If you were anywhere near a TV in the 90s you’ll undoubtedly remember Phoebe from Friends’ infamous little tune with the rather prophetic lyrics “…smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you? Smelly cat, smelly cat it’s not your fault!”1. Well, following in Phoebe’s footsteps, this little article goes out to all the itchy, scratchy, stinky, weepy, flaky, snotty, rashy, shedding, belching, four-legged farty-bums out there. I hear you!
We humans are relatively lucky in that, in this modern era, if our two-legged family members or friends suffer from recurring digestive, skin or inflammatory issues, testing for food sensitivities is often one of the first medical avenues of investigation.
Our furry friends don’t have it quite so lucky just yet. While there are a few holistically aware vets out there who can spot the symptoms of a food sensitivity from a country mile, it’s unfortunately much more likely that a trip to your local clinic for a skin problem will result in a tube of cortisone cream, and a recurring ear infection will just reap yet another antibiotic prescription. When that tube is empty, the antibiotics are done and those issues just pop right back up, “why does this keep happening?!” can become a soul-destroying mantra.
Canine food sensitivities are not uncommon and are often over looked. An undiagnosed food intolerance is an insidious wee beastie that can detrimentally effect your furry friend’s health on a number of levels.
Could my dog have food sensitivities?
Ask any dog owner what makes their dog special and the adjectives will undoubtedly flow - we all know just how unique each and every dog is in personality, intelligence and eccentricities, but it’s important to realise that it doesn’t stop there. Just like humans, each and every dog is unique, inside and out, with their own unique DNA, genetic successes and failings.
Food sensitivities often effect purebreds more than mixed breeds due to inbreeding perpetuating any present hereditary genetic mutations. Some specific breeds are known to be more susceptible to food sensitivities than others. Research suggests that Irish Setters may be particularly inclined toward coeliac disease2, while Bull Terriers and West Highland White Terriers commonly exhibit the autoimmune skin and inflammatory symptoms relating to grain and diary-related sensitivities. More research continues to come to light on breed-specific sensitivities, but the truth is that any dog of any breed or mix can carry the SNPs (gene mutations) that may make them susceptible to the development of food sensitivities.
But how would I know?
If your dog suffers from any of the following; chronic or recurring skin or foot sores, ear or sinus infections, runny or mucousy nose or eyes, gas, diarrhoea or vomiting, joint stiffness/arthritis, excessive shedding, dull coat, rashes, smelly skin, seasonal allergies, lethargy or a decreased desire to play or exercise, then sussing out potential food intolerances should be a priority.
To get to grips with your dog’s unique dietary foibles, a shift in perception is important - a willingness to think holistically. This means understanding that the issues listed above not isolated conditions, but rather symptoms of a greater imbalance. Finding and addressing the underlying sensitivities causing that imbalance can have a dramatic effect on your dog’s quality of life, leaving you relieved, empowered, and saving a lot in vet bills!
Where do I start?
Just as with diagnosing human food intolerances, an elimination diet is an ideal place to start. The initial aim should be to remove as many potential allergens as possible from the diet, including grains, dairy, preservatives, and commercial fillers (.ie rice, beet, corn or wheat meal)3. Make the switch to a quality protein source and avoid ingredients lists with dubious descriptions like ‘meat byproduct’. Given a little time this change should help reduce elevated antibody levels in the blood, alleviating systemic inflammation, oxidative and immune stress. The idea is to wipe the slate clean, allowing the immune system more tactical discernment rather than remaining constantly at arms.
Fabulous all-natural grain, dairy, preservative and filler free foods, like the Ivory Coat range, make it easy to switch your furry friend to a hypoallergenic diet and start the elimination process. It’s important to remember, when you begin an elimination diet, to allow time for the body to detox any accumulated toxins and re-establish normal, healthy eliminatory and immune function before expecting to see changes in symptoms. Don’t give up too soon! Allow at least 3 months, optimally 6 months, on a completely hypoallergenic diet before truly assessing whether the change in diet has made a noticeable difference to your pet’s health.
If you’ve noticed a positive change, you might choose to just stick to a completely hypo-allergenic diet (why change a winning game, right?). But if you’re a curious type and want to know for sure which specific sensitivities are at play, you may chose to re-introduce controlled amounts of a singular potential allergen at time while motoring for symptoms.
After solid detox period on a safe diet, subsequent immune responses to food sensitivities can often become more immediate, which can actually make it easier to spot a negative reaction. For example, after a happy, healthy first year on a completely hypoallergenic diet it took the addition of just two tiny pieces of cheese fed a couple of days apart to notice my bull terrier beginning to scratch and rub at the skin around her mouth. I ended my dairy experiment there and then and the rash around her chin and lips subsided after a few days. A careful rinse-and-repeat with rice, and then with oats, also elicited independent negative symptoms. She has since remained her very best, happy, healthy, active self on a fully grain and dairy free diet.
If you do chose the course of experimentation, going gently is the key. Only give one allergen at a time, in small amounts, well spaced, and give each experiment space and time for reactions to manifest. Be vigilant and on the lookout for new symptoms, stop immediately should if any arise, and mark that one down as a definite ‘no’!
ABOUT OUR LOVELY BLOGGER:
Lix North - Artist, Illustrator, Photographer, founder of www.lulubully.com
Lix grew up on a farm in rural New Zealand, surrounded by animals. 20+ years spent studying holistic principles and gaining a basic understanding of metabolic, enzymatic and genetic processes empowered her to manage my own sensitivities, methylation and immune issues at a level that conventional medical science alone was unable to offer. So, as her bull terrier puppy Lulu’s sensitivities became apparent the most obvious solution seemed simply to apply the very same level of research and holistic care. The results speak for themselves through the healthy, energetic, cheeky, now 13 year old, Lulu Bully.