Did you know that when you’re doing a hypoallergenic dog food trial, it’s not enough to just change the food? It makes sense, right? Still, I feel like a total doof because I didn’t even think about all the other things that go into a food trial! I’ve been doing this all wrong! To be fair to myself, I didn’t even suspect a food allergy as the cause of my boy Coop’s constant itchy, irritated skin until recently. The vet that we were seeing was certain that it was related to seasonal allergies or flea bites. Never mind that he’s gotten increasingly itchy throughout every season and we take extreme measures to avoid fleas!
I’ve been experimenting with different novel ingredient dog foods with Cooper and started seeing some changes. As editor of DogVills, I’ve learned so much about hypoallergenic dog food. I was just missing one important thing: the proper way to do a hypoallergenic dog food trial. The changes that I saw weren’t enough to convince me that Cooper was dealing with an allergy because I was just doing it all wrong. So how do you properly do a hypoallergenic dog food trial? That’s what we’re going to talk about!
The Right Way to Do a Hypoallergenic Dog Food Trial
Start by talking to your vet!
I have to say it: the first step in diagnosing your dog with an allergy and coming up with a good plan is talking to your vet. We’ve been in between vets for a while. We had an awesome vet a couple of years ago, but unfortunately, he passed away. Since then, we’ve kind of been bouncing around, looking for someone that we feel comfortable with (and, to be honest, can actually afford, as vets in my area are super expensive). I’ve gotten some really weird advice from a few local vets that turned out to just not be that great, but I think we finally found a good one.
Choose your food wisely
With the help of your vet, choose the right food to start your hypoallergenic dog food trial. You’ll most likely come up with something that contains a novel ingredient, meaning something your dog hasn’t had before. Dogs often develop allergies through constant exposure to a certain ingredient. By giving them a novel protein and carbohydrate that they haven’t had, you’re more likely to find something that doesn’t irritate them. This could be an incredibly good brand of dog food or a homemade food. However (and this is a big however), it’s REALLY hard to make your own nutritionally complete dog food without the help of some sort of canine nutritionist. Can it be done? Sure, anything CAN be done, but if you’re not feeling confident, it’s better to spend the extra money on a brand-name food than to wing it.
Feed ONLY that Food
This is where I totally blew it. When you’re doing a hypoallergenic dog food trial, Drs. Foster and Smith say that you have to feed your dog ONLY that special diet and food. That’s it. No treats, no table scraps. It pains me to say, but during this time, not even one of our super fantastic hypoallergenic dog treats. That sounds logical, right? Well, guess what? That’s not all that’s off the table. You’ll also have to avoid flavored medications, any flavored plastic toys (apparently they do exist) and even access to cat litter boxes (we all know dogs love to raid those boxes). Also off the table: rawhide, even if it’s not flavored.
Give it longer than you’d think
In the “old” days, a hypoallergenic dog food trial lasted about three weeks. If no changes were seen after that time, it was considered a bust. However, the good Drs. Foster and Smith point out that it can actually take 12 weeks for your dog to really show signs of improvement. So it’s important that you follow the elimination procedure for the entire time. That’s a long time to go without treats, so I’ll definitely have to find other ways to reward Cooper! Plush toys, maybe? Since they don’t have flavoring? He sure does love tearing the stuffing out of them!
Go back to the old food
This was another part that really surprised me! Again, you and your vet will discuss it in more detail, but you’re actually supposed to go back to the original food after 12 weeks to confirm the diagnosis. If, after going back to it, your dog shows symptoms again, then you know it’s the food (or ingredients in it). If after all that, you don’t see any change at all but you still feel that your dog has a food allergy, then you’ll basically start over with a different novel ingredient.
That about covers the proper way to do a hypoallergenic dog food trial! Again, your vet or, at the very least, an expert in canine nutrition, should be a part of the process.