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HELPING YOUR DOG DEAL WITH FOOD SENSITIVITIES – By Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, PhD, RD Senior Nutritionist, Petcurean

There is no denying how much we – as pet owners – love our dogs.  In fact, I often hear dog owners refer to the dogs as their “furry, four-legged children.” That is why when our pets start experiencing signs of discomfort such as itchy skin, chronic vomiting, diarrhea, and paw licking, we get concerned.

And so begins the giant guessing game of figuring out what is wrong and trying to fix it.

The good news is that these adverse reactions may be linked to diet and making simple dietary changes can make a world of difference.

Proteins are the component in food that tend to be the cause of adverse food reactions, but they’re also an important requirement in a dog’s healthy diet.  When selecting a food for a pet with food sensitivities, owners need to consider the amount of protein in the food, the protein sources and whether the pet has been previously exposed to the protein. A reduced protein content, fewer protein sources, and novel proteins may all be beneficial for pets experiencing adverse food reactions.

With adverse food reactions seemingly on the rise among dogs, here are some dietary options to consider when trying to help your pet.   

  • Limited ingredient diet – This type of diet provides a single source of protein with as few additional ingredients as possible to meet nutritional requirements. These diets typically use a novel type of plant or animal protein, such as venison or duck, that is not commonly used in pet foods. Once your dog starts this diet, it is important not to feed any other foods or treats. It can take 8 to 12 weeks to determine if the food resolves the dog’s symptoms, so patience is key.
  • Vegan diet– Since animal protein ingredients can be a cause of adverse food reactions, a vegan diet is a possible solution. While vegan diets are not suitable for cats, a plant-based diet can be an excellent option for dogs as long as the diet incorporates ingredients that provide all of the essential nutrients needed to create complete and balanced nutrition. The key here is to find a vegan recipe that has been formulated by a qualified nutritionist to ensure the diet provides all of the nutrition your dog requires.
  • Elimination diet – These diets are used to determine the specific ingredient(s) causing a food sensitivity. Since these diets usually do not provide all of the nutrition a dog requires, veterinary supervision is recommended. All suspect ingredients are eliminated from the diet, which often requires home-cooked meals to carefully control the ingredients. Once a diet is found that resolves the symptoms, the pet is then fed the aggravating ingredient to see if symptoms come back. If they do, an adverse reaction is confirmed. The dog can then be switched to a nutritionally complete and balanced commercial diet that does not include the problematic ingredient(s).
  • Hydrolyzed protein diet – The protein in these diets have undergone a special process to break down the protein into smaller fragments. The change in the protein structure results in a reduced chance of the protein causing an adverse reaction. Hydrolyzed protein diets are available through veterinarians.

For dogs, one diet does not fit all.

Determining the type of diet that is best for your dog can be a process. And, it can take time as you will need to allow your dog to adapt to dietary changes before you can tell if the diet is a fit. Before making the leap to any new diet, I recommend that pet parents research the company that makes the food to ensure it is reputable.  Find out how the company guarantees the quality of their foods and who develops their recipes. Ask if you can speak with one of their nutritionists – a valuable resource when trying to determine which food will work best for a dog with food sensitivities.

We live in a world of options, and when it comes to our pets there is no shortage of dietary choices.  The key is to find out what works best for each pet as an individual, so they can live happy, healthy lives – regardless of whether they are gobbling up chicken and oats, or fish and peas.  


Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She has a Master of Science degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian. She is currently the Senior Nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a Canadian, family-owned company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.


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