Darwin's Natural Pet Food is helping pets and their owners enjoy more years of healthy companionship by making and delivering nutritious, all natural raw pet food. Welcome to Darwin’s Blog For news and opinions from industry experts on dog and cat nutrition, including natural, organic and raw food.
Prepare your space. Before bringing home your new pet, decide where he’ll be spending most of his time. This may be your family room, your bedroom, or wherever works best in your home for your new pal to sleep and relax. Make sure this space is prepared by furnishing it with a pet bed, toys, and cleaning supplies for any accidents.
Pet proof! Audit your home, and determine what may need to go and what may need to be moved for safety. Many household plants can be dangerous for cats and dogs, and all household cleaners, chemicals, and prescriptions need to be moved out of reach of a new pet. To protect your furniture and floors, consider puppy pads and deterrents to scratching or chewing.
Take it easy. Animals can sense our tension, frustration, and anxiety. It’s important to relax and go with the flow when introducing a new family pet. Though training can be frustrating and worrying about the transition is common, stay calm and have fun. After all, you two are in it for the long haul.
Create a feeding schedule. Find out what your pet was eating before he came home. Some shelters will even provide a first week of food. This is important to transition him to his new diet with you, and get you both on a regular feeding routine. For food transition tips, check out Darwin’s transition center!
Be flexible. For all your planning and research, your pet will have a personality of his own. So be flexible, and introduce things at his own pace. Maybe his favorite spot won’t be where you thought. Or maybe training isn’t going as smoothly as planned. Don’t fret! Take this time to bond and learn.
Take him to the vet. His prior home may have already covered his vaccinations, neutering, and even his microchip. But it’s still crucial you get your new furry friend in for a visit with your trusted vet. This check-up will let you know about any health concerns early, and it will let you and your new cat or dog get to know your local veterinarian.
Set aside time to bond. It goes without saying, but spending time playing and having fun with your pet is what it’s all about. Don’t get caught up in the routine, and instead, take moments to snuggle, play, and bond.
We received a canine heart disease question on our Facebook page and wanted to share the answer with everyone. A new FDA report states that there is potentially a connection between a grain-free diet and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Grain-free encompasses a wide array of foods and options for your pet. With this in mind, we think everyone should be fully educated about what the FDA findings suggest, how it relates to DCM, and what it means for your pet. Here is everything you need to know about canine “Dilated Cardiomyopathy” (DCM).
What Is DCM in Dogs?
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle, which results in an enlarged heart. As the heart and its chambers become dilated, it becomes harder for the heart to pump, which may cause heart valves to leak, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. Dogs with DCM can often suffer congestive heart failure.
The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but because certain larger breed dogs are more prone to the disease some causes may be a result of genetics. Typically, breeds affected include Great Dane, Doberman Pinscher, Boxer, Newfoundland, and the Irish Wolfhound. English and American Cocker Spaniels can also be prone to DCM even though they aren’t a large breed.
Another reason some dogs may develop DCM is due to a deficiency in the amino acid, taurine. However, taurine is not considered an essential amino acid for dogs, as their bodies can usually produce it on their own. Conversely, taurine is an essential amino acid for cats.
Potential Connection Between “Grain-Free” Diets and Canine Heart Disease
DCM has received a lot of coverage recently in the media as more cases are appearing in dogs that aren’t typically prone to the disease. Ultimately, this attention prompted the FDA to issue a warning about the disease in relation to some dog food ingredients and we welcome the opportunity to share how natural raw meals relate to this news. The diets of the cases reported to the FDA appear to all be from kibble products, which frequently contain potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, and other “pulses” (seeds of legumes). In these particular diets, these “fillers” are typically listed as primary ingredients, and in these cases grain-free also means low in protein.
Dogs can create their own taurine (a deficiency of this amino acid may lead to DCM), most high-protein meals (such as Darwin’s) do not include taurine supplements. Rather, our formulas provide naturally occurring taurine which is found through the primary ingredients we use in our meals — muscle meats and organs.
However, as grain-free dry dog food is a newer food trend, it is possible that the high carbohydrate content in these diets are depleting taurine levels and/or making the taurine less “bio-available.” When there is a higher starch level in any pet food, there is less protein. While dogs can usually produce enough taurine on their own, it has been found that, in some cases, larger dogs may not produce enough taurine. So, feeding them a diet that supplies some taurine can be useful. The FDA study indicates that, perhaps, dogs on high carbohydrate diets may not be producing enough taurine.
Dr Karen Becker, a world-renown, leading holistic veterinarian, recently wrote “grain-free/low-protein commercial diets are very high in carbohydrates, which displace amino acids. They also contain anti-nutrients (e.g., saponins, trypsin inhibitors, phytates, and lectins) that may interfere with taurine absorption. When you add in the high-heat processing used to manufacture kibble, it’s hardly surprising that these diets aren’t an adequate source of taurine for many dogs.”
