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DERMATOLOGY: FEEDING AN ELIMINATION DIET TO DIAGNOSE FOOD ALLERGY IN DOGS

YVCipedia DERMATOLOGY
FOOD ALLERGY DIAGNOSIS BY FEEDING AN ELIMINATION DIET FOR DOGS

The symptoms of food allergy are identical to the symptoms of other allergies (housedust, mold, pollen, flea bites, other insect bites, etc.) Dogs with bacterial skin infections, fungal infections, mange mites, and a long list of other problems also can have the same symptoms as a dog that has food allergy. It is important to consider all of these possibilities along with the possibility that your pet has food allergy. We recommend that you consult with us if you want to determine whether or not your dog has food allergy; we will help you create a diagnostic and treatment plan that is specific for your pet, and that takes all of these other possibilities into account.

CHOOSING THE ELIMINATION DIET
The second-best choice for diagnosing food allergy is Prescription Diet Z/D. While we do not consider this the best choice, we still consider it an excellent option. For many dog owners it is the only practical option, because it is more convenient than the best option. 

The best option for diagnosing food allergy is to feed a home-prepared diet made from two ingredients, a fresh protein and a fresh carbohydrate. It is most important to find ingredients that your dog has not eaten before. Please start by writing down a food history: try to remember all of the different foods that your dog has eaten. This list will guide your choice for the elimination diet ingredients. (As of 2016 an option for home-cooked diet that would be appropriate for most dogs would be ostrich (or emu) and rutabaga.)

THE PROTEIN SOURCE  Possible protein sources include:
lamb
venison
elk
moose
ostrich
emu
kangaroo
horse
rabbit
goat
ocean perch
white fish
duck

If your dog has eaten foods with any of these protein sources, even if it was a small amount in the distant past, then you should not use that protein source. 

The meat must be pure, without any additives (spices, seasonings) and without other meats. If the meat is ground, make sure your butcher uses a clean grinder.

The meat should be trimmed of any excess fat and then boiled, broiled, microwaved, or baked. If you use duck either skin it before cooking or holes in the skin large enough to allow the fat to drain. If you boil the meat drain the water and fat. (You can skim the fat and let it harden into lard, and the lard can be used to give your dog pills.) Do not add any seasoning. Large quantities can be prepared and frozen. Fish should be poached until it is white and flakes easily.

Occasionally we will use pinto or kidney beans as a fresh protein source to decrease the amount of meat. Soak the beans overnight, discard this water, add fresh water (enough to keep the beans covered throughout cooking) and boil them until they are tender (usually 1-2 hours).

THE CARBOHYDRATE SOURCE  Options for a carbohydrate source include:
white or red skin potatoes
sweet potatoes
rutabagas
squash
green beans
green peas
barley
oats

If your dog has eaten any of these carbohydrate sources before, then you should not use it.

The carbohydrate must be fresh, not pre-cooked. It should not be seasoned, and it should be boiled with nothing added to the water. Large quantities can be prepared in advance and refrigerated. 

FEEDING THE ELIMINATION DIET
Except as noted, the following information pertains to both Z/D and the home-cooked diet.

In the home-cooked diet the proportion of ingredients should be 50% meat and 50% carbohydrates. Begin with 2 cups of the cooked mixture per 20 lbs body weight per day. If your dog is still hungry you can probably increase the amount of carbohydrate to as much as double, but please consult with us before making this change. 

There is a relatively large amount of water in the home-cooked diet, so your dog may not drink as much while eating this food. 

Elimination diets are highly digestible. Your dog may not defecate daily while eating this diet. 

Make the change from the old diet to the elimination diet gradually:
Day 1  1/4 new diet, 3/4 old diet
Day 2  1/2 new diet, 1/2 old diet
Day 3  3/4 new diet, 1/4 old diet
Day 4  all new diet

Despite the gradual conversion some pets will develop diarrhea and/or vomiting. Some dogs will be reluctant to eat the new food. Do not give up without consulting us; these problems are usually easily fixed. 

It is very important that your pet eat and drink only the elimination diet. 
No vitamins or other supplements, including fish oil.
No rawhide or other natural chew items.
No table food or dog treats (if you are feeding Z/D you can feed Prescription Diet hypoallergenic treats).
Temporarily change to non-chewable heartworm preventive and flea and tick control. 

Feed the elimination diet for a minimum of 8 weeks; 12 weeks is preferable. Please do not discontinue the diet without consulting with us. 

Keep a daily itch calendar, noting mild, moderate, severe, or none. If the diet works you may not see complete relief from itch, but some lesser degree of relief instead. 

Your dog will not eat the elimination diet for the rest of its life. If we determine that your pet has a food allergy using an elimination diet, we will then create a diagnostic plan to determine which foods provoke an allergic response. Once we have determined this we can help you select a long-term maintenance diet. 

Yarmouth Veterinary Center
2016

For other articles about related topics please see the Dermatology and Digestive Tract sections of the YVCipedia. The YVCipedia can be found on our website, yarmouthvetcenter.com.

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