It can be challenging to look after a pet with a food allergy, and choosing the correct diet for your dog or cat is critical.
The culprit in food allergies is a protein or starch that that has been part of their regular menu for up to two years, for example beef, wheat, corn or chicken. A suitable hypoallergenic diet will therefore need to contain ingredients that they’ve never been given before. The only way to check if your pet is allergic to food is to feed a hypoallergenic diet and nothing else for eight to twelve weeks. If your pet is sensitive to something in their diet, switching to such a food should result in a reduction of symptoms.
There are a couple of ways of feeding a hypoallergenic diet:
Novel Protein Foods
These foods contain unusual proteins and starches, such as kangaroo, venison or rabbit, accompanied by tapioca, sweet potato or peas. These ingredients aren’t likely to be found in regular supermarket pet foods, but instead are usually available from your veterinarian.
Prescription hypoallergenic diets are usually more expensive than most other kibbles, but when you have to manage allergies, it’s worth it over the long term. Cheaper foods can be contaminated with allergens such as soy or beef when they are manufactured and this can be enough to trigger a reaction in sensitive animals.
Hydrolyzed Protein Foods
These diets contain commonly used protein sources such as chicken, but the protein is hydrolyzed, or broken down, into particles so tiny that they aren’t likely to cause an allergic reaction. Howeer, some veterinarians think that they are still a problem in food allergic pets, in spite of the extra processing they have undergone.
Home Cooked Meals
Many dog owners like to make their pet’s meals in their own kitchen, and you can still do this if you have to use a hypoallergenic diet. All you need to do is choose one source of protein, such as fish, and one source of starch or carbohydrate, such as tapioca or sweet potato. Cats don’t need the carbohydrate added and will do fine on an all-meat diet for this. You should feed this food for 12 weeks with no extras such as treats or leftovers from your own dinner plate.
The main disadvantage of this feeding method is that this diet isn’t nutritionally balanced and completely unsuitable for long term use. If your pet responds to this diet, then you’ll need to add some supplements to it to make it balanced; your vet can help with this.
Grain Free Foods
Does feeding a grain free kibble help with food allergic dogs? Not necessarily. Although grain free is popular at the moment, these foods are really only of benefit in those animals that have an allergy to that grain and the only way to tell if that’s the case, is to use a hypoallergenic food.
Hypoallergenic diets play two roles in helping to manage the food allergic pet. Firstly, they are used to diagnose the condition – if your pet is food allergic, a change to an appropriate diet will see an improvement in their symptoms. Secondly, they are used to treat the condition long term, and for this, you should choose a meal that is nutritionally balanced.
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