A food allergy can cause a host of undesirable side effects in a dog: hair loss, excessive scratching, ear problems and rashes. A homemade diet made especially for your dog may stop his allergic reactions. If you decide to cook for your dog, consult your veterinarian or an animal nutritionist to ensure his new diet meets his specific needs.
Determining the Trigger
Figuring out what is causing your dog's allergic reaction can be a time-consuming process. The vet will need to conduct tests to ensure that an allergy is the true cause of his symptoms. After other causes have been treated or ruled out, the only way to learn the trigger for a food allergy is through a food trial. During a food trial, the dog eats a novel protein and carbohydrate -- one he hasn't eaten before -- for 12 weeks. During that time the dog should not eat anything else but the unique food and water; treats, flavored medicine and rawhide chews are off the menu. As well, the dog should be closely monitored to ensure he doesn't snag stray snacks, such as garbage, dropped food or even something from the cat's litter box.
A food allergy is different from a food intolerance. A typical allergic reaction to food results in skin problems, ear infections and itching; a food intolerance usually causes gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting or diarrhea.
Common Food Allergy Triggers
The most common causes of food allergies in dogs are the most common ingredients in commercial dog food and are:
- Dairy products
- Chicken eggs
When you understand what the culprit is behind your dog's allergy, your first job will be to avoid the trigger ingredient. Don't forget to monitor what's in his treats and any medications he takes. For example, if your dog's allergic to chicken, keeping chicken out of his daily diet only works if it's not in his treats or part of his toothpaste.
Homemade Dog Food Ingredients
Animal-based proteins are an important source of amino acids for a dog; amino acids are the foundation for his cells, organs, tissues and antibodies and are necessary for growth, reproduction and repair. If an animal-based protein such as beef, lamb, chicken or fish is causing your dog's allergies, you have a variety of options to choose from, including:
Carbohydrates give your dog energy and are important to intestinal health; as well, a dog requires glucose to provide energy to vital organs, such as his brain. If grains such as corn and wheat are problematic for your dog, choose from corn and wheat substitutes such as:
- Potato flour
- Oat flour
- Rice flour
- Chickpea flour
- Barley flour
- Brown rice
- Pearled barley
Fruits and vegetables also can stand in for carbohydrates. Consider:
- Sweet potatoes
A dog also requires vitamins, minerals and fat in his diet. Vitamins are necessary for metabolic function, minerals are vital for healthy bones and teeth and maintaining fluid balance, and fat serves as a source of energy, protects the organs and provides insulation. Fat also provides essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, helpful for healing and minimizing inflammation. Organ meats, such as liver, heart, kidney and lung provide minerals and vitamins. Essential fatty acids are found in marine fish oil, flaxseed oil, pumpkin seed oil and soybean oil.
When you've determined what your dog's allergic to, you can substitute other ingredients in a homemade diet.
Cooking for Your Dog
A dog with a food allergy can thrive on a homemade diet that's tailored to meet his specific nutritional needs and avoid problem ingredients. Before switching to a homemade diet, talk to your veterinarian or an animal nutritionist to make sure your dog eats a balanced diet. PetMD.com recommends choosing a recipe created by someone trained specifically in animal nutrition. After you've determined what your dog will eat, follow the recipe as written, without any substitutions; a small deviation can change a diet's entire nutrient profile. Other tips for cooking for your dog include:
- Use a food scale for accurate ingredient measurement.
- Cook animal products to kill potentially dangerous bacteria.
- Cook grains, starchy vegetables and beans for easier digestion.
- Learn about and avoid toxic ingredients for dogs, such as raisins and grapes.
- Use supplements as directed by your veterinarian or nutritionist.