Calling BS on elimination diets

…On the traditional kind anyway.

There’s this belief that there’s only one accurate way to diagnose food allergies in our pups. And that one way is through elimination diets.

Taken from a popular vet site, the advice given was something to the effect of: “we take the dog off all food it’s eating and put them on one that they have never had before. When there are signs of improvement in the dog, we start reintroducing the old food to see what originally caused the problems.”

Now, we take umbrage with a few aspects of this.

What if your pup’s new food is a trigger, too? How are we quantifying “when we see improvement”? How many months do our dogs have to continue suffering while we conduct our experiments? Days? Weeks? Months? It’s all a little nonsensical. 

So today, we’re diving a little deeper into why elimination diets are a flawed idea. And what approach will work better instead.

A guessing game

Perhaps the biggest flaw of elimination diets is that they’re nothing more than a guessing game. You’d have to get it perfect the very first time – removing all the ingredients they’re sensitive to right off the bat – to ease your pooch’s discomfort quickly. And the likelihood of this is very small.

Dog foods have all sorts of different combinations of ingredients. And if we consider the massive amount of foods dogs are commonly triggered by, it’s like navigating a minefield. 

You’ve got your work cut out for you if you’re hoping to avoid all your dog’s food allergies by blindly removing ingredients from their diet.

And, as if we needed any more complications, derivatives also throw a huge spanner in the works. Whether meat or vegetable derivatives, they could be anything. The offcuts of random chicken or pork. Or the shavings of carrots or potatoes. If the labels you’re basing decisions on aren’t transparent, you won’t actually know for sure what your pup is still eating, or if you’re eliminating any ingredients fully. 

Discomfort is discomfort

Our dogs can’t tell us that they’re feeling better, so how can we ever really know if we’ve completely stopped an allergy or sensitivity in its tracks? Sure, you might identify the big cause of their reactions, but maybe not smaller ones that could be causing that occasional scratch or headshake. 

Let’s say your dog is currently eating chicken, peas, and asparagus – so you move them on to duck, carrot, and potato. Their symptoms start getting better as they’re really allergic to chicken. Happy days! 

Until… their symptoms don’t go away entirely because they’re also slightly allergic to carrots. But, hey, they’re still getting better so let’s deem this exercise a success, right?

Meanwhile, your pooch is still miserable.

Elimination diets create this cycle where we never truly identify the root causes of their reactions, and therefore we never know if they have stopped or actually just become less easy to spot.

Elimination diets in dogs

Hypoallergenic food

Often, when you’re recommended an alternative food for your pup, it’ll be ‘hypoallergenic’ (we debunk hypoallergenic food in more detail here), and typically it will be chicken or soy-based. Or a vet might just recommend plain rice and chicken.  

However, ALL of these ingredients are extremely common allergens for pooches. 

It doesn’t matter how clean a chicken may be. Whether it was raised ethically, slept with a heated blanket each night, or received a university education in mathematics. If your pup’s allergic to chicken, it’s still going to spell trouble for their tummies.

The long and short of elimination diets is this: how are you supposed to make your dog feel better by jumping from ingredient to ingredient without any REAL oversight of what’s happening internally? 

Getting to the root of the problem

Identifying the root cause of your pup’s allergies first is a way to break the cycle quickly and get them back on top form ASAP.

Instead of trying (and inevitably failing) to fix the problem blind, sensitivity tests give you better insight into your dog’s needs and diet. This gives you a jumping-off point to start making better decisions for their health.

Let’s use one of the doggos we’ve previously helped as an example. One of our clients found that their pooch was sensitive to rice and broccoli.

Their owner might have switched them over to an alternative food to avoid those ingredients. Say, lamb, carrots, and potato. But, thanks to the test results, we know they’re also mildly sensitive to lamb and carrots, as well as other ingredients. This left the pawrent more informed on how to get their pup back to their best, and how to avoid a load of painstaking trial and error in the process.

Blood versus fur tests

One thing I will agree with is that using blood is not an accurate way to test for allergies. Down to the science and the way blood both works and recycles, data isn’t held in it for long, and you can only test for triggers your pup has already faced and developed antibodies for. Whereas hair holds data for around 6 months – making it far more accurate.

It’s also nicer for the dog. Just a few hairs is enough to get your results. And you can either cut those off yourself or wait for them to fall off if you’ve got a classic molter on your hands.

The core premise of elimination diets are spot on. Instead of this traditional way of guessing, why not figure out your pooch’s issues first. Then, you can edit and tweak their diet and environment to avoid their specific triggers.

You do want to remove all the pesky ingredients your pooch doesn’t agree with. But we just believe this is a much better way than spending months and months removing ingredients willy nilly and hoping for the best. 

You don’t have to figure it out alone. After receiving your pup’s sensitivity test results in around 72 hours, we’ll guide you through what it all means and suggest some recommendations for your pooch that they’re sure to love.

The Swagwags range of dog food for adults and puppies comes in a wide variety of natural, transparent recipes designed to help your pup live a longer, happier life. Find your pup’s new favourite flavour today!