Walk down the aisles of any grocery store and you are likely to find a section devoted to gluten-free food. The same trend is seen in pet stores. A gluten-free diet is sometimes part of a holistic health regime; outside the holistic regimen, gluten-free is necessary in the face of gluten sensitivity.
Gluten is a gummy-textured protein that comes from wheat and other grains such as rye and barley. It is sometimes added to dog food to boost protein content and carbohydrates. In dog treats, it helps bind the product together to keep it from falling apart. A dog’s sensitivity to gluten can cause his immune system to attack his digestive system. In some cases, the condition can make it difficult for a dog to absorb all of the nutrients he needs.
Symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity include a range of gastrointestinal issues. Things to watch for are weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, excessive gas and poor appetite. A dog could become very itchy, causing him to scratch a lot or persistently shake his head. Since all of these symptoms can mimic other allergies or conditions, it is important to make sure gluten is the real culprit. Your best bet is to consult a veterinarian before embarking on a home treatment program or making changes to your dog's diet of any kind. Some of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity, if allowed to persist, can lead to other health concerns. For example, ongoing diarrhea can cause dehydration.
A change in diet often is the means of diagnosing, and treating, gluten sensitivity. All food containing gluten is removed from the diet. If symptoms subside, gluten sensitivity is assumed. Improvement doesn't always take place, however; you might not see improvement for a month or longer. Your vet might conduct routine blood and fecal tests, for example, just to be on the safe side and to rule out other causes. Extensive and often expensive allergy testing is available if you are determined to pinpoint whether your dog has certain allergies.
If a change in diet improves your dog's symptoms, that's great news. Some not-so-great news is that he will need to remain gluten-free for the rest of his life. Ongoing care will require carefully reading labels to make sure no gluten is in any food or treats you offer your dog. It is safe to assume that anything labeled "grain-free" does not contain gluten. Get your vet's recommendation for a commericial diet, or whip up your own nutritionally balanced and gluten-free dog food and treats at home.