How to Deal with Dog Food Intolerance
We always say that nothing beats high-quality, well-balanced pet food in ensuring optimum health in our dogs. From a healthy coat and skin to well-functioning body organ systems, good nutrition is vital to keep dogs happy and healthy. However, there are pet parents who somehow forget this cardinal rule in pet nutrition. True, some pet food products are cheaper than others but do we also take a look at the content of these foods? For all we know, these can contain ingredients that our dogs may have difficulty digesting and processing. This can lead them to develop food intolerance. We know you’ve already heard of stories about dogs having food intolerance. The question now is do you know how to deal with it in case your pet dog has one?
Learn to Differentiate Food Intolerance from Food Allergy
Many pet parents think that food intolerance is the same as food allergy. This is incorrect. While the manifestations of both food allergy and food intolerance are almost similar, the way the condition develops is very different. Let’s take a look.
An allergy is a response from the immune system of the dog. It occurs when a food molecule that is not supposed to be present in the blood gets attacked by the cells of the immune system. The type of antibody that is responsible for mounting such an attack is Immunoglobulin E or IgE. That is why vets also call allergies as IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reactions.
All food materials get broken down into their smallest subunits in the small intestines. This is necessary so that they will be able to pass through the lining of the intestines and into the blood. Between the intestinal lining and the blood are immune system cells serving as security guards. They only allow food molecules that are in their correct “processed” form.
If there is a food molecule that is not in its “correct” form, the immune system cells attack it so that it will not get into the blood. Unfortunately, mounting such an attack also leads to the activation of inflammatory processes elsewhere. This is because these immune system cells also send signals to the rest of the immune system that there may be an “invader” in the blood. Hence, the dog experiences an allergic reaction.
A typical culprit is a protein molecule. In normal dogs, protein gets broken down first into peptides before converting into amino acids. Only amino acids should be able to pass through the intestinal wall. If a peptide or a protein passes, then the immune system cells will attack it and mount an inflammatory or immunologic response.
This condition occurs because of the inability of the dog’s digestive system to process certain food molecules or any other substance present in the intestines. No food molecule ever gets through the intestinal lining. Hence, the immune system cells don’t have anything to guard against. It is also for this reason that food intolerance is also known as a type of non-IgE-mediated hypersensitivity reaction.
The most common cause of food intolerance is the deficiency in a specific enzyme that works to break down a specific food molecule. Enzymes are crucial in the breaking down of food molecules into their component parts until they reach their smallest subunits. For instance, if there is no lipase, then the dog will not be able to digest fat and produce fatty acids. If there are no proteolytic enzymes, then protein may not be digested at all. This means there are no amino acids, too.
These undigested food molecules can cause inflammation in the small intestines, a situation which can present as bloat, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting, among others.
It is clear that food intolerance is different from food allergy, despite similarities in their signs and symptoms. This should lay the groundwork for looking at the ways in which you can deal with food intolerance in your dog. We’ll go through them in the succeeding sections.
Change Your Dog’s Diet
If you observe your dog having diarrhea or any other gastrointestinal manifestation several hours after its meal, then you can always suspect food intolerance. The most common way to manage this is by replacing its pet food with a different one.
Before you do that, however, it is best to take a look at the ingredient list of its old dog food. There are several food ingredients that are known to cause intolerance in dogs. Examples of these include dairy, gluten, and foods that contain FODMAPs or fermentable oligodimonosaccharides and polyols. As such, if you see any of these ingredients in your dog food, there’s a strong chance they’re the culprit in your dog’s food intolerance issues.
When you change your dog’s diet, it is best to do it in a more gradual manner. The current recommendation is to introduce a quarter of the new food every week. For instance, you can mix ¼ of the new food to ¾ of the old food in the first week. By the second week, you should already be able to mix a half portion each of the new and old dog foods. By the third week, you will use ¾ of the new food and ¼ of the old food. Your dog should be ready for its new diet on the 4th week.
Keep watching for any improvements in your dog’s digestion. If you’re able to pick the right food replacement, you should also see gradual improvement in your pet’s food intolerance issues.
Try Initiating an Elimination Diet
Unfortunately, it is possible that your dog is only intolerant to a single food ingredient in its pet food. A good action to take will be to institute an elimination diet. This involves the replacement of its old diet with a limited ingredient diet. There are special formulations of LID that feature a single protein and very few carbs. A more important feature of these diets is that the protein should be very unusual while the carbs should be those that have the least potential to cause intolerance.
An example of a novel protein is bison, buffalo, rabbit, and kangaroo. These are proteins that you seldom see in pet food. Common examples of carbs used in limited ingredient diets include sweet potatoes, lentils, and chickpeas.
The idea here is to replace the pet’s current dog food with a limited ingredient diet, following the same method we mentioned above. Once your pet is in the LID, wait for 2 to 3 weeks before introducing one ingredient from its previous food. For example, you can add beef if the animal’s previous food consisted of beef. If your dog is intolerant to beef, you should see a reaction several hours after introducing the ingredient. However, to be sure, it’s best to wait for about 2 to 3 weeks again before introducing another ingredient from its old food.
An elimination diet takes a long time to complete, and one has to be very vigilant about the changes that can occur in the dog. This will help identify the ingredient that can cause the food intolerance.
Consider Giving Your Pet Dog High Quality Raw Food Diet
One of the best diets for dogs with food intolerance is raw food. However, it is crucial that you give only high quality raw food items. The best example of raw food for dogs with food intolerance is whole prey animal like rabbit. Unfortunately, given that it is difficult to ascertain the safety and quality of raw food items, your next best choice will be to give your pet raw meat.
You can purchase high quality raw meat from your trusted butcher. Make sure that the butcher observes the highest standards of hygiene and sanitation. You don’t want to feed your pet contaminated raw meat. Also gives bones, vegetables, and fruits. Remember, these are raw or uncooked. As such, you have to be very choosy.
Have Your Dog Evaluated by a Vet
There are tests that can help identify if your dog has a food allergy or food intolerance. Since IgE mediates food allergies, elevated levels of IgE in the dog’s blood can help confirm the presence of food allergy. However, since food intolerance is not IgE-mediated, then your doctor can help in its differentiation.
To be more specific, however, elevated IgG antibodies in the dog’s blood can point to the existence of food intolerance. It is true that food intolerance does not activate the immune system. However, it does cause an inflammatory reaction in the digestive tract of the dog. IgG antibodies can activate the complement system to help get rid of the undigested food molecule. Dogs with food intolerance often have elevated IgG levels in their blood.
With the successful diagnosis of food intolerance, your vet can prescribe a diet that’s more appropriate to your dog’s food intolerance. However, keep in mind that these tests do not provide information on what is causing the food intolerance.
Dealing with food intolerance in dogs often involves changing its diet with a more appropriate one. Subjecting it to an elimination diet can also help pinpoint the undigestible food material. Giving raw diet also helps.