The Naturally Occurring Taurine in Raw Meat Poses Minimal Risks
Most raw foods on the market, including Darwin’s, have low amounts of starchy vegetables, and we do not include pea or tapioca starches, which are high in carbohydrates. Well balanced formulas, like Darwin’s, are high in protein, moderate in balanced fats, and low in total carbohydrates, thereby reducing the implications of the carbs interfering with taurine absorption.
Until we have more information on this subject, we recommend feeding your dog (especially if you have a high-risk breed and are concerned about low taurine absorption) raw meals (cooking can deplete the taurine) and consider including a can of sardines to your dog’s diet on a weekly basis as marine proteins are high in taurine.
Symptoms and Signs of DCM in Dogs
The tricky part about DCM is that there aren’t usually a ton of early warning signs. However, as the disease progresses in a dog, they’ll start to exhibit some symptoms such as fainting spells, coughing, difficulty breathing, lethargy, a lack of interest in physical activity, and distension of the abdomen with fluid. These signs are also related to congestive heart failure, which is usually the outcome for dogs with DCM.
Prognosis for Dogs With DCM
Unfortunately, DCM is not a disease that’s easy to detect in a dog until symptoms begin to present themselves. At that point, your pet may already be close to or experiencing congestive heart failure. Many dogs showing signs of congestive heart failure often die within six months to two years of diagnosis. However, there are cardiac medications to help treat the disease by improving heart functions and eliminating pulmonary congesting. As the case with any illness, early diagnosis is key to treatment and putting your pet onto cardiac medication during the early stages of the disease can make a difference. Work with your vet to determine the right course of treatment.
In the meantime, our pet food consultants have years of experience with raw natural pet food and are ready to answer your questions about your dog’s diet. Feel free to call us at (877) 738-6325 Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. pacific time or send your questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s ‘Beef Dog Food,’ and Then There’s the Real Thing: Raw Beef Dog Food
Once you take a careful look at many commercial dog food labels, you might ask yourself, “Where’s the beef?” Many ‘beef dog foods’ have a low percentage of real beef and those are often from questionable sources. That’s why feeding your pet raw beef dog food can make all the difference in the overall health of your dog.
In this article, you’ll learn what to look for in beef dog food and gain an understanding of the ins and outs of labeling. You’ll also find a glossary to clear up confusing terms, the benefits of raw beef dog food, and why choosing a tailored dog food is right for your dog – and for you as a concerned caretaker.
What’s Beef Dog Food and Why Is It Great Nutrition for Your Pet?
Protein is the single most vital component in your canine companion’s diet. That’s why beef is an excellent choice. Beef is a high-protein nutrient source that is rich in B vitamins and iron, which are essential for the long-term health and vitality of growing puppies, adult, and senior dogs.
To help dog owners understand the power of beef protein and how it supports your pet’s health, we talked to Dr. Judy Morgan,
an expert on natural pet health certified in acupuncture, food therapy, and chiropractic care for dogs, cats, and horses. Morgan is also the author of multiple books on holistic pet healing, her latest is Ying & Yang Nutrition for Dogs: Maximizing Health with Whole Foods, Not DrugsWhen asked about beef as a preferred food for dogs, Morgan explains, “Beef contains high-quality amino acids that are necessary for good health in dogs. L-carnitine and taurine are two amino acids that contribute to cardiac health but are often lacking in many pet foods.”
Protein, Amino Acids, and Pet Nutrition
Proteins are made up of amino acids, the organic substances that are the building blocks of proteins and also the end product of the decomposition of specific proteins. Twenty-two amino acids are required by dogs to create the proteins they need. Your dog’s body is able to produce about half of these essential amino acids, but the rest must come from daily nutrition. Without them, amino acid deficiencies can create health issues.
Benefits of Raw Beef Dog Food
“I’m a huge proponent of raw feeding,” explains Morgan. “Fats undergo peroxidation when cooked, which can lead to inflammatory reactions in the body and an increased risk of pancreatitis.” Peroxidation damages cell membranes and the end product of the process may be carcinogenic and/or mutagenic.
The concept of a raw beef or other raw food diet is that it conforms to a canine’s carnivorous roots and that uncooked, unprocessed meat is nutritionally superior to other feeding options. Commercial raw food diets are formulated to be complete and balanced. To retain freshness (and avoid preservatives) they are usually frozen. The benefit of feeding raw beef or any other meat is that you know exactly what you are giving your dog to eat. Here are some of the benefits:
Increased Energy: Better nutrition naturally boosts strength and vigor in a dog.
Healthier Skin and Coat: Skin problems are a common malady for dogs and are often caused by food sensitivity. A more natural, low-grain diet can bring relief.
