Food Trial Tips for Diagnosing Pet Food Allergies

Pet food allergies often require a lengthy diagnostic process. Although it’s not complicated, it does require about a 12-week time commitment and the dedication to strictly follow the testing process in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

How an Exclusion Diet Works

The diagnostic process that most veterinarians use to diagnose a food allergy is called an exclusion diet. Your veterinarian will recommend a diet that features unique sources of protein and carbohydrate that your pet will eat for about 12 weeks.

Unique protein sources for dogs can include fish, duck and egg, and unique canine carbohydrate sources can include potato, peas and rice. Unique protein sources for cats can include venison or duck, and unique feline carbohydrate sources can include potatoes or sweet potatoes.

During that time, your veterinarian will monitor your pet’s allergic symptoms. If they begin to subside, he or she will re-introduce ingredients from the pet’s former diet in an attempt to elicit an allergic reaction. Once a reaction occurs, the diagnosis of food allergy is confirmed, and the pet’s diet will need to be changed.

How to Feed the Exclusion Diet

You’ll need to gradually transition your pet from his current diet to the exclusion diet. Start by mixing one-quarter of the exclusion diet into the current diet and feed that ratio for three or four days, then feed a 50-50 mix of the exclusion diet and the current diet for three or four days, followed by three or four days of feeding a diet that’s three-quarters exclusion diet to one-quarter of the current diet.

Monitor your pet for digestive problems during the transition and let your veterinarian’s office know if your pet has difficulty making the transition. Once your pet is eating the exclusion diet, the food trial can begin.

Why the Diet Must Be Strictly Followed

Your veterinarian has devised your pet’s exclusion diet to give an accurate diagnosis if it is followed correctly. This means that your pet must eat only the exclusion diet and water. He cannot have treats, table scraps, flavored medications, flavored toothpastes or rawhide chew toys because any additions to the exclusion diet may lengthen the dietary trial and make it more difficult to diagnose your pet’s problem.

You will need to make sure your pet eats only the exclusion diet, which may mean a separate feeding area if yours is a multi-pet home. Pick up your other pets’ dishes once they are done eating so the pet with the potential food allergy won’t clean their plates and complicate his diagnostic test.

Exclude Other Potential Allergens

During the time your pet is on the exclusion diet, he may still have allergic symptoms. You’ll need to control fleas in your home and reduce airborne allergens to reduce the chances that your pet is also suffering from a flea or an atopic allergy in addition to his food allergy. Food allergies are the third-most-common canine and feline allergy, ranking behind flea allergies and atopic allergies, so other potential allergens need to be controlled during the exclusion diet in order for your veterinarian to make an accurate diagnosis.