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Dog Elimination Diets: Helping Dogs Overcome Adverse Food Reactions

Elimination diets for dogs can be very helpful when used correctly. Designed to identify food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities, they are sometimes the only way to figure out just what’s bothering your dog.

Anna Bain

Author: Anna Bain

Dog Elimination Diets: Helping Dogs Overcome Adverse Food Reactions

Anna Bain, canine nutrition writer and raw feeding advocate at ProDog Raw, has lots of experience helping dogs heal through raw feeding. In this article, she discusses tips and advice on dog elimination diets.  

If your dog has allergy-like symptoms, and you’re not sure why, it’s possible something in their diet is responsible. In this article, I detail what dog elimination diets are, how to conduct them, and how to set your dog up for success.

Understanding elimination diets for dogs

What elimination diets are and how they can help

A dog elimination diet involves removing certain foods from the diet to pinpoint and address unwanted symptoms resulting from allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances to specific food types.

Similar to what humans do to determine if a particular food is causing digestive distress, the canine elimination diet consists of the same principles: take something away and observe/document any potential improvements. 

Depending on your dog’s symptoms, diet, and other health-related factors, your vet may recommend removing multiple foods from their routine, and later reintroducing them one by one. Dog elimination diets can also involve removing a single food or group of foods if it’s suspected that these are causing the dog discomfort; though removing all common allergens is generally recommended.

Identifying food sensitivities

The main objective of elimination diets for dogs (and humans) is to identify food sensitivities, allergies, or intolerances [1]. In order to do this, the suspected culprit/s must be removed from your dog’s internal environment for an extended period of time. Once the symptoms are gone and your dog’s gut has had time to repair/restore itself, the foods may be reintroduced slowly to see if the symptoms return.

Foods that cause sensitivities will be different for each dog depending on their individual gut health situation and other factors. However, there are multiple foods that are found to be common allergy/sensitivity/intolerance triggers:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Wheat and gluten (and grains in general)
  • Pasteurised dairy
  • Chicken eggs
  • Maize (same as corn) 
  • Beef/chicken
  • Rice and legumes
  • Preservatives 
  • Sugars/starches

Removing the majority of these is made simpler by switching to a raw, species-appropriate diet, as you’ll be avoiding the presence of any unnecessary ingredients or potential irritants in your dog’s food. ProDog’s 80/10/10 raw food range is perfect for dog elimination diets, as these meal options are just single protein meat, bone and offal sources, without any other ingredients.

Implementing an elimination diet trial for dogs

Conducting an elimination diet

When guiding customers through elimination diets for dogs, we generally recommend eliminating all foods from the common allergens list. This can be difficult, especially if dogs are on a processed food diet, and can feel a little overwhelming at first. There are commercial foods geared toward dogs with sensitivities that contain limited ingredients, which are designed for these situations; though I generally advise keeping dogs away from these. 

My reason for this is that any processed food is usually lacking in nutrients that dogs need to achieve balanced gut health and immune function, and can also exacerbate gut issues, inflammation and immune response [2]. As this plays a major role in the development of food sensitivities (and for several other reasons), I recommend feeding raw, meat-based meals that include single, non-irritating proteins to dogs on elimination diets. ProDog’s 80:10:10 raw food or Exotics meal range, are both great options to choose when embarking on an elimination diet for your dog.

Duration and monitoring

Elimination diets for dogs can take time and patience on your part, as symptoms won’t simply vanish overnight. Again, all dogs are different, but as a general rule it can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks or even longer to see improvement in symptoms. It’s important to monitor any changes in your dog’s health whilst their elimination diet is in progress, as these can be helpful clues into their sensitivities.

If you’re seeing no symptoms in your dog after 4 weeks, it should be OK to reintroduce other foods slowly, one at a time, but don’t rush it. Wait at least a week before reintroducing the next food, and so on. If symptoms return, eliminate the most recent food that you reintroduced until they stop again, and proceed down the list from there. If it takes your dog longer to begin feeling better, that’s ok; just go at their pace.

Because signs of improvement can be subtle at first, I recommend documenting your dog’s condition/behaviour regularly during the elimination phase. It’s easier to miss small changes when you see your dog everyday, so keeping track of their general condition will help you remain aware of anything new or different. For example, is your dog not scratching as frequently? Are their ears less mucky or itchy? Have their toilet habits improved?

Raw elimination diets for dogs

The raw food approach to elimination diets

When considering the raw feeding approach to dog elimination diets, I recommend feeding pure, single proteins during the elimination phase. It’s also recommended to feed dogs proteins that are new to them, which reduces the risk of a reaction. This gives their digestive system a much-needed break from what irritates it, whilst still receiving the majority of nutrients they need. 

Food sensitivities/intolerances/allergies are a result of an imbalanced gut environment. Inflammation, poor microbiome diversity and damage to the vital gut lining (known as leaky gut) can be the root cause of many unwanted symptoms. Species-appropropriate, non-irritating foods will provide respite, allowing the gut chance to recuperate.

