Allergies are no joke, especially in the southern United States. Treatment can be expensive, time consuming, and in some cases completely ineffective. The truth is, most dogs that suffer from allergies are actually reacting to something in their environment. This could be pollen, a new laundry detergent, or dust mites. However, for those dogs that do suffer from food allergies, food trials to diagnose allergies and create treatment plans are often done incorrectly at the owner and pet's expense.
What are allergies?
Allergies are caused by an immune response to a certain stimuli. The body releases substances, such as histamines, that cause the body to become inflamed. This inflammation can cause severe itchiness, hair loss, and swollen paws. In some cases, pets that have allergies may have more frequent ear infections, hot spots, and swelling of certain areas.
Treatment for allergies comes in a variety of forms. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an antihistamine and steroid to get your pet through a particularly rough spot. This is especially common for seasonal allergies that may only cause your pet stress for a short period of time. In other cases, your veterinarian may prescribe long term medications to help control the itch and reduce your pet's response to stimuli. This is common treatment for pets that suffer from chronic allergies. Diagnostic testing can be done to determine what your pet is allergic to, but is typically not done because of cost. When this testing is performed, serums can be made to inject your pet with on a routine basis to prevent them from reacting to their specific allergens.
When treatment for environmental allergies cannot help a patient, your veterinarian may recommend a food trial.
How to properly run a food trial:
Food trials are difficult, and it may take a long time before results are seen. Most often, results never occur because pet owners are not properly conducting their food trials. Some common issues noted are:
The first thing to note is that food trials take time. A lot of time. It may take from three to four months before any results are seen. This is because it takes time for the body to eliminate the source of the food allergy. If at any time during the food trial the pet consumes anything other than the approved diet, the clock starts over.
The first mistake noted is that owners typically switch to a grain free food. While it is technically possible for a pet to be allergic to grains, the majority of pets are actually allergic to the protein source. This means that if you are feeding a chicken based food and switch to a chicken based grain-free food, your pet will probably still react. Grains are rarely the source of the allergy.
Another mistake commonly seen is switching from one over-the-counter food to another. Over-the-counter dog foods may be labeled as "chicken" or "beef," but a look at the ingredients can show that the food may have more than one protein source in them. Simply switching from one flavor to another may not cure the problem. In addition, most OTC foods are made in machines that are not properly sanitized or cleaned in-between batches. This means that your "limited ingredient salmon" dog kibble may have been processed in a machine that just had chicken in it. Though it is not a large amount of chicken present in the bag, even a small amount of the protein in question may cause a reaction and reset your food trial clock.
The best way to ensure your food trial is run correctly is to purchase a hypoallergenic food from your veterinarian. These foods are typically expensive, but their sterility are guaranteed and their protein is typically hydrolyzed, meaning it is broken down so small that the body cannot recognize it to react to it.
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
The most common mistake owners make is giving their dog snacks while they are on a food trial. Remember, even a small amount of dust from another food on your pet's new food can start your trial over. This means that a single Milkbone or Snausage will definitely mean that your food trial has been compromised. If you have small children that frequently drop food, a food trial may not be possible unless the pet can be completely separated from areas where your children eat. If your pet is an outdoor pet that has relatively free range, a food trial may not be possible as you cannot monitor everything they consume.
Heartworm Prevention, Flea Prevention, and Medications
Many medications for pets are made with beef, chicken, or pork to entice your pet to take them. While helpful in that regard, even one pill can ruin a food trial. Common medications like Heartgard or Trifexis are not compatible with a food trial. If you plan on starting one, ask your veterinarian about food trail approved preventatives.
As a whole, food trials take a lot of time, can be very expensive, and are very easy to break. If your pet has allergies, the most cost-effective and time-saving method would be to see your veterinarian. They can help you come up with a fool proof plan and treatment regime to get your pet back to normal.