Understanding Pet Food Allergy
Two of the most confused areas for pet owners are nutrition and allergic disease. Both are complex and when you combine the two you got a seemingly incomprehensible puzzle. To solve it we must first dispel myths and misunderstandings.
1. Foods do not cause allergies, the genetic make-up of the pet does. (Therefore “corn causes allergies’ is untrue)
2. No one food item is more capable of inducing a reaction than any other and the pet must be exposed to a protein to sensitize first. Therefore the most common ingredients end up as the ones commonly triggering allergy.
3. Only proteins can trigger allergic reactions, not fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, or minerals. (Soybean oil does not contain soy proteins and is not capable of triggering a reaction)
4. The definition of a “novel” protein diet is one that contains a protein source that the pet has never eaten before. Therefore if a pet has never eaten a chicken egg it would be a novel protein for her.
5. Novel protein sources aren’t magical, they let you take away what the pet was eating that caused a reaction and still provide a balanced diet.
6. Certain fatty acids do have a therapeutic effect. Fish oil, borage seed/evening primrose oil, reduce itching and inflammation in skin and reduce arthritis pain. Therefore, I prefer not to have them in food allergy test diets because they can improve the skin condition of a non allergenic pet.
7. Special hydrolyzed protein diets (proteins broken down to smaller chains) are designed to be incapable of triggering allergies but …a small % of pets may still react. Newer diets claim they have fixed this minor problem.
8. The quality (digestibility) has nothing to do with allergenicity. A super premium (superior digestibility and quality control) diet that a pet is allergic to can turn Spot into an itchy, stinky, and crusty mess. Hence testimonials about how the poorest quality diet that a pet is not allergic to is much better that the super premium one. I hope you already know to be aware of testimonials (think snake oil, blind dates, and commercials).
9. In the world of allergy, “Food” means whatever Queenie manages to swallow. Once eaten, a mouse is cat food! So rawhides (beef), milk bones, and corn chips can and will trigger reactions in susceptible pets.
10. Proteins are found in any whole plant or animal ingredient. This means meat, meat & bone meal, by-products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grain. I will go over this in detail on my next article when we get into how to properly conduct a food allergy trial diet.
11. Lastly, do not feed puppy or kitten foods with large numbers of different protein containing ingredients (smorgasbord marketing gimmick). If a puppy is going to sensitize to proteins (this only happens in puppyhood) make it 2 or 3 not 23! I know of one puppy diet with 22 proteins.