Feeding one protein at a time is also a helpful way to discern which foods are causing your dog’s food sensitivities, there may only be one, or maybe a few, so this way helps to identify which ones are causing the reaction. 

If your dog is still experiencing symptoms after eliminating all the above ingredients, they may not be reacting to food sources, but other external environmental issues, such as grass or pollen. Avoiding these, and trying new proteins, such as ProDog’s Novel Proteins range, will likely result in an improvement of their symptoms once you figure out which foods they can tolerate.

Discover ProDog’s Novel protein raw food range

Benefits and considerations of a raw elimination diet

Raw feeding provides multiple health benefits to dogs, plain and simple. It’s their instinctual diet; their species has evolved eating this way. It would make sense, then, that when their bodies react to over-processed foods or biologically inappropriate ingredients, they should be fed the most natural diet possible in order to promote their health.

Read our comprehensive guide to discover more about the benefits of raw dog food.

Sensitivities are a result of dogs’ bodies reacting negatively to a certain food or group of foods; a process that originates within the gut. The digestive system recognises these substances as foreign, and begins to react to them as a way of defending itself. When feeding a diet that dogs’ bodies are designed to digest, these issues are far less common. This is why I recommend raw feeding so highly: it allows dogs’ bodies to function optimally and reduces the occurrence of food-related issues.

Common challenges during elimination diets

Addressing potential hurdles

As dog elimination diets take time and can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, it’s natural for challenges to happen. Your dog’s experience with an elimination diet trial will be unique to them; they may recover from their symptoms quickly, or it might take a little longer. Either way, it’s ok to feel frustrated. This is a new experience for you and your dog, and it’s understandable that you want them to feel better as quickly as possible.

If you’re finding that it’s taking forever for your dog’s symptoms to abate, or getting confused as to which foods to eliminate/reintroduce, it’s a good idea to seek help. Checking in with a holistic vet or contacting ProDog’s canine nutritionist team can help set you back on the path to seeing improvement in your dog. Just remember that it’s a process, and you’re doing the best you can. Your dog appreciates you for it!

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Strategies for success

The best way to set you and your dog up for success during an elimination diet trial is to have a plan before getting started. This way, you’ll be less occupied with thinking about the next steps and more focused on how your dog is responding.

My earlier recommendation to monitor and document your dog’s progress also works for this aspect of the process: writing down foods to eliminate, when to reintroduce them, and how your dog responds will take the pressure off you and help you keep things in order.

An example of how you might do this could be:

  • Write down the foods to eliminate and when you eliminate them
  • Monitor/document your dog’s condition/symptoms regularly for at least 4 weeks, longer if necessary
  • If symptoms are still present, continue step 2 until symptoms are gone
  • Reintroduce foods one at a time, very slowly, one week at a time, continuing to monitor/document
  • If symptoms return, remove the most recent reintroduced food
  • Check in with your vet/nutritionist at scheduled intervals throughout the process

 

Elimination diets for dog allergies

How elimination diets can help with dog allergies

Often the word ‘allergies’ is used as a blanket term when referring to symptoms that are actually food sensitivities or intolerances. 

To clarify, if true ‘food allergies’ are present, typically this will produce more severe reactions to foods, so it’s important to obtain a vet diagnosis and be aware of any potentially life-threatening symptoms, whether your dog has displayed these before or not.

That said, dogs with true food allergies can still find relief from elimination diets and I would still recommend the steps outlined above with your vet’s guidance. Just like with food sensitivities and intolerances, allergies begin in the gut; imbalanced gut bacteria or other digestive issues affect immune system regulation, causing dogs to have full-blown immune reactions to certain substances [3]. 

Individual approaches to avoid reactions

With allergies, regular communication with a holistic vet is even more important. Having your dog tested for both environmental and food allergies could help tailor their elimination diet to allergies that are present, avoiding any unnecessary issues. Be sure to consult your holistic vet, as not all tests are recommended or accurate. 

As mentioned above, most reactions to food are in fact intolerances/sensitivities rather than allergies, but it can be hard to discern without testing or without very obvious allergic reactions (hives, etc.). It’s always best to play it safe for the health and wellbeing of your dog, so consulting the professionals is always advised.

Optimal nutrition during elimination diets

It’s understandable to wonder whether dogs are receiving adequate nutrients during this process. It’s true that removing numerous foods leaves you with less options for feeding, but the guidelines above should help you to figure it out. As less is more during a dog elimination diet, they’ll need to be exposed to fewer foods to determine which ones are harming their digestion. Also, because the process is designed to be temporary, the benefits they receive will likely outweigh any risks of malnutrition if conducted properly. 

However, it is important to provide them with the essential nutrients for canine survival and overall health, which can all be found in ProDog’s raw meals. As I’ve mentioned, pure, single proteins void of additional ingredients are recommended during short term dog elimination diets, and you can always expand their menu once you’ve figured out which foods to stay away from.

Balancing for long term health

As with anything health-related, balance is key during dog elimination diets and beyond. Each dog will require a unique balance of nutrients to promote their lasting optimal health, which can sometimes seem impossible to figure out. However, dogs do generally follow similar guidelines to each other when it comes to nutrition, which can be a helpful starting point. 

