My pet is on a grain free (or a raw food) diet, so it can’t be food allergies, right?

The short answer to this very common question is “WRONG!”  Unfortunately, there has been a  great deal of misinformation in regards to commercial based diets vs grain free or raw food diets.  There has been a push by some to feed more of a raw food diet.  Raw food diets can potentially be unbalanced, thus not providing the right nutrition for the health of your pet or could potentially be contaminated with harmful organisms, resulting in your pet acquiring an infectious disease.  Grains have gotten a bad rap in the last few years, and although they can cause food allergies, they are lower on the list of likely suspects. Additionally, grain free and raw food diets have been linked to an increased risk in dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart disease, in some dogs.

Most often the offending food allergy is to an animal protein such as beef, chicken, dairy or fish, no matter how processed or “unprocessed” (i.e. raw) a food is.  Food allergy, much like environmental allergies, can cause variable degrees of itching/chewing, recurrent skin and ear infections and occasionally gastrointestinal problems (loose stool, vomiting).  Food allergy is often a very frustrating diagnosis to make as veterinarians have to ask their owners to please stop feeding their pet’s current diet and all their treats.  In order to perform a good food trial to rule in or out a food allergy, it is imperative that the trial be strict.  Although the more common offending ingredients in your pet’s diet are animal protein-based, the possibilities of other ingredients are likely as well due to the varied nature of our pets’ foods and treats, and there is no way of knowing which ingredient might be the one contributing to a food allergy.

The other challenge we face is the type of food trial to be performed.  The “gold-standard” food trial is a home cooked diet.  That being said, in today’s busy world, as we often find it hard to cook our own meals, how are we going to find time to cook for an 80 pound lab with an insatiable appetite? Fortunately we have several commercial diets available.   One approach is to feed a “limited ingredient” diet that is limited in the number of proteins and carbohydrates in the food and contains a “novel” protein (one the pet hasn’t eaten before).  Although, not every limited ingredient is equal!  Unfortunately it has been discovered that proteins can have cross-reactions with other related proteins.  For example, for those animals allergic to beef, they may have reactions to venison, buffalo, lamb etc, (those with chicken allergy to duck and other poultry) even if they haven’t eaten that protein before.  Some recent studies of various “limited ingredient” over-the-counter diets have discovered cross-contamination with additional proteins that occurs during processing, so, in short, these diets are not so limited.  Wow, with all this, what diets are out there?  We have several prescription diets that have very unique proteins (kangaroo, rabbit) and are manufactured and tested to guarantee no cross-contamination.  There are also options of hydrolyzed diets whereby the single protein source is broken down to a smaller size, decreasing the allergenic potential of the diet.  Although these diets are more expensive than the over-the-counter diets, our goal is to try to determine if your pet is food allergic or not, and if we do have a food allergy, we will try to work with you and your pet to determine what ingredient it is so we can hopefully avoid it or at least try to find an over-the-counter diet that doesn’t cause your pet to keep you up at night scratching.