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“Allergy” behavior and the healthiest solution

When Trooper was a puppy, he ate a generic food that was probably not the best quality.  When he was about one, he started exhibiting odd behavior that seemed to be related to a health issue, including biting his feet and licking his stomach raw.  We were rather alarmed and took him to the vet to find out what was wrong with him.  The vet immediately called it an allergic response, likely to the fillers in his dog food, and suggested having him allergy tested.  However, the cost was between $300 – $400 (holy moly!) and was not in the budget at the time.  As an alternative and possible solution, our vet recommended switching to a raw meat diet that consisted of ground up meat, bones, some grains, fruit and vegetables (I believe this is now called the BARF diet).  This pure diet would give Trooper only the nutrients his body needed without the additives.  The food was rather expensive compared to the dry kibble, but we decided to give it a try.

What our vet did not tell us was that it could
takes years to see a response from eliminating a food allergy. We persevered with the diet for a few years. We did not really like dealing with it, but Trooper loved his bloody ground meat. A side benefit was his appearance – His teeth and coat looked amazing! However, after those first couple years, his “allergy” response had not disappeared and we were spending all of this money on the better food. If the problem was not the food, then it was time to get more clear answers; I bit the bullet and had him allergy tested.

The results were rather shocking. His allergies included: beef, lamb, venison, wool (as in the covering of the animal we had been working with at herding school), loads of grasses and many others. The vet’s solution of switching to ground beef and other meats therefore seemed to be questionable, especially since Trooper was now consuming his allergies in their purest form. The vet’s new solution was to put him on steroids, which would last on and off for the rest of his life. Commence shocking experience number two: Once on the steroids, Trooper’s personality became depressed, his energy plumeted and he couldn’t hold his bladder (a common response to steroids). He had a few accidents in the house and was mortified.  Gone was my exciting and fun Aussie.  This was NOT the solution either.

I saw no harm in raw food but I did not want the steroids. Ultimately, because neither solution eliminated the ‘allergy’ behavior, I stopped it all and went back to cheap food. Lo and behold, nothing changed. Trooper now eats ProActive Health Adult Minichunks (the bag with the border collie on the front). Do you want to know what eliminated his ‘allergy’ behavior? Exercising him and giving him a job. Thank you Mr. Vet for helping a newbie understand her Aussie…wrongo…Thank you Madame Dog Trainer for helping point out ways to keep an Aussie occupied and thereby solving the entire ‘health’ problem.

Fast forward three years and I am again contemplating a new food. Stay posted for why I changed dog foods and what I ended up choosing.

Note:  I understand that some Aussies do have allergies and merely giving them work might not fix the problem.  However, with such a task-driven breed, one of the first attempts to eliminate an ‘allergy’ should be more exercise and mental stimulation.  The main reason Aussies get dumped at shelters is because their owners did not realize the dog had such high needs.  This leads me to believe that owners who keep their dogs might not realize their Aussie’s “allergies” might be related to deficiencies in their lifestyle, not in their diet.  Of several sites that describe dog allergies and their causes, I only found one that (briefly) discusses misdiagnosing an allergy when boredom was really the cause.  However, if you try changing your dog’s lifestyle and the allergy symptoms do not abate, check out WebMD.  It summarizes how to troubleshoot and understand your dog’s allergies.