ProDog’s raw dog food recipes are created with balanced amounts of key nutrients to promote gut health, balanced immune responses, and overall health in all dogs. Our expert feeding advisors are happy to ask any questions you have pertaining to your dog’s individual situation.

Diet additions to support gut health

After pinpointing and removing all triggers and completing your dog’s elimination diet, the hardest part is behind you both. The next key step to their full recovery is to help rebuild their gut health and restore a healthy balance to their bacterial population. To attain this balance, I recommend the use of certain gut-friendly foods and supplements. 

These can include:

  • Bone broth — Contains multiple health-promoting properties that soothe, restore, and promote balance in the gut; discover more by exploring ProDog’s bone broth options.          * It’s important to be aware that bone broth is high in histamines so may not suit dogs who are on an elimination diet due to excessive itch symptoms. 
  • Prebiotic foods and gut healing supportive supplements — Encourage growth of friendly bacteria and gut restoration; examples include pumpkin, sweet potato (cooked), unripe bananas, dandelion greens and mushrooms (especially Lion’s Mane, Chaga and Turkey Tail).
  • Nutritional supplements — ProDog’s Protect, Colostrum, Digest and probiotics supplements are all designed to support gut health and promote the growth of healthy bacteria.

Whilst all of these are excellent choices for restoring gut health, all dogs’ situations are unique, and require tailored support. I highly recommend a chat with our expert feeding advisors to ensure your dog receives the best match for their individual gut health.

Supplements by ProDog

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Elimination diets for your dog’s health and happiness

As a canine nutrition writer and raw feeding advocate, I’ve seen my share of dogs with food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances. I’ve also observed the difference between dogs that are fed a raw, species-appropriate diet and those that are on commercial food, and it motivates me to continue my work promoting a more natural approach to diet and health as much as possible. 

Whilst it’s true that dogs on a raw diet can still have these issues, the fact that they’re eating the foods that nature intended for them makes these occurrences much less frequent.

Elimination diets for dogs may seem daunting at first, but using the guidelines I’ve discussed here, you’ll be well on your way to a successful experience. Feeding fresh, whole foods that omit unnecessary ingredients and provide essential nutrients throughout the process, along with utilising gut supporting foods and supplements, will give your dog a better chance at a full recovery from their symptoms.

Elimination diet FAQs

What is an elimination diet for dogs?

Elimination diets for dogs involve eliminating certain foods for the purpose of identifying food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances. They’re performed over a period of 4-12 weeks, sometimes longer depending on how long dogs’ symptoms take to resolve.

When should I consider an elimination diet for my dog?

If your dog is showing symptoms such as frequent digestive issues, itchiness or other skin conditions, or respiratory issues such as eye or nose discharge, these may indicate a food allergy or intolerance and an elimination diet may help to resolve the issue.

How to perform an elimination diet trial for dogs?

Eliminating common food allergens, as well as any other foods you suspect may be causing your dog’s symptoms, for a period of 4-12 weeks is the basis of an elimination diet. More detailed instructions are listed in the “Implementing an elimination diet trial” section above.

Can I do a raw elimination diet for my dog?

Yes, and I highly recommend it. Raw diets for dogs provide essential nutrients needed by the body in order to encourage healing, and they’ll omit most common food allergens. If the issue is with a certain protein, this can be avoided and other proteins can be given in its place.

However if you would like guidance from a dog nutrition expert, you can contact ProDog’s specialist nutrition team for FREE tailored advice.

What are common mistakes to avoid in elimination diet trials?

Giving up too soon, feeding commercial dry foods that contain common allergens/fillers/preservatives, feeding treats that aren’t single protein or contain ingredients that could be potential triggers, and re introducing foods or feeding too many new foods at once, all of which should be avoided.

Are there specific elimination diets for dogs in the UK?

Your holistic vet or canine nutritionist can recommend an elimination diet based on your dog’s individual needs and their specific condition. Alternatively, follow the advice in the article above or contact ProDog’s specialist nutrition team for FREE tailored advice.

How long does an elimination diet trial typically last for dogs?

4-12 weeks is typical, though some may take longer if symptoms don’t abate within this time, or if it’s determined that different foods should be eliminated.

References

  1. Dodds, W. Mar 2018. Diagnosis and Management of Adverse Food Reactions. Biomedical Journal of Scientific and Technical Research;, 3(1). Doi: 10.26717/BJSTR.2018.03.000868
  2. Masuda, K., Sato, A., Tanaka, A., Kumagai, A. 2020. Hydrolyzed diets may stimulate food-reactive lymphocytes in dogs. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science;, 82(2):177-183. Doi: 10.1292/jvms.19-0222
  3. Craig, J, BVSc, MRCVS, Cert SAD. Feb 2016. Atopic dermatitis and the intestinal microbiota in humans and dogs. Veterinary Medicine and Science;, 2(2):95-105. Doi: 10.1002//vms3.24

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