Unfortunately, many allergy tests on the market are known to produce false positives. This can make finding safe foods for pets with food allergies very difficult. A properly executed elimination diet is a useful tool in identifying which foods are safe for dogs and cats.
Itching, vomiting, gas, and loose stools can sometimes be the result of food intolerances if other causes for these symptoms have been ruled out. Many pet owners attempt an elimination diet by randomly eliminating certain foods that they suspect might be the problem. However, this approach is hit or miss, and the owner may be eliminating one food while leaving other foods in the diet that may be causing the problem. In order to clearly identify problem foods, a strategic approach needs to be taken.
Before beginning an elimination diet, it is important to rule out other potential causes of your pet’s symptoms. The same symptoms that may indicate a food intolerance can also indicate other dietary or medical issues. Identifying the root cause of the issue is essential in order to assess whether an elimination diet is appropriate.
The pet should be free from medical conditions, parasites, and protozoa before attempting an elimination diet. A complete physical wellness exam should be performed by a board certified veterinarian to ensure the animal is physically healthy.
In addressing the above factors, pet parents may discover that their pet does not actually have food intolerances, therefore an elimination diet is not necessary. However, if the above issues have been ruled out and it is believed that the dog or cat has food intolerances or allergies, then an elimination diet is necessary to alleviate symptoms and build a diet of safe foods.
There are several factors to consider when attempting an elimination diet. It is important to set realistic expectations to avoid future frustration. Caring for a pet with special needs is never easy, however being prepared for the commitment will hopefully help prevent discouragement for the pet owner.
Common Food Allergens
While every pet is an individual, there are a few foods that tend to be “common” allergens. This is not to say that these proteins are “bad” in and of themselves, but due to various factors there are a higher percentage of pets that have been noted to be intolerant to these proteins. Some proteins to potentially avoid are:
When choosing a safe protein to begin an elimination diet, these proteins offer guidance on what to initially avoid. Although, if you know for certain that your particular dog does well with one of these proteins, then there is no reason to eliminate them from the diet.
“Novel” Protein Diet
Step one of starting an elimination diet is finding a safe protein for your pet. This is often a “novel” or “exotic” protein that the dog or cat has never eaten before, although it could be a more common protein that does not cause a reaction. This depends on the individual animal and what proteins are easily accessible. The following is a list of protein suggestions besides beef and chicken, however every pet is an individual and may or may not react to any given protein.
Once a novel protein is selected, begin by constructing a base diet for the dog or cat. It is important to follow the ratio guidelines that are appropriate for the species and life stage of the animal. Adult dogs have different ratio guidelines in comparison to puppies and cats. These ratio guidelines will serve as the foundation for the elimination diet utilizing a novel protein.
Start by feeding the base diet with a novel protein for 6 weeks without any other ingredients. This initial 6 week period is required as a “reset” period to allow the pet’s body to heal and reset. It can take up to 6 weeks for histamine levels to decrease. Therefore, the goal of this period is to reduce histamine levels within the body which will decrease symptoms.
If additional treats are given during this time, it is important to ensure those treats are single ingredient and are in the same novel protein as the elimination diet. Otherwise, it is best to avoid any treats with multiple ingredients to avoid possible reactions during the elimination diet process. Additionally, it is not recommended to add any supplements at this time because many supplements have binders or alternative ingredients that may cause a reaction. In order to have full control of individual ingredients it is necessary to trial each supplement individually later in the process.
Realistic Expectation Tip 1
If symptoms begin to get worse on the novel protein, a different protein selection may be required.
Slow Ingredient Introductions
Once a safe baseline diet has been fed for 6 weeks and the pet’s symptoms have improved, begin slowly introducing new foods. Each new ingredient should be given one at a time for 2-4 weeks each to determine if the new food is safe.
Realistic Expectation Tip 2
This process can be tedious, but if followed accurately it will provide the steps to identify which foods the pet can safely eat and which foods must be eliminated.
Achieve Nutritional Balance
In the beginning stages, an elimination diet will not be nutritionally balanced. This is temporary and will not have detrimental effects for adult dogs and cats! However, an elimination diet is not recommended for growing puppies and kittens without careful formulation from a nutritionist.
For adult dogs and cats, the focus should be on strategically introducing new ingredients that will help to balance the diet. Which ingredients to trial first can depend on what safe novel protein was selected to create the foundation elimination diet.
Whole Foods for Essential Nutrients Article
It is important to identify these common deficiencies and select the appropriate whole foods to provide a nutritionally complete diet. Find out more in the whole foods for essential nutrients article.
“Hidden” ingredients in supplements can be problematic if the pet parent is not aware of them, or if the supplement is required for a medical condition. In an elimination diet, supplements should also be introduced with a 2-4 week trial period per supplement. Additionally, it is important to read the ingredient labels and be mindful of what certain ingredients may be derived from. Certain supplements may be made from whole foods that the pet is sensitive to. Examples include:
This is not an exhaustive list of potential hidden ingredients in supplements. It is recommended to read the ingredient label carefully and research how the supplement is made. If a supplement that is required for a medical condition contains a problem ingredient, then it is recommended to consult with a veterinarian for an alternative.
Pets with food sensitivities often may have poor gut health and biodiversity. Some additional gut health protocols may prove beneficial.
If the steps in an elimination diet are followed properly, then it is possible to eliminate problematic foods and have a happier, healthier pet.
An elimination diet is a long process and it can get expensive for pets who require harder to source ingredients. However, the effort applied to accomplishing an elimination diet protocol will result in a pet with a better quality of life!