Food allergies and food intolerances: what are they?
The interchangeable use of the terms food allergy and food intolerance can be a little confusing as it suggests they are the same despite having different mechanisms in which they work.
Food allergies invoke an inappropriate activation of a dogs' immune system when exposed to a particular food. An allergen invokes an exaggerated response from the dogs' immune system. However, when we look at food intolerances, these do not invoke an inappropriate activation of a dogs' immune system. They often manifest when a dog cannot process certain foods.
Please note: I can give you scientific information based on facts; however, I am not qualified to provide nutritional or medical advice. For professional advice, please always speak with your vet.
Kero and Bree's food intolerance symptoms
When I got Kero and Bree, food allergies and food intolerances were something I'd never really experienced or considered. It wasn't until I realised that both had them that I looked into it further and did my research. I am so glad I did, as they are both much happier now that I have got to the root of the problem and eliminated problem foods from their diet.
Kero began showing symptoms in 2019 at three years old; he had not shown any intolerance signs or symptoms before this.
Below is a list of the noticeable signs and symptoms Kero displayed:-
- Recurring ear infections.
- Repeated shaking of the head due to the ear infection.
- Infected ear position sitting lower than the non-infected ear.
At first, it was not apparent Kero had intolerances. His first ear infection occurred after a stand-up paddleboarding session with me, and we initially thought it was because of the water getting in his ears. The ear infection was dealt with quickly; however, the ear infections kept coming back, indicating we had to look a little bit deeper.
Bree's symptoms appeared a lot sooner than Kero's. She was still a puppy who had not long come home from her breeder. Her symptoms were also a lot more prominent, so they were easier to identify.
Below is a list of the noticeable signs and symptoms Bree displayed:-
- Chewing paws indicating her paws were itchy.
- Prominent pink discolouration to the white fur on her paws caused by her saliva when chewing her itchy paws.
- Discoloured nail beds.
- Yeast infections.
- Eye discharge.
Choice of diet - Raw food diet for dogs
Through personal preference, both Kero and Bree eat a raw food diet. They have done so for a while now, and it suits us fine; however, it isn't for everyone and transitioning to a raw food diet must be done correctly.
By feeding a raw food diet, I also found that it was much more straightforward to source the diet's components. If they were both fed on kibble or a wet food diet, I don't think I would have been able to carry out an elimination diet as easily and well as I did.
A raw food diet consists of feeding meat, bone and offal in the ratio of 80:10:10. In the case of offal, this must be 5% liver and 5% other offal such as kidney or spleen.
Elimination diet for dogs
To start the elimination diet, Kero and Bree had a novel single protein diet for six weeks. A novel protein is a protein that the dog has never eaten before or, if it has, then has been fed minimally. An initial period of six weeks is the time said to flush the system of any allergens causing symptoms. This period is said to be known as the "detox period."
During an elimination diet, each part of the diet must match your chosen protein, including any treats. Treats should have nothing else in them other than the protein selected. Supplements should be avoided at this stage, if possible, to minimise potential allergens.
Kero and Bree started their elimination diet at different times; however, I followed the same protein order to keep things simple.
For the initial six weeks, the first novel protein I chose to feed was rabbit meat, meaning that all of the meat, bone and offal used to make up their raw food diets consisted of rabbit alone. The treats I used included:-
- JR Pet Products Pure Rabbit Training Treats
- JR Pet Products Pure Rabbit Sticks
- JR Pet Products Hairy Rabbit Ears
- Boiled rabbit kidney as a homemade alternative
After the six weeks was complete, it was apparent that both Kero and Bree were responding well to the rabbit and had no issues meaning I could add it to their "safe" protein list and that they were ready to be moved onto their next protein. A "safe" protein is one that your dog can eat and doesn't cause any allergy or intolerance symptoms.
Following the initial six-week novel protein period, each subsequently introduced protein was given for two weeks before adding the next. If they showed any allergy or intolerance symptoms, I removed the protein from their diet and gave them "safe" proteins again until symptoms cleared.
How I selected the order of proteins
I was careful when selecting which protein to choose next as I wanted to have the best chance of finding Kero and Bree's "safe" proteins as soon as I could to ensure they were getting variety in their diet. Ideally, I wanted to have four "safe" proteins. Chicken and beef are the most common proteins in which dogs show allergy symptoms. I already knew Bree was intolerant to beef, as this became apparent during the transition period when I was moving her onto raw, so I eliminated this straight away. I avoided chicken, and I also decided to avoid other grain-fed birds such as turkey and pheasant as I suspected Bree was possibly intolerant to grain. I tried these proteins later on in the elimination diet and discovered I was right to avoid these because they did cause allergy symptoms.
After rabbit, Kero and Bree were moved onto lamb, followed by pork, then venison. Thankfully these proteins were "safe" proteins which allowed them to have a good varied diet as soon as possible, which was my aim. It was after this point that allergens started becoming apparent, and symptoms started appearing again.
Kero and Bree's Food Intolerances
To date, using an elimination diet, I have determined the Kero and Bree are intolerant to the following foods:-
Each time I introduce something new into their diets, this is the process I follow, and this also includes any extras such as supplements. The process does take time and requires dedication to stick to it. It does, however, make it easy to pinpoint any problem foods to remove from the diet. It is a great feeling to know that something as simple as an elimination diet can help your dogs live their lives comfortably without the inconvenience of food allergies or intolerances and their symptoms.
Why didn't I get an allergy test?
I wanted to see if an elimination diet would work for us first before resorting to an allergy test, as these can be costly. Whether you need an allergy test would depend on your dog and the type of allergies or intolerances it has. It is best to discuss this with your vet.
Why didn't I use special prescription diets?
Everything I choose to do with my dogs, I choose to do as naturally as possible. Kero and Bree were already on a raw fed diet, so there was no need to change to a special prescription diet. If they had been fed kibble or wet food, I likely wouldn't even consider a special prescription diet for them as I am not convinced that these are a high-quality option, and I like to have complete control of what I feed my dogs. If I had not already fed a raw diet, I would likely have explored feeding raw in this case. My suggestion is to do your research, weigh up the pros and cons and make your own decision based on your findings. Speak with your vet. See what is suitable for you and your dog, as what is right for someone may not be right for you.
Why didn't I use medication?
It is my personal choice not to go down the medication route as I feel the best way to deal with intolerances is to find the source of the problem rather than mask it. The medication often used to subside allergy symptoms also pose serious risks and side effects. I did not want to take that risk with Kero and Bree.
Has your dog ever had any issues with food allergies or intolerances, and how did you resolve them? Share your experiences in the comments below; we'd love to hear from you.
Related Blog Posts:
- Understanding Food Allergies And Food Intolerances In Dogs: Symptoms And Treatment
- 10 Tips For Choosing Treats For Dogs With Allergies