Elimination diets for dogs: a step-by-step guide (with worksheet)

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As an Integrative Veterinarian, I’ve spoken to countless dog parents feeling defeated by their pup’s skin or gut issues. Often despite many treatments, their best friend is still facing pain and discomfort. This is where elimination diets — with a holistic approach — can help your dog feel more like themselves. 

It can take some patience and persistence to find the root cause (or causes) of the issue, but once you do, you have the power to help improve your dog’s long-term health.  

To help you navigate this process, we’ve created a handy downloadable worksheet for tracking symptoms during an elimination diet trial. 

 

Clickable diet trial download preview

Traditional versus holistic elimination diets: a side-by-side comparison 

Traditional elimination diets for dogs 

Traditionally, these diets have one goal: identify and remove potential allergens and substances in a dog’s present diet. This takes place over a set period, where symptoms are tracked to see if they resolve, lessen, or persist.  

If symptoms persist, veterinarians typically recommend the dog return to their original diet — under the assumption that food plays no role in their sensitivities. They may suggest medications or other therapies, like therapeutic diet changes.  

Holistic elimination diets for dogs 

Holistic elimination diets recognise food for its role in causing signs, even if not immediately obvious. Even if your dog’s chronic gut issues haven’t improved with diet changes in the past, or your pup has environmental skin allergies, it’s still worth considering doing more trials to determine the best diet for them. 

Your pup might respond best, for example, to food in a certain form — or their symptoms could be traced back to a certain nutritional breakdown (like specific levels of protein, fat, or fibre).  

There isn’t always one food allergen to blame — but the type of food you’re giving your dog is worth exploring. 

The role of highly processed foods 

It's no coincidence that highly processed pet foods are so popular — while skin and gut issues are one of the most common health issues seen in dogs. Highly processed foods often contain pro-inflammatory ingredients and artificial additives, which can trigger sensitivities, pain, and discomfort. 

I recommend trialling a period off highly processed diets — focusing instead on gently-cooked, anti-inflammatory options like Lyka. 

 

A step-by-step guide to running an elimination diet schedule 

If your dog is experiencing non-seasonal itching, gastrointestinal discomfort, or both, try an elimination diet trial. Research has found that elimination diet trials should last at least 12 weeks for the best results.

Here’s a top-level summary of the schedule (including when to book consults), which I recommend you individualise with your veterinarian: 

  • Week 0: selecting a diet trial food for your dog 

  • Week 1: start monitoring and tracking progress 

  • Week 6: halfway point check-in 

  • Week 12: consult to identify results and next steps for rechallenge phase 

  • Week 14: post-rechallenge, confirms if original diet caused a relapse and identifies next steps with the selection of a medium-term diet 

Elimination diets GANTT chart

For Lyka customers, our in-house veterinary team is always available for additional support: helping to guide you along the way.  

Week 0: selecting a diet trial food with support from your veterinarian 

Lyka is a strong contender for an elimination diet with its highly digestible, high protein, low carbohydrate food, made with gently cooked ingredients. It’s free of artificial additives and pro-inflammatory ingredients (such as wheat), which reduces the potential number of dietary triggers.  

Once you’ve selected a suitable diet, it’s time to start transitioning your dog to the new food. Gradually transition over a period of 10 days to allow your dog’s gut time to get used to the change. 

Discuss with your vet if dog is taking medication

For parents of pups taking medication: check with your veterinarian before getting started. Some medication can influence the outcome of the elimination diet, so discussing these variables is key. 

Weeks 1-12: monitoring and tracking progress during the trial period 

During your dog’s elimination diet trial, regular check-ins with your veterinarian are crucial. They can work with you to assess your dog’s progress, as well as making any necessary adjustments. 

The main question to answer: is the elimination diet making a difference to your dog’s symptoms or health issues? There are three potential outcomes: 

  • Complete response — with skin or digestive issues resolving completely. This means the original diet was not working, and was causing adverse allergic or intolerance-related reactions. 

