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Food allergies are a common cause of skin irritation in dogs, and most vets and dog owners will agree that they can cause a great deal of discomfort to your four legged friend.
There is quite a lot of misinformation about allergies to food in dogs. Here are the important things you need to know about this condition.
1. The symptoms of food allergy in dogs can also occur with many other skin diseases. So, you can't look at your dog and say with certainty that his red irritated skin and itchy ears are definitely caused by something he's eating. Dogs with a food allergy are usually very itchy on the face, feet, and ears. They can scratch themselves until they break the skin and it becomes infected. It's very distressing to see your dog so miserable.
2. Your dog doesn't develop a sensitivity to that new food you've just started giving him. Dogs become allergic to a food that's been a regular part of their diet for several years. Like people, they are often sensitive to wheat, corn, lamb and dairy products, but in reality, they can react to any component of their diet.
3. It's not always easy to prove that your dog's itchy skin is due to a food allergy. There are other causes of similar symptoms, such as atopy, an allergy to pollens and dust in the air. You can visit a dermatologist and have skin tests done to see what he's allergic to, but it's easier and cheaper to do a food trial at home. After all, when you visit a dermatologist, he'll often ask you if you've done a food trial yet. What this involves is feeding your dog something he's never eaten before. That way he won't be allergic to it, and his skin should clear up. You need to think of a new protein source to feed him, perhaps fish or venison, and a new carbohydrate source. Feed him this for 8 weeks, with no additional foods, table scraps, training treats or anything. That's the hard part, but it's worth doing. If his skin improves, then you know what he's eating is contributing to his itchy skin.
4. If you've done your food trial and confirmed that his diet is a problem, the next step is treating it. This takes as much commitment as diagnosing it in the first place. You basically have to figure out what parts of his diet are the problem and never feed them to him again. So, choose one part of his regular diet, such as beef. Feed it to him for two weeks, and watch his reaction. If he starts scratching again, stop feeding it, and add it to the list of foods he can't have. If he doesn't start scratching, then it goes on the list of "okay" foods. This is another long slow process, but you'll eventually end up with two lists of foods: one list of those that are safe for him to eat, and another list of foods that will cause him to react and start scratching. At this point, you can basically treat his food allergy by just feeding him from the list of foods that don't make him itch. You shouldn't need to use any medication, or you'll need considerably less, which is much safer for his health.
5. While your dog is going through this long process, there are other things that you can do to make him feel more comfortable. Antibiotics will control the secondary infection in his skin, and a gentle oatmeal shampoo will soothe the itch and irritation. and if you wish, you can include a leave-in oatmeal conditioner. Don't forget to be meticulous about your dog's flea control - it would be a shame to work so hard on managing his food allergy if he was to continue scratching because of fleas.
Food allergies are hard work, but it's very much worthwhile going through this long arduous process. It can mean you are able to control your dog's skin inflammation and stop him scratching, without resorting to potentially harmful medication. Isn't that worth it?