Food and Environment Play a Main Role in your Canine’s Health

By  Liora Robinson

Every day we talk to customers whose pets can’t eat certain foods or have severe reactions to certain environmental factors. These reactions range in severity, but with a rapidly growing number of pets suffering from allergies, you might wonder what is causing this increase, and how can I
protect my pet?

The cause for this increase can be debated all day long. We have heard many opinions including overbreeding, unnecessary vaccinations, overuse of food ingredients that are not biologically appropriate, GMOs, and overexposure.  But until significant scientific proof is found, we have to accept that our pets are reacting to their environment, and some of them are limited in the types of foods they can tolerate. We must learn to recognize which symptoms may be food related, environmental related, or both.

How to spot allergy symptoms.
Environmental allergy symptoms often include reoccurring “hot spots,” itchy skin, dry skin, hair loss, red irritated skin or paw pads (which cause chewing of the legs and feet), rash-like bumps on the inner thighs and abdomen, coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes.

Some environmental allergies are found in the home. Many pets are allergic to dust mites, and unfortunately dust mites are inevitable, even in the best-kept homes. Other indoor environmental factors include scented candles, air fresheners, carpet cleaners/powder fresheners, cigarette smoke, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, cleaning supplies, and even food bowls.

Many pets suffer from environmental allergies found outside of the home. Our pets react to many of the same grass and pollen allergies that bother humans. It is very difficult to completely avoid most environmental allergens. Pets with severe symptoms almost always require additional support from natural remedies recommended by a holistic veterinarian or from the aid of allergy medication.  Feeding your dog a high-quality, natural diet and using immune-boosting supplements can help reduce the severity of many environmental allergy symptoms.

In addition to supporting your pet’s immune system with a proper diet, try to reduce his exposure as much as possible. Bathing and foot soaking can significantly reduce irritations caused by environmental allergies. Some pets are sensitive to shampoos, so be sure to look for a natural, detergent-free, hypoallergenic shampoo. Your intent is to remove dust and pollen from their coats, not cover them in artificial fragrances. Plus, harsh shampoos can damage the delicate pH balance of your pet’s skin and can actually create additional irritation. If symptoms do not improve, visit your veterinarian for additional support.

Some animals suffer from a combination of environmental allergies and food intolerances.

Pets can develop food intolerances, which are often misidentified as a food allergy. A food allergy usually invokes a severe reaction, like anaphylactic shock. Food intolerances also invoke a reaction, but generally are not life-threatening.

Dogs and cats with a food intolerance often show symptoms very similar to those with environmental allergies, which may include ear infections, skin infections, anal gland problems, chronic diarrhea, burping or acid reflux, irritable bowels, and digestive upset.

Food intolerances can occur at any age and can develop especially if a pet is fed the same food for an extended amount of time. Some pets outgrow their sensitivities, while others continue to show sensitivities to a growing number of food ingredients.

What do you do if you suspect your pet may be suffering from a food intolerance?

The first bit of advice I’d like to share is to remember that every pet is an individual. Just because you once had a dog or cat who suffered from a chicken intolerance doesn’t mean your new pet will have the same problem. No one wants to see their pet suffer from itchy skin or stomach upset, so it’s understandable to try to learn from our past experiences. However, until you have a legitimate reason to avoid a certain food ingredient, it doesn’t help to automatically eliminate any specific ingredients. If you jump directly into a food with unique, novel ingredients, you will be limiting your options if you ever do truly require a “hypoallergenic” formula.

Many people misuse the term hypoallergenic. What is hypoallergenic for one pet may not be for the next. A hypoallergenic diet is one that does not contain ingredients that a pet is intolerant to. There are a few options for determining which food ingredients to avoid: an elimination diet and/or allergy testing. There are blood and saliva tests available through your veterinarian. These tests may offer some insight or at least give you a starting point for elimination. Many veterinarians feel that these food allergy tests are not dependable for determining food intolerances. Some veterinarians do not offer these tests at all. Many vets, who do not believe food allergy testing is a good method for determining food intolerances, will prescribe a special “hypoallergenic prescription diet.” These diets are made with hydrolyzed proteins, so they are less attractive to the pet owner who is looking to feed their pets an all-natural diet, as they do not contain biologically appropriate ingredients.

The most effective method is the elimination diet. This method requires a strong commitment from the pet owner as it takes time (usually about 90 days), and you must be strict about sticking to the limited meal plan. An elimination diet is achieved by cutting out ingredients that may be causing a reaction in your pet. If you have no idea where to start, you should review everything your pet consumes and try to identify a “trigger.” Your veterinarian or local Whole Pet Central can help you reach this first step. Once you eliminate your pet’s “triggers,” you should notice an improvement in their symptoms. This improvement can take up to 90 days, as the body needs time for the build-up to be cleansed out of the body. Some symptoms actually temporarily spike during this cleansing period. Once your pet is free of all symptoms, ingredients can be reintroduced, one ingredient at a time, so you can observe which substances cause the symptoms to reoccur. I recommend reintroducing ingredients for at least a week or longer, as some pets don’t have an immediate response. Others will react fairly quickly, and that ingredient should be avoided in foods as well as treats. Using this method for any suspected “triggers” will allow you to customize the perfect hypoallergenic diet for your pet’s unique needs. ND

Liora Robinson is co-owner of Whole Pet Central, an all-natural pet food company with four locations across Northern Virginia and Maryland. Visit them on the Web at


Diet Elimination Techniques: Step-By-Step

I have used the elimination diet technique many times to determine if my own pets were suffering from food intolerances. In doing so, I’ve discovered that one of my dogs has a chicken sensitivity.  If he eats chicken for a few days in a row, he becomes very itchy, and the skin on his underside becomes red. He can tolerate a meal that contains chicken from time to time, but whatever it is that causes this reaction seems to build up over a short time. Some pets have an immediate reaction. I’m able to report this with confidence because I eliminated chicken for a few months, and as I reintroduced it back into his diet, the symptoms reoccurred. —Liora Robinson

Step 1: Based on your observations of possible allergens, determine a new diet for your pup.

Step 2:  Use this new diet exclusively for a minimum of 4-8 weeks.

Step 3:Monitor the reaction spots on your dog closely.

Step 4: If the spots clear up, reintroduce the suspected allergen and monitor.  NOTE:  If the spots do not clear up, try a new food source with different ingredients OR confirm that the allergen is not food based.

Step 5:If the reaction returns, the food allergy is confirmed; if not, reintroduce another suspected allergen after 3 days.

Note:  Please consult your veterinarian before implementing any new treatments for your pet.