Many dogs have sensitivities, though they don't like to talk about them -- gets 'em beat up by the other dogs. If your dog is suffering from one or more types of food intolerances, it may be hard for him to talk about it. So, you must look for clues.
An Overview of Food Sensitivities
Sensitivities to foods can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Your dog could break out in hot spots or lick sores, suffer from edema of the lips, experience chronic yeast infections of the ear or bouts of indigestion with its attendant flatulence, gagging, vomiting or diarrhea. Food allergies are not the same as food intolerance or sensitivity, though sometimes the symptoms are the same. A true food allergy causes an immune-system meltdown where the immune system sends out signals that something is attacking and must be contained. A food allergy can cause anaphylactic shock, swelling or an outbreak of candida, or yeast. A food intolerance, or sensitivity usually causes digestive problems, or tummy aches, but also can cause itching and scratching.
Sensitivities Caused by Allergies
If the food sensitivity is an true allergy, it's important to figure out what the culprit is and find a food that won't trigger a full-blown allergy attack. When an animal is allergic to a particular substance, it doesn't take much to make him sick. If your dog is suffering from chronic ear infections, itching anywhere on the body, incessant licking of the paws or rear end, has gastrointestinal problems or runny stool, it could possibly be a food allergy. Some dogs are genetically predisposed to food allergies. The most common foods for allergies include beef, dairy products including eggs, wheat, chicken, lamb, pork, soy, rabbit and fish. Many dogs are allergic to more than one ingredient. The only way really to be sure if the dog is allergic to his food is to take him off all food and begin a new diet regimen with something new. This is called an elimination diet. Your vet will instruct you to begin your dog on a new diet, slowly re-introducing foods until the allergy is triggered.
There is a whole industry devoted to helping allergic dogs live better lives. There are dog foods made from all kinds of animals, including kangaroo, buffalo and yak. There also are prescription diets that change the way the protein is made and how it interacts with the body. Many dog owners find relief for their dogs after a period of trial-and-error. Once you find the right food, it's very important for every member of the family to be on board with the new dietary restrictions. It doesn't do for you to spend money on a premium fish and potato diet only to have Uncle Bernie give him dog biscuits that contain beef or wheat.
Allergies and food sensitivities not related to allergies may not have the same causes, but many times the symptoms are the same. If your vet has ruled out a food allergy, you next need to look at what is in your dog's food that may be causing his upset tummy. If your dog is suffering from weight loss, lack of appetite, gastrointestinal issues and flatulence, it's possible he's having a reaction to one of the many strange ingredients found in commercial dog food. Aside from substandard, low-quality meats, there are dyes, fragrances, spices and preservatives added so the food looks palatable to the owner. However, according to Dr. Lorrain Kassarjian, A South Florida veterinarian, "Those additives don't help the dog at all and in some cases can cause a lot of tummy trouble. Don't fall for those cutesy shapes and colors, they only inflate the price of an already overpriced, poor-quality dog food." Home-cooked foods, raw-food diets and premium diets with only a few organic ingredients are helpful in diagnosing and treating food sensitivities.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.