Stop the Itch, with Food from Scratch
By Audi Donamor

"No wheat, no corn, no soy, no yeast." That's the mantra that rang in my head, each time the phone rang, or an email popped into my mailbox. One by one, animal guardians were beginning to question the use of standard drugs, every time their pet had an itch, a hot spot, inflamed ears, runny eyes, a variety of gastrointestinal problems, and a host of other ailments, too numerous to mention. Lamb and rice was no longer considered the ultimate hypoallergenic diet. A new door was flung open, and people began to examine pet allergies in a different light, tearing away the band-aid approach, and reaching beneath the skin, to the core of the problem. 

An allergy is defined as a "hypersensitive state acquired through exposure to a particular allergen." The effects may be immediate or they may be delayed, but either way, they can reduce those of us who so dearly love our companion animals to tears of frustration, as we try to soothe our pet's frenetic scratching and licking, or try to cope with episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. While many things can lead to an allergic response, from vaccinations to fleas to pollen, pesticides and herbicides, and everything in between, including household cleaning products, synthetic carpets, and even plastic dog bowls, veterinary offices are flooded with pets whose diets is the root cause of allergic symptoms. So, what are we going to do about it?

Sharpen your pencil, take out a journal, and get ready to help your dog back to health. 

Feeding test diets and then monitoring clinical signs can be more reliable than laboratory tests for dietary allergies. Laboratory tests include radioallergosorbent (RAST) tests to identify specific foods causing an allergy, blood tests to measure levels of the IgA antibody coating and protecting the mucosal surface of the intestines, and skin tests that evaluate reactions to specific foods. 

Your ultimate goal is to determine the specific food or foods that are causing problems for your dog, and an Elimination Diet puts you in the driver’s seat. However, embarking on an elimination diet adventure requires a lot of commitment and patience, and every person that comes into contact with your dog is part of the experience. Family members, visitors to your home, and even your friendly post man, has to be told that your dog is not to be given any food item, other than those you have designated as “safe.”  This is hard work. The slate has to be wiped clean. That means, you have to stop your current feeding programme, including those little tidbits from your dinner, supplements, including vitamins and minerals, that may contain fillers that could cause an allergic reaction, all treats (no sneaking), and your dog cannot have anything else that could be considered a food item, including rawhide. Even medications, like chewable heartworm tablets, need to be considered in your elimination diet plan. If you have more than one dog in your household, you may feel that you are taking on a monumental challenge, but the hard work is worth it, when you realize that you are helping your dog to have a happier and healthier life. 

Once you have made the decision to try an elimination diet, you have to be prepared to stick to it for 8 to 12 weeks. From this day forward, your dog becomes the subject of the next great novel, because it is essential to write down absolutely everything that could have an impact on your companion animal, including the daily weather report, where you go for a walk and dogs you have met along the way, any soaps or sprays that your dog may have been exposed to . . . anything!  A journal will help you through the problem solving process, by providing an outlet and focus, as you try to determine the one thing or even several things, that have been making life miserable for your companion animal.  

Remember, an elimination diet means just that, so what do you feed your dog, now that you are stopping his regular feeding programme?  Well, there are lots of things for you to consider, and some special rules to follow, but there are lots of resources for you to turn to, that will guide you through the process of designing an elimination diet.

Nike cooking away!Tried and true elimination diet plans that are easy to follow, can be found in Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, Dr. Donald Strombeck’s Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative, Dr. Martin Goldstein’s The Nature of Animal Healing: The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog and Cat, and Dr. Shawn Messonnier’s The Allergy Solution for Dogs: Natural and Conventional Therapies to Ease Discomfort and Enhance Your Dog's Quality of Life. Basically, you have the job of selecting one protein source and one carbohydrate source that your dog has never been exposed to before. To do this, you need to read every label on everything that your dog has eaten, or may have eaten, and make a list in your journal. This will provide you with a place to begin.  

Novel protein sources could include buffalo, emu, ostrich, rabbit, mutton, venison, and duck, while carbohydrate sources could include everything from gluten free brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa, to low gluten kamut and spelt, or even teff, a tiny dark grain found in Ethiopia and East Africa, that is recognized for its high iron content, as well as protein, calcium, copper, and zinc. The choice is up to you, but once made, you have to make a pact to stick to only the food sources you have selected for your dog’s elimination diet, along with filtered, spring, or other non-chlorinated water.

A 20 pound dog, for example, may be given a daily diet composed of 1/2 cup rabbit, with 3 cups of boiled potatoes, with their skins left on, or 2 cups of cooked long grain rice, can be used in place of the potatoes. 

Sample Elimination Diet Treat Recipe 


  • 2 cups puréed hormone and antibiotic free protein source, e.g., venison, rabbit, turkey, mutton, ostrich, bison, and emu (For Vegetarian and Vegan animal guardians, fruits or vegetables can be used in place of a protein source, but make sure, that as with a selected protein, you use a fruit or vegetable that you have never used in your dog’s feeding programme.).

  • 2 cups organic flour, e.g., brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, spelt, potato

  • 1/2 cup filtered water

Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the ground chicken and filtered water in a food processor or blender, and whirl until smooth. Add flour a little at a time, so it is well incorporated into the chicken. The dough will be a bit sticky. Turn dough out onto a well floured board or counter. Take small balls of dough, roll in flour, then roll out the dough, as you would clay, making pencil shapes that are as small or large as you like, depending on the size of your dog. Take a sharp knife and cut treats, and then place them on your cookie sheet.

Place in your pre-heated 325F degree oven for 30 minutes, and then turn down the oven to 175F degrees for a further 30 minutes. Turn off your oven and allow the treats to cool completely, before removing them from the oven, and storing them in a Ziplock bag or container, in the refrigerator. These treats can be easily dehydrated, so that refrigeration is not necessary.

If you are lucky, within a few weeks, your dog’s problems will begin to improve, and, as a result, you can be fairly certain that there was something in your dog’s old diet that was a trigger for his allergies. If fairly certain isn’t good enough for you, you will have to return to the scene of the crime, and reintroduce the original feeding programme. If symptoms reappear within 7 to 14 days, you will have confirmation of a food allergy. If you don’t want to be so adventurous, once your dog is doing well on his elimination diet, new foods can be added one at a time, and you can then carefully monitor your dog for any adverse reactions. Don’t forget to write everything down, as you move through the elimination diet process. 

When the time comes to reconsider the addition of supplements to your dog’s diet, take a look at fish body oil, Evening Primrose Oil, and Borage Oil, essential fatty acids that are known to have a positive impact on allergies. You may also want to consider Animals’ Apawthecary Herbal Formulations, which are pure vegetable glycerin based, low alcohol extracts, formulated for cats and dogs. Their Detox Blend contains Burdock, Dandelion, Milk Thistle Seed, Red Clover, Alfalfa, and Licorice in a balanced tonic formula to help cleanse and support the liver, blood, and digestive systems, in cases of chronic allergies, skin disorders, or other toxicity related imbalances, and if you would like to learn more about how herbs can help alleviate the symptoms of allergies, check out Gregory L. Tilford and Mary L. Wulff-Tilford’s wonderful book, Herbs for Pets.

Remember, just like you and me, our dogs can develop a food allergy at any time. It may happen today, tomorrow, or next year. Managing a food allergy means that you always have to be on the look-out for problems, but knowing what to look for, and what to do about it, goes a long way towards ensuring that your dog is healthy and happy, and ready to take on the world.


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