Controlled Weight: High-water content in raw beef dog food means that your dog may be able to eat more while keeping calories low.
Improved Health Conditions: Owners and vets have reported that it can improve common conditions and diseases such as arthritis and diabetes.
Less “Stink”: Fresher breath, improved digestion, and smaller quantities of almost odorless poop.
Increased Longevity: Improved quality and longer life for your companion.
To learn more about the benefits of feeding raw beef and other meats, take a look at Why Raw.
Raw Beef Dog Food Feeding Guidelines
To feed your dog appropriately, first consider her size—big dogs generally need more protein. Adult and senior dogs usually need lower calorie, fat, and protein intake. An adult dog should typically consume about two to four percent of its ideal body weight every day. You can also consider the size of your dog: bigger dogs generally need to consume a lower percentage of their body weight, and smaller dogs should eat a higher percentage of their body weight because the weight of the intestines in large dogs is only three percent of their body weight compared to seven percent in smaller breeds. There is less intestinal area for digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the diet and food amounts should be adjusted accordingly. Also, consider activity: very active dogs need more food per day because of their energy output.
A 10 lb dog will eat about 2- 2 1/2 lbs per week or about 10 lbs per month
A 25 lb dog will eat about 5 lbs per week or about 20 lbs per month
A 50 lb dog will eat about 8 lbs per week or about 32 lbs per month
A 75 lb dog will eat about 10- 10 1/2 lbs per week or about 42 lbs per month
A 100 lb dog will eat about 14 lbs per week or about 56 lbs per month
The best source of information to meet your dog’s specific nutritional needs is your veterinarian.
Benefits of Quality Beef Dog Food
Morgan says that natural, quality beef dog food provides essential trace minerals canines need for good health. “Zinc, iron, and copper are minerals that can be deficient in many diets and are commonly added back in as synthetics in many commercial dog foods. Natural, grass-fed beef is a much better choice than something with synthetic additives,” she adds.
That’s why quality beef is preferred for maintaining pet health. “Beef is a great blood tonic food that would be a good addition for any dogs suffering from anemia or fatigue,” Morgan explains.
Here are some more reasons quality beef dog food with fewer additives and fillers make for healthier pets:
Healthy Organs: Proteins support essential functions including tissue maintenance, cellular regeneration, enzyme and hormone production, and energy.
Lean Muscle Mass: Animal protein is better than protein sources from plants at building and maintaining lean muscle.
Healthy Skin and Coat: Dogs that are eating the proper balance of omega-6, and omega-3 fatty acids have healthy skin which produces shiny fur. Dry skin generates hair that breaks, splits, and sheds.
Improved Digestion and Prebiotics: Dog’s short and acidic digestive tracts help them digest animal tissue and fat quickly. Large amounts of hydrochloric acid are natural in a dog’s digestive tract, which breaks down meat fast as it destroys any bacteria in raw meat tissue. Natural prebiotics are fiber-rich foods that assist in digestion and help move food through the gastrointestinal tract and are an excellent addition to dog foods.
Strong Bones and Teeth: High-protein intake supports bone health and reverses some age-related changes in skeletal muscles in senior dogs.
Joint Health: Beef, specifically grass-fed beef, is leaner than conventionally grown beef. The fats that are contained in grass-fed beef tend to have a higher proportion of the omega-3 fatty acids that benefit joint strength.
Healthy Immune System: Amino acid-rich foods help dogs resist disease. Chronic illnesses like skin allergies, diabetes, or arthritis symptoms may disappear without the need for medications on a high-quality beef diet.
Improved Performance:Nutrition research as it relates to canine athletes, such as greyhounds and sled dogs, has found that dietary protein preserves musculoskeletal integrity and blood health, and therefore improves speed and agility.
If you look at the preceding list of the benefits of beef dog food, you can surmise that the opposite is true when dogs don’t get the right amount of protein in their diets. Protein deficiency during development can affect a growing dog’s brain development and ability to learn. Fully-grown dogs that suffer from protein deficiency may have slow-healing wounds, a rough and dull coat, weak bones, loss of appetite, chronic infections or disease because of a compromised immune system and more.
What to Look for in Beef Dog Food
Dogs and cats are no different from we humans: our bodies aren’t designed to handle the additives, hormones, and preservatives that have entered the food supply in the last hundred years.
That’s why it’s important to understand the source of the beef you feed your pet. Beef can be an excellent protein to feed your dog if it is pasture-raised, organic, and uses whole cuts of beef – in other words, meat fit to be eaten by humans.
“I recommend looking for grass-fed and grass-finished beef if possible, although this will add to the cost,” advises Morgan. “Beef heart and tongue count as muscle meat, so don’t shy away from that if they are the main ingredients in the food.”