  • Partial response — symptoms are still present, but with severity or frequency. This means there is need for a trial period away from the previous diet. 

  • No response — with no improvement in signs of pain, dysfunction, irritation, or discomfort. 

We’ve created a handy downloadable worksheet: with space for you to note down any changes in symptoms at home. 

Weeks 12-14: the rechallenge phase 

After the trial, it’s time for you and your veterinarian to reintroduce foods from your dog’s original diet. Rechallenge can be discussed or delayed if you want things to settle first. 

How long does the rechallenge phase last? 

The rechallenge phase generally lasts for two weeks — but this will depend on the level of variety in foods eaten before the elimination diet. 

If your dog had any kind of positive response to the elimination diet, the rechallenge will confirm this: letting you know for sure that the previous diet played a role in their health issues. Let's say pollen season just ended, for example, and your dog stopped itching. Was it the elimination diet that made the difference to their symptoms; a seasonal change; or both? 

How is the rechallenge phase structured? 

There are two ways to approach the rechallenge: by feeding a little of all previous foods, or giving them individual proteins they’ve been fed in the past — one-by-one. I prefer the second method, as parents can gain faster, more actionable insights: like developing a “safe” ingredient, form, and recipe list.  

Some dogs may need to have one ingredient added per fortnight: especially if they’ve had severe gut issues. Other dogs will be able to tolerate all the different ingredients they have been fed before, in the first week of the rechallenge.  

What is the purpose of the rechallenge phase? 

This part of the process can help to differentiate subtle partial responses from lack of response.  

After reintroducing foods, you can expect to notice symptoms within hours, up to two weeks. In rare cases, symptoms can take more than a fortnight to appear — and in extremely rare circumstances, this can take months. 

If symptoms reappear, revert to the food from the elimination diet. Once your dog’s reaction subsides, introduce individual ingredients one by one — at fortnightly or monthly intervals, as directed by your veterinarian — to pinpoint the offending food item. 

 

What happens if my dog’s health issues persist? 

If there is truly no difference after an elimination diet trial, you have two options. 

The traditional approach (mentioned above) would be to return to the previous diet and explore other treatments. 

My view: explore food’s role as medicine in more depth. This means trialling other diets — I find that ultra-processed diets pose so many potential issues, it’s worth removing this category altogether and looking elsewhere to meet your dog’s nutritional needs. If your dog responds well to this (whether it’s a significant improvement or just a little), it’s worth avoiding the previous food for 12 months, if not permanently. 

In cases of food sensitivities but not true allergies, the gut and immune system will be able to handle these foods again — once given a chance to heal — but it’s also possible that these diets were responsible for the damage in the first place. For this reason, long-term avoidance may be required: regardless of whether it’s a true allergy, intolerance, or food sensitivity

 

The life-changing role of gently cooked dog food 

Research shows that diet selection is crucial to your dog’s health span and quality of life — even after an elimination diet is done and dusted. For thousands of dogs with sensitive tummies and skin (or even behavioural issues and epilepsy in some cases), Lyka is a complete and balanced choice as a long-term diet. 
 

Lyka customer case study link preview

 

Our food is formulated by a team of board-certified veterinary nutritionists, containing anti-inflammatory ingredient in optimal omega 6:3 ratios, to promote healing and reduce the potential for flare-ups. We use high-quality protein, produce, and superfoods that provides a mix of beneficial bioactive ingredients for your dog. Diversity in the diet also reduces the likelihood of future sensitivities.   

This process, however, doesn’t need to be rushed: nor is it suitable in all cases. This is why we offer single protein fixed formulation recipes: some dogs need to stay on a single diet long-term. Our novel protein options — Turkey, Kangaroo, and Fish Bowls — could be options worth exploring with your veterinarian.  

Together, we can help your dog live a healthier life: free of the skin or gut issues they’re facing. 

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