Has your fur-baby recently developed a mysterious rash on his skin? Or is he suffering from chronic ear infections? The heart of the problem may actually be an allergy! Dogs develop allergies just like people do. Things in the air like dust and mold can cause a reaction, but much more often it's food that's the culprit. So how do you figure out what food is causing the problem? You use a food trial!
What is a food trial, you may ask? It is a special diet (usually prescribed by a vet) that helps you identify the allergen that's setting your pooch off. For the food trial to work, your dog must not eat ANY food items other than the ones in the diet. The trial can take up to 12 weeks to perform, although you can usually tell if it's working or not by week 6.
Below are the basic steps you need to take to perform a food trial so you can get your mutt on the mend.
Talking with a professional is key when planning out a food trial. They will be able to guide you in the process so that you have the best chance at fixing the issue at hand. A vet can also help you rule out other possible problems that may mimic allergy symptoms. It may be cheaper in the short term not to book that first appointment, but you may end up paying for it in the long run if your four-legged friend's issues get worse.
For a food trial to work, your pup must be fed a diet he has never consumed before. Think back to any table scraps he may have gotten into. Your best bet is to steer clear of any common foods he may have accessed around the house. Some kibbles are made specifically for food trials to make this process easier. They will often contain wild game, kangaroo or rabbit. Be prepared to spend some extra cash, as these specialised dinners don't come cheap. A more cost-effective option may be to make your own dog food for the trial. It's best just to use one meat and one carbohydrate for the duration of the experiment. If you wish to continue to feed your dog this way after the trial, be sure to talk to a professional about proper supplementation.
Everyone that interacts with your dog must know about the food trial, or it can be easy for it to fail. If anybody sneaks your pooch treats during the diet, allergy symptoms may continue and you won't be able to ID the problem food. If you use dog-sitters or doggy daycare, be sure to let them know about your canine's new restrictions as well.
On paper, 12 weeks may not seem that long. But when you're living it, three months can feel like forever! Don't be worried if you haven't noticed much improvement at the start. By 6 weeks, if none of the symptoms are any better, it may be time for another vet appointment to assess how effective the trial is. But if you've noticed even a slight improvement, hang in there! The full effects of the food trial can take the entire 12 weeks to be seen.
So your food trial worked! Now what? Most food trial diets are not quite nutritious (or affordable) enough to continue indefinitely. This is when you need to start slowly adding items back into your pupper’s tummy. Look for high quality vitamins and minerals if you wish to continue making your dog's dinner. Speak with your vet to find out what bagged dog food you can use after the trial if that's the route you'd like to go. Either way, if any symptoms come back after you've added something new, try eliminating that ingredient. If the issues disappear after that, you've found your allergen!
The steps listed here are simple and straightforward. Life generally isn't. It can take multiple trials before you get rid of symptoms. Allergies can be mild or severe, and many dogs are allergic to more than one thing. As long as you keep working with your vet, there's bound to be a way to ease your fur-baby's discomfort, if not cure it altogether.