I realized last week that we had officially been on Silas’s food allergy diet for over a year. I moved him to eating just turkey early last summer, in June or July.
Here’s what I’ve learned: when people tell you that food allergy trials take a long time, they’re lying.
Food allergy trials never end. They take a long time only in the sense that infinity takes a long time.
After 14 months, Silas has three known safe proteins–turkey, sardines, and pork. His known allergens are duck, beef, salmon, and lamb. These are my facts. The sum total of what I know. In reality, given that a full test is 12-16 weeks, that is a lot to know in 14 months.
There are lots of grey areas, too. He had what seemed to be a chicken allergy as a puppy, but I have not retested it. I still wonder if his duck “allergy” was just that he hated duck so much that he was going hungry and triggering his acid reflux.
Other things don’t seem to cause any problems, but for one reason or the other they haven’t been subjected to a full trial. Eggs, yogurt, cheese, grains, fruits, vegetables, and non-salmon fish all seem fine in small/occasional quantities. These things come and go in his diet depending on where we are in a trial. The first few weeks of a new food are very strict, then I gradually loosen the rules. You have to, at a certain point, to make your life reasonable to live.
I’d like to get Silas to four proteins, which is usually considered a sustainable number. (Because most food allergies in dogs are caused by over-exposure, an allergy dog who only eats a few foods is highly at risk for becoming allergic to them. Experts who are willing to commit to a recommended number of foods to rotate seem to settle on four.) I have no idea how long that will take. We’ve just ruled out lamb, so in a few weeks after his stomach heals we’re due to try venison. I have a whole pantry full of venison tripe that I bought when it was discontinued and then got nervous about feeding him. In this mythical land of four proteins, I will probably stop with the protein trials for a while. Instead I will probably do some more thorough testing of the “small quantity okay” foods I listed above.
With all the “novelty” proteins out there I could easily do another two years of protein trials. Bison, quail, rabbit, kangaroo, brushtail, goose, emu, not to mention individual kinds of fish. I probably won’t, both because those things are expensive and because I need to save some things in case he does develop allergies to our existing safe foods later on.
It all probably sounds terrible and tedious to you, but in reality it does gradually become your way of life.
After a few months, you can no longer imagine just walking into the store and buying a bag of treats without reading the label at least three times, even in the “good” store. It becomes as weird as driving up to the gas station and selecting a random fuel grade for your car.
You learn how to turn down dog treats without offending people.
You learn not to have a panic attack when your dog eats a kibble off the floor at PetSmart.
You learn how to make your own treats, because the only ones your dog can eat cost a fortune. After six or eight months, if you’re like me, you’ll even stop resenting having to do it. (Except liver. Blech.)
You will learn how to pick a pet store in a new city that might possibly have one thing your dog can eat, and you learn how to navigate it when they don’t.
Most importantly: you will develop food contingency plans, and backup contingency plans, and food trial schedules, and then you will stop worrying so much.