High in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), high-quality beef has been shown to reduce the growth of cancerous tumors and reduce cardiovascular disease in dogs and humans. A diet low in saturated fat and free of additives, preservatives, and fillers means your pet will enjoy improved digestion, healthier skin, and a sleeker coat.
Quality proteins are natural for your dog to assimilate, digest, and use. However, beef is costly, and most beef is made with dangerous industrial farming practices.
The Ugly Truth about Beef Found in Many Commercial Dog Food Brands
What’s in that bag or can of beef dog food with the lovely picture on the label of a happy, healthy pooch? More than likely, it consists of heavily processed beef meal and beef byproducts rather than whole cuts of beef. Beef meal and byproducts which are not beneficial to a healthy diet are made from all the unusable parts of the cow like bones, and sometimes from rotten or diseased meats, known as 3D and 4D meats.
There’s also some “beef” that’s impossible for your dog to digest—it may be listed on the ingredient label as a protein source, but in reality, it may not be usable. These include tails, hooves, and hides: technically 100 percent protein, but also 100 percent indigestible. While they may be labeled as USDA “Inspected,” the only way to know that the beef in your pet’s food is of the highest quality is to make sure that the meat is marked USDA “Approved.”
Understanding AAFCO Ingredient Label Rules
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) set the standards for many aspects of pet food, including the labeling. Ingredients on a label are listed in descending order, by the weight of each component. Every item listed in the ingredients section is based on AAFCO definitions unless otherwise explained.
Most people would, therefore, assume a pet food that lists beef first would contain more beef than any other ingredient. But that may or may not be true.
Let’s take a look at a beef dog food label. In the example below, beef is listed first, so by weight, there’s more beef in the food than any other single ingredient. However, the combined total of the next three ingredients—millet, spinach, and green peas—could total more than the actual beef found in the food. Also, the total amount of crude protein listed in the Guaranteed Analysis isn’t necessarily derived from beef. If you note, there are eggs in the food that may make up part of the 11.85 percent of crude protein. In fact, crude protein doesn’t actually mean what you may think: that the protein weighed is based on meat, poultry, or fish. Instead, it’s a measure of how much nitrogen is in the food. That means that the crude protein calculation may be based not only on what you may normally think of as protein, but also on non-protein nitrogen sources like grains and millet in the example here.
The Guaranteed Analysis and Its Interpretation
To get a real sense of what is actually in the pet food you serve your dog, use both the Guaranteed Analysis, which is required by AAFCO standards and the ingredient list as references. If the list of ingredients has several carbohydrate sources among the first five components and the protein level is low, you have purchased a pet food with more carbohydrates than protein—even if a protein source is listed first in the ingredients. However, if there are two or more protein sources listed among the first five ingredients and the protein level is high, or if there are few carbohydrate sources listed and the protein level is high, you can be assured your pet is getting more protein than carbohydrates.
A Brief Glossary of Common Commercial Beef Pet Food Ingredients
When you look at dog food ingredient labels, the descriptions can be confusing. Here are a few terms that are helpful you should typically look to avoid or limit when evaluating or purchasing pet food:
Animal Digest: Waste from an animal’s intestine is animal digest (chicken digest, beef digest, lamb digest) used to add more flavor to pet food. It has no nutritional value and should be avoided.
Animal Fat: Rendered or extracted fat from the tissues of mammals or poultry.
Artificial Colors and Flavors: Used to make the product more palatable to dogs and attractive to consumers.
Blood Meal: A slaughterhouse byproduct, blood meal is processed into a dry powder used as an additive to increase the overall protein content of dog food.
Fish Meal: Clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish and/or fish cuttings.
Fish Oil: Oil from rendering whole fish or cannery waste.
GMO: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants, animals, bacteria or virus genes that have been changed in a lab using genetic engineering. The resulting organisms don’t occur through traditional crossbreeding methods or in nature.
Humectants: Substances that hold moisture, which can contain up to 10 percent propylene glycol, the principal component in antifreeze.
Meat By-Products: The non-meat parts derived from slaughtered mammals. Some organs to avoid include spleen, lungs, brain, bone and fatty tissue.
Meat Meal: Slaughterhouse and fish processing factory remnants that are processed using high heat to dehydrate the material into a powder.
Prebiotics: An indigestible form of fiber found in some starches, fruits, and vegetables, prebiotics are a food source for beneficial intestinal bacteria.
Preservatives: Although used to extend shelf life, preservatives may not be beneficial for the life of your dog. Some preservatives have been identified as potentially cancer-causing and have been shown to affect the nervous system, such as the preservatives butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). The preservative ethoxyquin has been linked to allergic reactions, major organ failures, behavioral problems, skin problems, and cancer.
Wheat Gluten: The main protein found in wheat, when processed it can look like meat. Wheat gluten is a highly allergenic protein that can damage the small intestine.
