For one Central Florida couple, figuring out what was wrong with their Scottish terrier was all they could think about.
“Katie is our little girl,” said Dan Jensen, 7-year-old Katie’s owner. “We’re empty nesters, so she really means the world to us. She would get these welts all over her and she would just be scratching herself to death all night long. It was so bad, she was even losing a lot of her fur.”
Jensen said they tried for five years to soothe her and to try to make the irritation go away. But after dropping thousands of dollars and trying six different kinds of medications, nothing was working.
Jensen said Dr. Ana Doris Ortiz at Pet Paradise Animal Hospital in Apopka suggested food therapy.
“It sounded crazy at first, but at that point, we would have tried anything,” said Jensen.
Food therapy is a treatment used in Eastern medicine. Ortiz said it’s part of the Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, or TCVM, she now incorporates with Western treatments in her pet patients.
“You have to create a balance within, let's say, an animal that seems to be imbalanced,” Ortiz said.
Simplified, the general idea is people, animals and food all have energy that can run either hot or cold. The goal is to get to neutral, so eating foods that are considered the opposite, may help you get there.
For instance, with meat, cooler meats include most fish, duck, pork or rabbit while some hot or warmer meats include chicken, lamb and venison.
“Cooler animals are maybe weaker in the hind end. Sometimes older animals are cooler,” Ortiz said. “A hot animal may be hyper and active. That's what happened with Katie. Some of the food she was eating was not appropriate for her constitution. She’s a ‘fire’ dog. She goes out there and wants to lick and kiss and do all that, so she can benefit from using cooler types of food.”
The Jensens decided to give it a try and switch Katie off of her limited-ingredient venison diet to one of home-cooked turkey and vegetables. Almost immediately, they said they began to see results.
“Within the first week her scratching went away,” said Jensen. “Turkey, celery, spinach, then you add the occasional cucumber and fruit, and just a couple of spices and maybe some salt, that's it. I debone and cook a whole turkey and freeze it in two-day portions.”
Ortiz said it's not just symptoms like Katie’s that could indicate a change in food may be necessary. Animals with food allergies may benefit from beginning an elimination diet using food from the opposite end of the spectrum from what they’re currently eating. She said there are several symptoms pet parents can look out for.
“The basic signs (include) coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, those are more obvious,” Ortiz said. “A change in behavior, maybe a change in behavior that may some people may not notice, but maybe your neighbor can notice they're more aggressive or maybe more afraid.”
Ortiz said if you’re considering a food switch, you don’t necessarily have to cook like the Jensens do. She said there are plenty of limited-ingredient commercial foods out there that are balanced and can meet your pet's needs. Those are available at most pet stores, and veterinarians can also offer prescription food if necessary.
Especially if your pet has a sensitive stomach, while switching food, most veterinarians recommend doing so gradually. Add a little of the new food to the old food and continue adding more and more until the switch is made. They said you can help avoid upset stomach and accidents that way.