbent testing (RAST) involves measuring specific allergic antibodies in a dog’s blood. While many people dismiss RAST, saying that it is inconsistent or inaccurate, we have found it to be just the opposite. The quality of RAST has improved in recent years and has become extremely useful in the diagnosis and management of food allergies. While scratch tests and the elimination method can give you a general idea as to whether your dog is allergic to a certain food, the RAST test actually measures the amount of allergic antibody in the blood towards certain foods. This allows you the unique ability to test your dog later on to see if they have outgrown the food allergy. It doesn’t test for every possible food item, but we like it because, if nothing else, it gives you a place to start with your diet changes. It also allows you to see which foods your dog is extremely allergic to or simply has a borderline sensitivity to. There are, of course, the occasional false positives and false negatives, but the elimination method is not without its own potential errors. In addition, you may have to wait up to a week for the results, but again, the elimination method could take months before you get an accurate idea as to what your dog is allergic to. Most veterinary clinics offer the food only test for around $130. A complete test that includes indoor and outdoor environmental factors costs around $300.
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