Your dog won't stop scratching but you don't see any fleas: The culprit could be your dog's food. Allergies are increasing in dogs, and food allergies are the third most common culprit. A simple diet change may alleviate your dog's itchy skin.
Common Food Allergens
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The most common ingredients in dog food are also the most common allergens. The worst culprits are grains. Widely used filler ingredients such as corn, wheat and soy often trigger severe allergies in dogs. Common protein allergens are chicken, beef and fish. Occasionally, dogs will develop an allergy to pork or dairy, although these allergies are more rare than with the more common proteins. Check your dog food labels for the presence of any of these common allergy-causing ingredients. If the food contains a common allergen, it's time to look for a new food.
The Importance of a Novel Protein
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An important step in finding a new diet for your dog is to choose a novel protein. The goal is to find a protein that your dog has never eaten to reduce the likelihood of antibodies to the protein in your dog's body. Good sources of include venison, bison or buffalo, rabbit or duck. If your dog has never eaten lamb, that can be a good protein choice. Be sure to read the food labels carefully, as not all ingredients are prominently listed. For example, a "bison" or "duck" food may also contain chicken meal -- you'd want to avoid that until you know chicken's not the culprit.
Consider a Limited-Ingredient Diet
The hardest part of determining the right hypoallergenic diet is figuring out which ingredients are causing the allergic reaction. If you choose a limited ingredient diet, you may have an easier time identifying ingredients that cause a reaction. If the dog food contains only three or four ingredients, you can fairly easily conduct food trials with your dog. But if a food has 20 or more ingredients, it will be almost impossible to identify the allergen. Several high-quality limited-ingredient foods, often with novel proteins, are available on the consumer market. Check your local independent pet store for the widest variety of quality limited ingredient foods.
A Little Home Cooking May Be the Answer
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Commercial dog foods, even high-quality dog foods, must have some preservatives to remain stable on the shelf. If you can't find a commercial food that alleviates your dog's food allergy, consider a raw or home-cooked diet. It may take more time to prepare, but it may actually be less expensive than high-quality kibble or canned food.