What is an Elimination Diet for Dogs?

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

I confess. Recently my two Schnoodles were overly indulged with a few little “extras” I wouldn’t normally give them. In fact, they’re on a rather strict regimen that involves a pricey low-fat kibble that can only be purchased through my vet’s office – yes, their intolerance to fatty foods is that extreme. So, I figured tasty nibblies that weren’t fatty would be okay, right? Wrong. I won’t go into detail about how my mornings would begin but suffice it to say they involved lots of paper towels. And the situation wasn’t clearing up with time.

This is where the idea of introducing an elimination diet into their daily meal plan first occurred. The goal of an elimination diet is to identify which food (or foods) are triggering the adverse reaction in your pet. It involves initially restricting your pet’s diet to a novel source of protein (one they don’t typically eat) plus one type of carbohydrate for a few weeks. This ensures they’re properly nourished but in a controlled manner. Additionally, this simple combination helps create a ground zero for you and your vet to work from as you try to identify the problem ingredient.

Now, because my pooches were still full of energy, had great appetites and weren’t exhibiting symptoms that suggested something more serious than a dicky tummy, I decided to try resolving this dilemma on my own by isolating the offending food. Much to their chagrin, I took their diet back to basic kibble, then slowly began adding in their favorite extras over the course of two weeks. Flaked tuna, dried liver treats, scrambled egg whites. Then one day, bingo. It ended up being the imitation crab sticks that I used for extra special treats, that were causing the gastric problems. Whether it’s the flavorings or additives used by the manufacturer, these once-beloved treats are now off the shopping list.

But what if in spite of monitoring their food and fluid intake and ensuring they had plenty of outdoor time, my dogs continued to exhibit an inability to produce a solid stool? That’s when it’s time to work with your vet to develop a more structured elimination diet. And once you get past those sad puppy eyes, it’s not that difficult to do.

It starts with a simple 50/50 diet comprised of that one protein and one carbohydrate e mentioned earlier, and your pet will eat this food exclusively, for 12 to 16 weeks.

And just like when we’re tracking our own diets and progress, it’s important to keep a journal of exactly what your pet is eating, when they’re eating it, and the volume they’re fed versus how much they consume. Track any adverse reactions and let your vet know immediately.

Assuming the 50/50 diet didn’t trigger any reaction over the three to four months in use, it’s time to introduce some simple, new foods – one at a time. Turkey, chicken, fish for proteins and some easily digestible fruits like banana are a good start. Add just a little to your pet’s morning meal and if he isn’t reactive, add a little more into his evening meal. After one day with this new ingredient, revert to his 50/50 diet and over the next 48 hours, watch for any symptoms of intolerance.

Again, your vet can coach you as to which foods they want to see added back into your pet’s diet and in what amounts.

At some point, one of the new foods will trigger the reaction you’re watching for. Hint: one of the most common food allergens for dogs is protein including beef, lamb, chicken, eggs, dairy and soy or gluten (wheat). Once the offending ingredient is isolated, you can move forward with searching out brands that don’t use these ingredients or recipes that allow you to prep your pet’s food safely at home.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and two felines who prefer to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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