Wheat Middlings: A non-flour product of the wheat milling process used in the production of couscous, pasta, breakfast cereals and puddings for humans, and as fodder for pets and livestock.
What to Look for in a High-Quality Beef Dog Food Label
Morgan says that ‘natural’ is always best. “I always look for food without synthetic additives; it’s easy to detect them, as they appear as a list of chemicals at the end of the ingredient list.”
Now that you have some background about how labels work and what some of the terms mean, you can know what to look for when you shop for high-quality beef dog food. Here are some necessary criteria:
Beef: Should be listed as the first ingredient.
Human Grade: This is USDA approved meat and judged to be edible by humans because it complies with strict quality control and processing regulations and includes no unacceptable ingredients.
Balanced: A balanced diet for your dog should contain protein, vegetables, whole grains, fat, and micronutrients.
Minimally Processed: The more processing, the more difficult it is for food to be digested.
Sourcing: Knowing where food comes from and how animals are raised is an essential part of assessing quality claims.
Natural/All Natural: Artificial foods aren’t beneficial for humans or animals.
No Byproducts: Meaning that there’s no byproducts (see items in the what to avoid section above) in your dog’s food.
No Wheat or Wheat Gluten: Wheat is a filler. Wheat gluten, which is the main protein found in wheat is generally not beneficial for dogs. For gluten-sensitive dogs, wheat gluten can be problematic even though it is commonly found in commercial dog food.
No Artificial Flavors or Ingredients: Food additives disguise poor food quality and improve texture or appearance. They have no nutritional value and may cause allergic reactions.
Natural Prebiotics: Prebiotic fiber supports digestive health. Prebiotic foods include asparagus, bananas, legumes, bran, root vegetables, and apples.
Grain-Free: Grains can trigger allergic reactions in your dog.
Non-GMO: The effects of GMOs increasingly seem to be negative. The majority of corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets used in packaged foods in North America are genetically modified.
No Chemicals or Preservatives: Synthetic ingredients in highly processed pet foods.
Hormone-Free: Growth hormones can cause reproductive issues and lead to weight gain.
Antibiotic-Free: Antibiotics can kill beneficial gut flora and lead to digestive problems.
Good and Bad Additives in Commercial Dog Food
Not all additives are necessarily harmful, but you do need to understand the difference between high and low quality. When it comes to vitamins and minerals, Morgan offers a word of caution. “When supplements are added, I look for proteinates, rather than sulfates, since proteinates are easier to absorb and utilize,” says Morgan.
Proteinates are metal salts derived from a protein, also known as chelated (protein bound) minerals. These types of compounds tend to be more expensive, but they are more easily absorbed by the body and therefore provide better nutrition for your pet. A sulfate is a non-protein bound mineral that can bind to many substances, not just proteins which affects absorption and utilization of the substance. You may see that on some labels that both proteinate and sulfates of the same mineral may be used. For example, some dog food manufacturers may use both copper proteinate and copper sulfate in the same recipe. Higher and lower quality supplements may be used to lower costs. When possible, look for chelated/proteinated supplements.
Some common dog food additives include:
Antioxidants: Vitamin A, Vitamin C (citric acid), Vitamin E, carotenoids, and selenium are all powerful antioxidants, which are substances that remove potentially damaging oxidants that cause cell damage.
Vitamins: In addition to the antioxidant vitamins listed above, vitamins aid digestive, metabolic and immune system processes, and support nerve and blood cell health. B vitamins are common additives, along with beta-carotene, biotin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamin.
Minerals: Minerals support nerve and muscle function, fluid balance regulation, the formation of bone and cartilage, hormone production, and the transportation of oxygen in the bloodstream. There are two types of minerals. Common mineral additives are magnesium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, potassium, and sulfur. Minerals needed in much smaller quantities (trace minerals) include chromium, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, selenium, manganese, and zinc.
Omega Fatty Acids: Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required substances that can’t be manufactured by the body. Omega fatty acids lower blood fat that causes heart disease, curb arthritis symptoms, and support brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Omega-6 fatty acids include gamma linolenic acid (GLA), linoleic acid (LA), and arachidonic acid (AA).
Probiotics: Live bacteria are important for digestive system health. In dog food, probiotics are fruits and vegetables that support immune and digestive tract health.
Prebiotics: Think of prebiotics as the food for the probiotics, promoting their presence and numbers. They are non-digestible (at least by us) soluble fiber types which include pectin, galactooligosaccharides (GOS), fructooligosaccharides (FOS), such as inulin and other oligosaccharides
Here’s a list of ingredients to welcome or reject from your dog’s diet
He’s obsessively biting his paws. He keeps licking his bum. She’s shaking her head and pawing at her ears. Could your dog have a food allergy? As with humans, allergies in dogs usually appear after prolonged exposure to a triggering substance, called an allergen. But how do you know it’s an allergy and more importantly, how do you remedy the problem? We’ll look at allergies in dogs, their causes, and explore how the right dog food diet can help ease their discomfort.
