Food Allergies

Your pet’s ears are all red. His skin is itchy. If it’s really bad, the fur is coming out. Classic signs of one of the most frustrating conditions a pet owner can encounter: allergies.

The tricky thing about allergies is that they could be triggered by anything. Triggers are generally broken down into three categories: environmental (grass, pollen, household cleaners), dietary (what your pet eats), or infestations (allergies to fleas, for instance). Your vet can run tests, but they’re not always conclusive. Sadly, the only real way to identify what’s triggering the reaction is to eliminate every potential allergen, one by one, until you hit the one that was irritating your pet.

For food allergies, this means droppping whatever food your pet was eating before. Since most commercial kibbles and canned foods contain an extremely long list of ingredients, and your pet may be allergic to any one of them, your best bet is to choose a dish with a short list of ingredients your pet has never been exposed to before. A simple example:

  • lamb
  • sweet potatoes
  • brown rice

Other exotic protein sources include elk, kangaroo, emu, rabbit, etc. These can be found at natural pet boutiques, either in kibbles and cans, or even better, frozen raw. If you try your pet on the new food and he can eat without itching, congratulations! But you’re not done yet.

An allergy is basically your pet’s immune system derailed—it’s decided to identify a harmelss substance as a threat, then goes into overdrive trying to remove the substance from the body.

But the immune system generally tags a substance as harmful when it’s been overexposed to that substance. So what does this mean about your new emu diet? Simply that if you keep feeding emu every day, your pet stands a good chance of developing an allergy to emu. And then you’re right back where you started.

That’s why experimenting with new foods is even more important for pets with allergies than for healthy furkids.

The good news? If your pet was allergic to chicken a few years ago, and hasn’t had chicken since, there’s a chance you may be able to eventually reintroduce it. Why? Your pet’s body is no longer drowning in chicken. His immune system has had a break. It doesn’t need to keep screaming, “No more chicken!”

And one more tip: the most common food allergen is actually grain. The reason is simple. Stroll down the grocery store aisle and read the first ingredient on every bag of pet food. It’ll usually be a grain product. Compounding the problem, the canine and feline digestive systems aren’t really constructed to make any use of grains. Our pets have been swimming in grains, and they’ve had enough.

Often times, a grain-free, fresh-food diet is all it takes to clear up that frustrating food allergy.

Mangoes and Peaches

I gently squeeze the peaches in the bowl on the counter, looking for that perfect ripeness. One of them suits my fancy. I rinse it in the sink, the water droplets sticking to the peach fuzz before they tumble down.

Molly trots over. Any activity that takes place in the kitchen requires her immediate supervision. You never know. I may be frying chicken or baking meatloaf.

I smile and let her sniff the peach, knowing she won’t like it. To my surprise, instead of a disappointed, “Oh. Fruit,” she gives me her best, “Please, please, please, won’t you share some with me?”

I’m surprised. I ignore her and bite into my peach, then look back over my shoulder.


I toss her a bite. She catches it mid-air and chomps it down. “Is that all I get?”

I toss her another bite, waiting for her to realize her mistake and spit it out. Instead, I make a new discovery: In addition to raw radishes, steamed kale stems, and the occasional blueberry, my dog likes peaches. But the jury’s still out on mangoes. I think she finds the texture funny.

I’m always looking for something new to throw into the food dish or serve as a treat. Trying new foods is all a part of our culinary adventure—and not just new meats, but new veggies too, and yes, even a little fruit. The effort is small, but the reasons are important:

  • If a pet eats the same thing every day, she could develop an allergy
  • As with human diets, variety is the best way to provide all the nutrients a pet’s body needs
  • It’s fun! Molly’s eyes light up when she gets something new, and she eats it with gusto

In large part, my dedication to variety is married to my rebellion against the conventional system–the same brand and flavor of kibble or canned food every day of a pet’s life. I wouldn’t like to eat that way. In fact, if I don’t pull out the cook book often enough or stroll down a different aisle of the grocery store now and again, my body gets lethargic and I don’t feel satisfied at meal times.

I see the same thing with Molly–particularly still being hungry after meals–if she hasn’t had something new in a while. Maybe it’s as simple as baking her dinner instead of frying it. Maybe it means going wild and buying that dehydrated lamb lung treat.

And maybe it means listening to your dog when she says she wants to try some of your peach.