After a recent trip to a Joliet pet store, we realized just how tough you--our wonderful clients!--have it when it comes to choosing a food for your dog or cat. The selection was truly overwhelming, even for a professional!
We’ve seen fad diets come and go and fielded thousands of questions about pet foods, but the scale of the current problem became clear, with row after row of “hypoallergenic” diets.
We want you to arm you with some information to make selecting a diet less frustrating, and to cut through the million-dollar marketing schemes. Without further ado, we present, How to Pick a “Hypoalleregenic” Diet:
First, find out if your pet is likely to have a food allergy.
If you’re going down this rabbit hole, we want to make sure the trip is likely to get you somewhere!
Treating a food allergy requires 100% compliance with a new diet. Consider people with nut allergies: they can’t even eat things produced in the same building as nut-containing products.
This means your pet will need to stop eating ANYTHING other than the new food – no treats, table snacks, sneaking another pet’s food, or even flavored medications.
There are some specific symptoms that point towards a food allergy, and that’s where we come in. We can help you assess if what is going on with your pet is potentially related to a food allergy, or something else.
Second, know that food allergies are OVERWHELMINGLY related to a protein, not a carbohydrate.
I’ll say it again for the people in the back: Almost all pets with food allergies are reacting to the protein(s) in their food, not carbs (AKA grains!).
To make matters worse, recent studies are showing that grain-free diets are linked to serious heart disease in dogs. So when looking for hypoallergenic diets, we want to try and avoid any grain-free options right off the bat.
Third, be aware that pets can develop an allergy AT ANY POINT in their life to ANY PROTEIN they have been fed.
There aren’t any specific proteins that are more or less allergenic, nor are there breed-specific protein allergies.
This means two things: (1) You can’t prevent your pet developing food allergies through diet choice, and (2) If you are treating a food allergy, you need to feed a novel protein diet. Novel proteins are ones your pet has never eaten before—get out a pen, make a list, and cross any diet with even trace amounts of those proteins off right away.
Even the novel protein approach will fail in some cases; for these pets, we have prescription diets that are produced in a different way, in order to avoid provoking the immune system completely. We can talk about these options if you are worried your pet falls into this category.
Fourth (and finally), many pets with food reactions respond slowly to a diet change.
For pets with skin conditions, we need to clear all infections from the skin, ears, anal glands, and nail folds (gross!) before the diet change can even start to work. Once clear of infection, expect a 6-12 week period on the diet before evaluating if it is helping.
This is another good reason to take some time and seek professional advice selecting a diet for a pet with food allergies – you are committing to a two month+ period of feeding the new food and completely preventing the intake of anything else. That’s a seriously difficult task for many pets, and nearly impossible for those of us with young children or in laws around!
Food allergies can be frustrating, and that's why we're here to help clear the way to success. If you would like an individualized suggestion for your dog or cat’s diet, never hesitate to ask us. Dr. Adam sees dozens of pets with these conditions each year and is happy to help!