What Is an Allergy?
An allergy, or hypersensitivity, is the body’s inability to tolerate certain plant and animal substances, usually proteins. The body considers the substance a threat and generates antibodies to fight it. Allergies can result from exposure to foods or from environmental sources. In some circumstances, allergic reaction can lead to severe illness and even injury to organs, or death.
The appearance of an allergy may be similar to a food intolerance, which is not an immune problem but a digestive one. In this instance, the body cannot properly digest a substance. While allergies develop over time, food intolerances usually present the first time the dog eats the food.
Food intolerances can cause discomfort or even minor illness. An example of a food intolerance is lactose intolerance or the inability to tolerate cow’s milk and cheese. A dog who eats cheese may experience diarrhea or vomiting, but the discomfort is usually temporary. The good news is that your dog probably doesn’t have an allergy.
Dr. Judy Morgan is a holistic veterinarian and author of three books on animal nutrition and health. “Food intolerances are probably a lot more common than true allergies,” she declares.
What Are Non-Food or Environmental Allergies?
Most allergies in dogs stem from environmental sources, with only about 10 percent attributable to food. Environmental allergies in pets appear similar to food allergies, usually with itchy skin all over the body and paws, and ear infections. “Environmental allergies may be seasonal or not, depending on the allergen,” explains Dr. Judy. Fleas, dust mites, tree and grass pollens are common culprits, but so are household cleaners, air fresheners, and cigarette smoke, which can trigger reactions year-round. Control environmental allergies by wiping your dog’s paws and coat after walks, ensuring that cleaning products are natural and agreeable to the dog, and using an air purifier to clear mites and other air-borne allergens.
How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has an Allergy and Needs Hypoallergenic Dog Food?
Because food allergies are not common, you can look for signposts to isolate the causes. “Generally, if a dog is scratching non-seasonally, I will look at food as a possible cause of the scratching,” suggests Dr. Judy. Food allergies also present differently in dogs than in humans. In dogs, allergies are usually expressed through the skin, but they may present other symptoms. “A rule of thumb, but certainly not in 100 percent of cases, is that food allergies cause more itching around the head and face, with yeasty ear infections, while environmental allergies show up in other areas such as chronic foot-licking,” Dr. Judy explains. Watch for these signs:
Chronic or recurring infections, especially in the ears.
Head shaking and pawing at ears.
Itching outside of season.
Obsessive licking, skin or paw biting, or scratching.
Chewed-up hair on stomach, back, bottom, or paws.
A rash or hives. But remember, skin problems may not be obvious in your dog because the skin is usually hidden by fur.
Although more commonly associated with food intolerances, allergies in dogs may also present as sneezing, nausea, vomiting, gas, and diarrhea. Since topical allergies, food allergies, and food intolerances all present similarly, always consider getting the help of a veterinarian to diagnose the problem.
How Do Dogs Get Food Allergies?
As in humans, allergies are generally built up over time with prolonged exposure to an allergen. For example, a child who spends years walking through mosses and trees on the rainy West Coast may build pollen allergies as she approaches her 30s. Similarly, a dog who likes to eat one brand of beef dog food may suddenly become allergic to the ingredients. Dr. Judy says that “Dogs develop allergies for many reasons, including genetics, environmental toxins, and over-stimulation of the immune system by vaccines, drugs, and chemicals.”
Indeed, it is thought that puppies who are weaned too early are more susceptible because they did not receive a sufficient dose of antibodies from mother’s milk. Dr. Judy also suggests that the immune health of the mother and the quality of the colostrum, or first milk, influences the later health of puppies.
Some evidence also suggests that pups who received antibiotics at an extremely young age are more likely to develop allergies because the drugs change the digestive system. “Antibiotics affect the immune system because they kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut that are responsible for up to 80 percent of good immune function,” says Dr. Judy. Puppies in less than ideal environments may experience a double whammy of bad nurturing. “Many puppies that are weaned early are also vaccinated early and often, which further stresses the immune system,” she says. Among potential problems with excessive vaccination is the potential to contribute to allergies. As Dr. Judy explains further, “Vaccine cultures are commonly grown on egg cultures, which may lead to poultry intolerance, one of the most common problems I see.”
Some dog breeds are simply more prone to suffering allergies. Why? Possibly the breeding of animals that have allergies or animals that are too closely related, or certain breeds may just have a constitution prone to allergies. If you care for a member of these dog breeds, watch for allergy symptoms:
Bull Terriers (Dr. Judy: “almost all of them!”)
French Bull Dogs
American Bull Dogs (“Particularly the white ones.”)
