Nov 05 2015

Words of Wisdom by Dr Lisa Lunde

“My dog is itching and it didn’t get better when I changed its food so it can’t be that he/she has a food allergy.”
This is a common comment I hear when I am presented with someone’s pet who is itching excessively.
First of all, PLEASE don’t start changing foods because your friend, the internet or a store clerk tells you to. I think it is good that people are aware of food sensitivities but animals itch for multiple reasons such as allergies to inhaled allergens and parasites including fleas and microscopic mites.
There is no doubt that diet affects the health of dogs and cats skin but a diagnosis as to WHY the pet is itching should be made prior to switching foods. This can actually potentially complicate the diagnosis and treatment. If a food sensitivity is suspected, the food change that is recommended varies. The choice is based on obtaining a history of each type and flavor of food that has been fed in the past. Animals become allergic to substances they have been fed for awhile so allergies are usually not related to a new food. Treats, rawhides, other dental chews, people food given intentionally or unintentionally, bird feeders and even exposure to cat, or other animal feces must be considered.
Ideally, a food trial is designed by feeding a protein and a carbohydrate source that the dog has not been exposed to. This becomes very difficult in dogs that have been fed multiple varieties of protein in their lives. I know some people recommend this approach but personally I recommend feeding one protein (example chicken) at a time and only changing if a true problem has been identified. When people report their dog gets “bored” and they need to switch foods, I respond that wild predecessors of dogs would not be likely to say “Oh no, not venison again”! Sometimes a prescription diet using hydrolyzed protein that has been broken down into small enough particles that the immune system cannot recognize it as an allergen is the only way that a food trial can be accomplished. It may take up to 8 weeks before the effects of the previous diet fed is out of the dog’s system and to decide if a diet change is beneficial. Any supplemental food sources like treats need to be eliminated during the trial to find if the dogs symptoms improve on the new diet.
As you can see, food trials can be complicated so you can save a lot of frustration, time and money if you ask your veterinarian before making changes in your pet’s diet. I love to talk about nutrition so don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment so I can assess your pet’s diet. We believe good nutrition is essential to your pet’s overall health.

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