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Why Wheat-Free?

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Why Wheat-Free?

Rachelle Latour*, 2007, Urban Pet Lifestyle, V1

You wonder why your dog is rubbing his face on your carpet, or constantly licking and biting his front paws. It seems he doesn't look or act, like himself anymore. His coat is dull and dry and his eyes might be watery or developing a discharge. You know these aren't tears. But they could be. Your pup's discomfort may be quite extreme.

More than 20% of dogs and cats in North America suffer from some type of allergy, or intermittent food intolerance. Food allergies have been recorded as affecting 10% of all allergy stricken dogs and cats. In the food category, wheat appears to be the most prevalent, topping the list of offenders.

So even if your dog has been eating the same food for years, reactions can appear anywhere from the age of 4 months to 12 years. Like humans, animals are developing intolerances to certain foods. Symptoms, besides rashes and excessive scratching, though rarer, can include vomiting, sneezing or diarrhoea.

While wheat is recommended for its high fibre content and applauded for its zero cholesterol rating, it isn't something that all animals can tolerate. In the case of the allergic dog, wheat may suddenly be treated as an invading alien. In attempts to rectify this situation, reactions appear, leaving your pet uncomfortable and at times extremely miserable.

While wheat appears to be the most common allergen at this time, there are others that deserve to be mentioned. Corn, (although some continue to debate if stone ground corn should be included in this category because of molecular structure), may also produce a reaction with some dogs. Soy, beef, chicken and dairy can also contribute to the same symptoms. It seems many foods that have been the main respected ingredient in pet foods over time eventually become an allergenic component. Lamb and rice, until just recently, was considered hypo-allergenic, since exposure was low. But once exposure increased, many pets started to develop an allergic response, mimicking the allergic reaction which had besieged beef and chicken.

Besides food allergies, many pets suffer from contact allergies, which include many carpet powders, floor cleaners, and disinfectants which your pet comes in contact with daily.

Inhalant allergies include our pet's reaction to natural outdoor/indoor effects, grass, pollen, weeds, mites, as well as man-made instigators, which include lawn and garden chemicals.

Once you have determined that your dog may have allergies or that something is definitely wrong with your pup, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Your vet will work with you and your pet to determine if allergies are responsible for your pet's discomfort. Unfortunately, as with humans, this process may take some time.

While most vets agree that blood tests can easily diagnose some allergies, many admit that they are not usually reliable for food related allergies. Skin testing, excellent for pinpointing inhalant allergies is also ineffective with food allergies. Sometimes skipping blood and skin tests can save time and money, if you are willing to follow a 'back to the basics' plan.

Addressing food allergies first is often a good place to start. This involves simplifying what your dog ingests, starting with one part protein, two parts carbohydrates as his main diet. Introduce basic foods your dog has never eaten before and eliminate all existing foods.

A homemade diet used to be the only solution. But now there are a few 'simple' foods on the market that can be purchased through many pet stores and veterinary clinics.

Some include one part duck, rabbit, venison, or kangaroo, with two parts potatoes, rice or peas.

Difficult as it may be this diet will need to be controlled as best possible. All chewables should be put aside, including toys and rawhide. Heartworm pills and regular medications are usually allowed. Your vet's guidance will help with this.

This food trial should last approximately eight to 12 weeks. Hopefully during that period you will notice and rejoice in your pet's rejuvenation. New foods can then be added, one at a time, over two week intervals. If you sense a reaction to the “new” ingredient you have re-introduced, record it and immediately take it out of your dog's diet.

It is possible to notice improvement after a two week period, although some foods may remain in your pet's system for three to four weeks. However with patience, persistence and keeping it, “simple,” your dog will soon be acting like a puppy again.

*Rachelle Latour is a freelance writer and owner of Spoil the Dog Bakery, living in Guelph, Ontario.