These days, dogs seem to be as susceptible as humans are to allergies, particularly food allergies. Some ingredients that go into mass-produced dog food can make it hard to avoid food allergens. A home-cooked diet may be your pooch's best bet for allergy-free dining.
If your dog has a food allergy, an elimination diet will help to determine which foods are causing the allergic reaction so you can permanently eliminate it from his diet. Providing a home-cooked diet at this stage can be helpful because it gives you complete control over the ingredients. The goal with an elimination diet is to provide completely different sources of protein and carbs than your pooch is used to eating. Then gradually add back in types of food that he's eaten before, one at a time, taking note of how they affect him and eliminating for good those that exacerbate his allergies. With the prevalence of lamb and rice in commercial diets, more unusual protein and carbohydrates, such as venison, fish, oats and sweet potatoes, might provide better results.
Once you've determined which foods should be avoided, experiment with a variety of hypoallergenic recipes to provide your pooch with both balanced nutrition and flavor that he enjoys. Some good rules of thumb when concocting your dog's diet are to provide variety, to supplement with vitamins, especially calcium, and to aim for nutritional balance over time rather than trying to hit the bulls eye with every meal. Consult your veterinarian to determine the best combination of proteins, carbs and vitamins to feed your dog.
One drawback of a home-cooked diet is that it can be hard to know how much you should feed your dog. A good starting point is to feed him two to three percent of his body weight each day. It may seem counterintuitive, but large dogs may need a smaller percentage, while small dogs may need a larger percentage. Toy breeds can eat up to five percent of their body weight without gaining weight. Watch your dog over time to see whether he gains or loses weight on this new diet, and adjust the portion size accordingly.
If you boil your dog's food, be aware that nutrients can leech out into the water. To be sure your fuzzy friend gets all of what's good for him, stir the cooking water back into the food, or let him lap it up on the side. To save time, prepare the food in large batches and freeze it in smaller portions. Just be sure not to add in any supplements until feeding time, because they might be damaged by freezing. Most vegetables and greens can be fed to your dog, provided that they don't aggravate his allergies, and herbs and spices can be added for flavor; but onions and garlic should always be avoided, because they can be harmful to your dog. If you're unsure whether a particular food is safe for your dog, always consult your vet before feeding it to him.
- John Howard/Lifesize/Getty Images