If your dog is licking and chewing at their paws excessively, or scratching their face so vigorously that it leads to sores, there’s a good chance your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction, and it could be due to food. Dogs that are diagnosed with a food allergy require dietary changes to track down the cause of the allergy, and determine new dietary options. The main options your vet will recommend are a novel protein diet or a hypoallergenic diet.
How Do Novel Protein Diets Work?
A novel diet, which replaces your dog’s current food that may have had a variety of different protein sources with a single protein and a single carbohydrate source, is a helpful way to track down the cause of the food allergy. It’s very important that this new diet include two ingredients that your dog hasn’t previously tried. In addition to a thorough history of your dog's diet over the past three to six months, this novel diet can help your vet to determine which ingredients cause your dog to experience an allergy.
Picking Out a Novel Protein Food
When you’re picking out a new food for your dog, make sure there aren't additional ingredients in the food. For instance, it's possible that you might purchase a lamb and potato food for your pet, but that it will actually contain lamb, potato, corn, and chicken. Since those other carbohydrates and proteins can be the cause of your dog's food allergy, having them included in the food defeats the purpose! Your dog’s symptoms will likely stick around, and you won’t get any further in determining which food causes your dog’s allergic reaction.
Some over-the-counter foods may be made on the same machinery used to package multiple variants of food, which could mean that your lamb and potato food will be cross-contaminated and contain trace amounts of other proteins and carbohydrates.
For a sensitive dog, what's recommended is a food trial with a veterinary therapeutic novel protein diet. This will eliminate the possibility of the food containing trace amounts of other ingredients. It’s also a good idea to consult with your vet before trying a novel protein diet. You’ll want your dog to have options of new foods to try, and experimenting on your own could result in your dog developing more allergies and eliminating the main forms of proteins and carbohydrates.
What Is a Hypoallergenic Diet?
Two things happen to dog food to make it hypoallergenic: the first is that the protein is hydrolyzed, or chopped into small pieces that are difficult for the immune system to recognize, which prevents an allergic reaction from occurring. The second thing that makes food hypoallergenic is that the proteins are stripped away from the carbohydrates, making them a pure source of starch.
There are only a few of these diets on the market now -- such as Purina HA, Hill’s z/d Diet, Royal Canin Hypoallergenic HP, and Royal Canin Anallergen Diet. These diets are made from protein sources like soy, chicken, or even feathers. But don’t be put off, these proteins in the food are actually no longer soy or feathers, but actually small protein chains. As long as the dog’s protein requirement is being met then the source in this case doesn’t really matter. While this type of diet generally isn’t inexpensive, if these foods can curb your dog’s scratching, open sores or persistent diarrhea, they may well be worth the cost.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.