By the staff at Petagogy
Folks come into our store everyday complaining that their pets are suffering from any number of maladies: constant itching and scratching, frequent ear infections, poor coat quality, loose stool, chronic gas, or red bumps on their skin, just to name a few. Frequently, these symptoms can be a sign of a food intolerance or allergy. Food intolerances and allergies can literally arise overnight, and the problem food could be something that your pet has eaten without problems for years. While it can be difficult to diagnose a food allergy or intolerance, there are a number of steps you can take to try to solve the mystery.
First, work with your veterinarian to make sure that your pet’s symptoms truly indicate a food intolerance or allergy and aren’t indicative of another medical problem. If your pet otherwise receives a clean bill of health, your vet will likely recommend eliminating certain foods to pinpoint the offending food ingredients. With an elimination diet, you feed a food that has different, unique protein and carbohydrate sources from what your pet currently eats, and you remove as many excess ingredients you possibly can while still maintaining a complete diet. Your vet may also discuss allergy testing as a possibility; while this will most likely uncover am allergen, trying the elimination diet method first may offer a less expensive (and less painful) way to test for allergies.
When looking for unique proteins, try thinking outside of the box. If your pet has been on a chicken or beef diet as long for as you can remember, try lamb, duck, turkey or fish. If you need something even more unique, there are options such as buffalo, venison and kangaroo. Make sure your new food is a single-source protein. This makes it easier to figure out if the allergy is caused by a particular protein. And always look at the ingredient list; even though a food says “lamb” on the front of the package, the ingredient list will tell you if it’s supplemented with other protein sources such as chicken meal. Carbohydrates can also be the source of an allergy or intolerance. Stay away from anything in your pet’s current food and try something a little more unique, such as potato, tapioca, quinoa or chickpea. Better yet, opt for a grain-free food.
High-quality foods that are billed as “limited ingredient” can also be a good option, as they try to remove as many extraneous ingredients as possible while maintaining a complete diet. Higher quality foods can also contain fewer ingredients. If feasible, consider trading up from a kibble to a canned diet or, better yet, to a frozen, dehydrated or freeze-dried raw diet. Raw diets do not require any fillers or preservatives, which eliminates several ingredients that are common in kibbles. Additionally, make sure you are not giving your pet treats that may contain the problem ingredient. During this experiment consider feeding the new food as a treat (for example, canned diets can be frozen or baked, then turned into chunks and fed as a treat).
For those pets with severe allergies, the best option may be to temporarily feed a homemade diet. In consultation with your vet, feed a single-source protein with as few additional ingredients as possible. In these cases, there are vitamin and mineral food supplements available that can turn a piece of meat into a complete diet.
Within a few weeks you should be able to see whether the elimination diet is working. Once your pet is symptom-free, you can begin to figure out what foods caused the allergy or intolerance. Slowly reintroduce foods, one at a time, perhaps one every other week, and watch closely for the return of any symptoms. Alternatively, once your pet is stabilized, try introducing different food brands to see if any one of them contains the ingredient causing the allergy.
After going through this process, you should have an idea of what ingredients to avoid in pet foods, as well as which particular brands or recipes do not cause problems for your pet. Once you have a couple of these, feed them on a rotating basis, switching the food every couple of months. It is thought that this can help your pet avoid developing other allergies in the future.
This can be a long and frustrating process for both you and your pet, but, in the end, you will be rewarded with a happy and symptom-free pet. And if you have any questions or issues along the way, the friendly folks at Petagogy are here to help you through the process.
Petagogy (pronounced pet-uh-go-jee) specializes in premium and natural pet foods, treats and supplies for dogs, cats and small mammals. Petagogy is located at 5880 Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside. Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Visit their website at www.petagogypgh.com.