Controlling and Healing Food and Environmental Allergy Symptoms
The only real way to heal allergy symptoms is to completely remove the allergen. However, particularly if the dog has suffered with the symptom for a while, it’s important to offer relief. Some vets strongly advocate for baths to remedy skin conditions. Bathing removes irritants on the skin and coat, soothing itchiness and hot spots. Special shampoos and topical sprays can also provide comfort. Allergy shots, antihistamines, and steroids such as Prednisone may offer temporary relief but are not long-term solutions.
How Can You Tell if Your Dog Is Allergic to Food?
When it comes to food allergies, the only way to really determine what’s causing the symptoms is through an elimination of food items and change of diet. Although skin and blood testing for allergies in dogs exists, some question its cost and effectiveness.
In an elimination diet you stop feeding what you believe is the problem food and feed a hypoallergenic diet, a diet with limited ingredients, so that the exact allergenic culprit can be narrowed down. Be aware that it is likely that if your dog has allergies, he may be allergic to more than one ingredient.
Stop Feeding the Current Diet: Change the diet gradually over a week or two, slowly feeding less and less of the current diet. Change to a food the dog has never eaten before, with either limited ingredients or novel foods.
Feed the New Diet for Eight to Twelve Weeks: During this period, watch to see if symptoms clear up. Look for at least some improvement in symptoms within four to six weeks. Some dog breeds may take longer to respond. Dr. Judy says she doesn’t add supplements for the first four weeks so that the source of reactions is clearer.
Be Careful About What You Feed the Dog: Watch for items kids might feed the dog under the table. Read labels on all foods and treats, in addition to the ingredients found on flavored medicines and compounded medicines. If problems appear while feeding something that doesn’t contain your isolated food, consider that elements in the ingredients may contain allergens. And, be sure that your dog can’t sneak food—a dog who breaks into the pantry and gorges on leftover kibble isn’t helping her condition.
After Symptoms Disappear, Do a Challenge Diet: Once symptoms disappear, gradually reintroduce the challenge foods, one protein at a time. Symptoms will appear within days to two weeks and may include stomach upset, loose stools, stomach rumbling, intense itching, or swelling of the face and ears. If symptoms do occur, remove the allergen again. However, if no reaction occurs, add another protein the following week. Be sure to keep a journal of foods used and reactions.
Rotate Foods:After you determine the allergen, remove it from the diet, but also be sure to rotate new items in your dog’s food weekly or every few months. Remember that repeated, regular exposure to foods can lead to allergies. Rotating foods also helps strengthen a dog’s digestion, exposes her to a wider range of nutrients, and just makes meal times more interesting.
Is My Dog Allergic to Chicken?
Chicken is a complicated ingredient. It appears frequently in commercial food, which means dogs potentially eat a lot of it. Chicken naturally comes loaded with potentially inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. In addition, commercial foods often use chicken that has been raised unethically and supplemented with steroids. If your dog eats a lot of chicken-based food and shows symptoms of allergies, try another food without chicken to see if the symptoms clear.
H2: What Is a Good Hypoallergenic Dog Food?
The word hypoallergenic means “less” allergenic. It’s the food least likely to cause allergic reactions in dogs.
Three Hypoallergenic Dog Food Types
When treating food allergies in dogs, you have three types of hypoallergenic food to experiment with:
Limited Ingredients: Limited ingredient recipes contain 10 or fewer ingredients, with usually five to seven ingredients, and often contain one protein and one carbohydrate. In this way, you can narrow your dog’s exposure to potential allergens. One good option is to feed your dog raw food since it has limited ingredients, no additives that are often culprits of allergies, and you know exactly what’s included in the recipe.
Novel Ingredients: Novel foods are less commonly available and seldom eaten by most dogs. They include unique game, such as bison or pheasant; foods from other continents, such as kangaroo or bush rat; and alternative grains, such as millet.
Prescription or Veterinary Food: Prescription food contains specific hypoallergenic ingredients, or hydrolyzed protein. At least one commercial dry food is available that is completely vegetarian to serve those dogs who are highly allergic to animal proteins. Made from hydrolyzed soy, some dogs eat it, but some won’t touch it.
With any commercial preparation, be aware that traces of allergens can always creep in during the production process. No laws or even official guidelines exist to describe the correct process for creating hypoallergenic dog foods. Some special commercial and prescription diets also contain artificial preservatives, such as BHA and BHT. BHA or butylated hydroxyanisole, and BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene are human-made chemical compounds commonly added as antioxidants to prepared human and animal foods, and cosmetics. Studies indicate they may be carcinogenic, although small amounts in food are permitted by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Nature of Hydrolyzed Protein
Hydrolyzed protein, contains chemically reduced molecules so small (amino acid chains are split) that a body cannot recognize them as antigens, or irritating allergenic components, and therefore, will not create a defense against them. But the solution may not be that simple. According to Dr. Judy, hydrolyzed products tend to be from chicken, corn, soy, or even chicken feathers. Experts suggest these diets are effective less than half the time. “Since chicken, corn, and soy are common allergens, it’s no wonder the foods don’t work well,” exclaims Dr. Judy.
