We see a lot of pets who have been diagnosed with a food allergy, or pets who are in the process of being diagnosed. If your veterinarian suspects that your pet may have a food allergy, they are going to recommend a food trial. A food trial is where your pet eats nothing but the prescribed food for 6-8 weeks! It means no other food or treats the entire time. You even have to be mindful of flavoured chews, toys, medications, and toothpaste. Through a food trial, you and your vet will be able to determine if a food allergy is causing the problems your pet is experiencing. Signs your pet may have an allergy include skin rashes and irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, ear infections, anal gland issues, and many others. If you think your pet may have an allergy, you should discuss it with your veterinarian to see what they recommend.
When doing a food trial, your vet will recommend a hypoallergenic diet. Hypoallergenic means it is relatively unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Generally, your vet will recommend either a novel protein hypoallergenic diet or they will recommend a hydrolyzed protein diet.
A novel protein diet means they are using a protein source that your pet likely has never been exposed to before. Common protein sources for these include duck, venison, kangaroo, and even alligator. Many of these diets are made with limited ingredients so that it is less likely to contain anything your pet may be allergic to. The reason it is specifically a novel protein used is because the most common pet allergies are to protein. Beef and chicken are the number one and two most common pet allergens. If your pet has never been exposed to these proteins before, it is unlikely they will be allergic to them.
A hydrolyzed protein diet has a lot of science behind it. Hydrolyzing the proteins means that the protein has been chemically broken down into such small pieces that the immune system does not react to them. These diets can be complicated to make, but thankfully there are numerous different options on the market now for both dogs and cats. These diets are wonderful choices for food allergies, as well as for things such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Your veterinarian will recommend which type of diet they feel is best for your own individual pet. Thankfully there are so many options for both that even the pickiest of eaters can find a diet that they enjoy. It is so important that when doing a food trial, your pet does not receive even a small treat. It can be hard, but it is worth it to find out what is wrong with your pet definitively and to help them feel better.
Written by: Eastern Shore Veterinary Hospital