What is an Elimination Diet and When is One Needed?
What is an elimination diet?
An elimination diet (or novel protein/ ingredient diets) is an approach used to narrow down what your dog may be allergic to. This is not a single recipe- it includes a series of carefully adjusted recipes to determine whether a reaction occurs to various ingredients. It can sometimes be called an elimination trial for this reason.
Elimination diets are the most reliable way to determine food allergies. Tests that use hair, saliva, skin scrapes etc. can be useful as a starting point, but their results should always be checked via an elimination diet. They have a long history of both false negatives and positives!
When is an elimination diet needed?
If your dog is showing signs of adverse food reactions then it may be a good idea to complete a full elimination diet. Symptoms of a food intolerance include the following (this is not an exhaustive list):
Scaly/ flaky skin
Inflamed external ear canal
Dogs with GI diseases almost always need an elimination diet as these diseases are typically highly responsive to diet.
How does an elimination diet work?
Elimination diets start with a very simple recipe with 1 completely novel protein source and 1 completely novel carbohydrate source. In some cases, minimal supplements will be included from the start (i.e. calcium if bones are not being fed). A novel ingredient is one that the pet has never eaten before. This extremely simple diet will be fed for a minimum of 6 weeks to see if your dogs’ symptoms go away. Note: At this stage, the diet will not be balanced!
If your dog’s symptoms subside, then ingredients will start to be added to make the recipe complete and balanced. These changes are made slowly to ensure that your dog is tolerating each new ingredient being added. Should they show a negative reaction to an ingredient then you’ll know that they have an intolerance to that ingredient!
When choosing what ingredients and/or supplements to introduce when, it is important to consider potential pre-existing nutrient deficiencies from the previous diet. Zinc is a mineral that is often deficient in homemade diets so it may be best to supplement that from the start.
By the end of the elimination diet, you will have a fully complete and balanced diet to feed long term. After your dog has been stable on the complete and balanced diet long term, you can begin challenging other ingredients including those that were in the diet that they previously showed symptoms on. This step is optional, but can be beneficial so you know for sure if you need to avoid certain ingredients or not!
I know how frustrating food related allergies can be. I’d be glad to help you work through the process of determining what they may be and getting your pet comfortable. If you think your dog needs an elimination diet and you would like to work with me, please see ‘itchy dog formulation’ or ‘GI disorder formulation‘.