Potential Allergens in Dog Food
To focus on hypoallergenic dog food, consider the items most commonly associated with allergic reactions:
Other possible allergens include potatoes, rice, rye, and other grains.
Some breeds and sizes of dog tolerate some foods better than others. For example, adult dogs may enjoy different foods than puppies. Active dogs who spend a lot of time outside may eat things, such as eggs, that more sedentary indoor dogs won’t eat.
The Best Foods for Dogs with Allergies
Particularly with commercially prepared foods, choices abound. But what are really the best hypoallergenic dog foods? The best dog foods for allergies isolate and remove the ingredient that provoke a reaction in your dog. Of course, in all instances, ethically raised sources are the best. Grain-free food may help for those animals who are gluten intolerant.
Aside from isolating allergens, the next important step is to look at novel foods, or foods your dog has not eaten before. Lamb may be novel for your dog, but it now also appears frequently in commercial recipes. Dr. Judy finds rabbit to be generally non-reactive. You may need to find a farmer’s market or specialty grocery store to find uncooked rabbit. Additional meat options include alligator (particularly in the southern United States), alpaca, goat, and ethically-raised pork. Dr. Judy also likes white fish, such as cod. Seafood, with its high levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, can be an excellent diet choice. Be careful with the types and source of the fish and how much you feed your dog, as ocean fish often contain high levels of pollutants.
Carbohydrate Conundrums Potatoes, both sweet and white, are often added as an alternative carbohydrate, but they too can present problems. Dr. Judy advises using white potatoes only as a temporary option because of the component solanine which can inflame arthritis symptoms. She also frequently sees dogs experience allergic reactions to sweet potatoes. “They are not my first choice,” she cautions. In addition, legumes–peas, chickpeas, lentils–can be problematic. “I am seeing a ton of problems with them and recommend avoiding them. Legumes are commonly affected by aflatoxins from molds, which stress liver function,” Dr. Judy explains.
Added extras include vitamins C and E, lutein and taurine, beta carotene, dried lactobacillus and acidophilus for digestive health, and antioxidants such as fish oil. For dried food, look for green tea as a preservative.
Moving Forward with a Good Dog Food Diet for Allergies
Dr. Judy suggests trying one protein and one vegetable and has had good results from butternut squash. “A lot of dogs with food or digestion problems don’t digest grain-type ingredients, but quinoa is sometimes feasible.”
Healing Hypoallergenic Foods for Dogs
If dogs suffer the ill effects from of the wrong foods, they can also be healed of allergies and food intolerances with the right foods. Dr. Judy thinks that after following a strict diet that eliminates offending foods, a dog may even be able to eat them again. “I have had some of my own dogs that seemed to have allergies to chicken or beef or whatever, that have the ability to eat the offending ingredient after a year without it.” But she cautions that real healing seems possible only with a clean diet of whole foods. “Trying to go back to a dry kibble with dozens of ingredients that may include chicken meal may not work but feeding fresh cooked or raw chicken may work.” Dr. Judy also recommends rebuilding the intestinal strength and repopulating gut bacteria through a good quality probiotic or probiotic source, such as fermented goats milk or green tripe.
Good dog foods can also help to heal environmental allergies. “Since 80 percent of the immune function comes from the gut, when you heal the gut you heal the immune system,” states Dr. Judy. She focuses on energetically “cooling” foods of Chinese Traditional Medicine practices– such as rabbit and white fish–for soothing digestive issues. “Many of my patients have environmental allergies that become very manageable with minimal or no required medications once the gut is made healthier.”
Homemadeand Raw Options for Hypoallergenic Dog Food
To reassure yourself that you are implementing the best control on allergens during food elimination tests and when controlling exposure to known allergens, homemade and raw foods may be good options for hypoallergenic dog food. However, understand that when you prepare your own foods for your dog, you must strive to create a balanced diet.
Get Hypoallergenic Dog Food Delivered to Your Home
At Darwin’s Pet Products, our number one goal is to help keep your pets healthy and active for as long as possible and a diet consisting of hypoallergenic dog food can help. To help accomplish this goal, we provide a library of articles in the hope of providing consumers with useful information to help their pets. And, primarily, we produce affordable, high-quality raw dog and cat meals which we ship directly to consumers, so they are as fresh and convenient as possible. Our meals are high in protein, gluten-free, wheat free, and are created to provide complete and balanced nutrition. We encourage you to learn more about our meals for dogs and meals for cats.
If you think you might want a trial of Darwin’s pet food (at an introductory price), we would love to send you our meals and hear how much your dog or cat loves them.