“You know, there is an accurate way to test for food allergies now.”
Those were the words my vet said as I sat across from him talking about our newest struggles with Dharma’s allergies.
Wait. What? Did I just imagine that? Is it really Christmas already?
I had waited for this day for a long time. I know, I know, who gets excited about breakthroughs in diagnostic testing?
Me. And probably anyone else who has suffered alongside their itchy, scratchy, miserable best friends or spent their time reading the ingredient list on every package of treats in the store searching for those with no wheat, corn, grains, soy, beef, chicken or dairy.
We know Dharma has environmental allergies ranging from fleas, multiple trees and an assortment of plants and grasses. She is under the constant care and monitoring of us and our holistic vet as we try to keep her feeling good with supplements and natural treatments while not resorting to traditional medications used to alleviate allergy symptoms such as steroids.
We have done the testing for the environmental allergies and the results have been a huge help in the process of living with Dharma’s allergies. Some things that are used in natural allergy relief, such as tea tree oil, will send Dharma into a scratching rage complete with open wounds and hair loss. Because we have done the testing we can screen out all known allergens. We have suspected, as has our vet, that based on her history of Irritable Bowel Disease and allergies that Dharma probably has a range of food allergies as well. I have searched high and low, calling every specialist around to see if there is a test for food allergies. There is; however, it is not regarded as reliable.
Previous testing is done using a blood sample and tests for the antibodies to certain foods in the dogs blood. The problem is that the test has a high sensitivity but low specificity producing many false positives as well as false negatives. Not exactly helpful. Until now the only way to test your dog for food allergies was through a method called the elimination diet. It works like this. You put the dog on a strict diet of one protein and one carbohydrate for up to 8 weeks. No other foods are allowed during that time. Period. That includes treats, bones etc. If you see improvement over the 8 weeks you introduce different foods one at a time until you have gone through your list and have determined which foods trigger an allergic response.
If it sounds easy it isn’t. We test every new food, supplement, shampoo, ear wash etc that Dharma is given. Some days I think the list of things we have left to try may take us the rest of our lives. Many times we get a positive response (itchiness) within a few days of giving her the new food or item. But because she has so many environmental allergies and we can’t control the amount of maple trees or yellow dock in the area we never know for sure with one trial if it is really the food causing her to scratch or a coincidence. That means if it produces a reaction once we must take her off the offending item, wait a week or two for her to calm down while it leaves her system and then try it again. If the same item makes her itchy twice we cross if off the list. Now do you see why I’m excited?
Nutriscan canine food sensitivity testing is performed by a lab called Hemopet. Dr. Jean Dodds runs Hemopet and is extremely well-known for her work on advanced thyroid testing and the Rabies Challenge Fund. Dr. Dodds personally evaluates each and every test run through her facility ranging from titer testing to thyroid tests and now, Nutriscan testing.
Nutriscan testing evaluates saliva samples to identify antibodies to foods to alert owners to which foods should be avoided for their pet. Antibodies appear in the saliva before the animal is even diagnosed with IBD or food allergies. The test currently evaluates the top 6 food allergens; corn, wheat, soy, milk, eggs and beef. Hemopet plans to release an extended panel of 14 additional test items including chicken and turkey by the start of 2012.
The day I found out about this new testing I went home, called Hemopet and ordered my diagnostic kit. The sample gathering process is non invasive and can be done at home. I put the piece of rope is put into Dharma’s mouth and ignored her looks of dismay, then inserted it into the sample tube and mailed it back to the lab. Dharma and I are anxiously awaiting the results.