Pet advice: What to feed a dog with food allergies?

Q: Our vet says that our terrier mix, Lucy, is allergic to her food. She wants us to start feeding her a really expensive prescription diet. I’ve read that feeding grain-free food is a less expensive alternative. What are your thoughts?

A: Allergy to foods is a common condition in veterinary medicine, affecting the overwhelming majority of dogs who suffer from excessive foot licking issues and recurrent ear infections.

These pets’ immune systems are overreacting to one or more proteins and/or carbohydrates in their diets, which leads to these uncomfortable effects.

While “food trouble” might not seem like a major problem, to pets with these and other dermatologic or gastrointestinal issues –– most of which tend to progress over time –– food allergies can mean severe discomfort, deafness and, in some extreme cases, even death.

So what’s a concerned pet owner to do? First, be sure of the diagnosis. The best way to test to see if a pet has a true food allergy is to diligently feed only a limited number of ingredients and note their effects to be sure which foods they’re allergic to.

So which food should you try?

The tried and true approach is to feed either a commercially prepared therapeutic diet including select proteins and carbohydrates (this is what your veterinarian recommends) or a home-cooked diet comprised of only one protein source and one carbohydrate source that your pet has not ever been exposed to.

In either case, strict adherence to the diet is crucial. Which means NO treats or table food whatsoever.

So should you hedge your bets and just go with the “grain free” option?

Good luck with that. Turns out plenty of pet foods may say they’re grain free ... when they’re not. A recent lawsuit over the issue revealed this dirty little secret. What’s more, a study published earlier this month showed something even more shocking: Almost half of more than 50 pet foods tested by food quality researchers included protein sources they didn’t list on the label.

All of which means that when it comes to diagnosing and treating food allergies, you’re probably better off with a diet designed for pets with food allergies.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to