Does your dog chew at feet or tail? Does your cat have a dry, dull coat (or even bald patches) and always seems to be itchy? Are you constantly at the vet for ear infections or digestive issues? Food allergies may be to blame! While grain allergies are the most common seen in dogs, they can, and often do, develop allergies to specific proteins in their diets.
Our pets are not born with allergies to specific proteins; they are developed over time by feeding the same food over and over. For example, If your pup is given chicken every day of his life, over time his/her body may become less equipped to break down those proteins. The body begins to mistakenly identify chicken as a harmful ingredient, and starts producing defensive antibodies to fight against the proteins.
How can you prevent these allergies from developing?
The best way is through rotational dieting, much like we do. Each day, humans eat a variety of foods and each day varies. This helps us to receive varied nutrients, and of course, prevents boredom from eating the same thing over and over. Dogs and cats also benefit from a varied diet, and switching foods can prove to save a lot of money on veterinary care over the course of a pet’s life.
Many pet parents are afraid to switch their pet’s food because we've been told that it will cause diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues. For year's, pet food companies and vets alike told us to find one good food and stick to it and that will keep their pet healthy and happy for life. In reality, however, the minor G.I. issues that may form from switching foods are nothing compared to the major issues that may happen if the dog or cat becomes intolerant to their diet.
Many progressive vets now recommend that your pet’s food be switched a few times per year. If you have a sensitive dog or cat, you may need a few weeks to gradually transition your pup onto the new food. If you feed a rotational diet, such as Taste of the Wild, Wild Calling or Orijen, you can stick to the same brand for a longer period of time, but you want to be sure to switch up the protein. This will not only help to prevent allergies, but will make mealtime more interesting.
If you have a dog with an allergy to chicken, for example, and you find a salmon-based food that they do well on, your instinct may to be stick to this food. In reality, though, you should already be planning the next protein to switch to. Lamb used to be the go-to hypoallergenic food, as chicken and beef are more commonly used in dog food. After feeding lamb for a long time, however, it is just as likely for a dog to develop a lamb allergy!
In extreme allergy cases, a “novel” protein might be necessary. Novel proteins are ingredients that your dog or cat’s body is not familiar with. Chicken, beef, turkey, and lamb are meats used most often in pet food. Novel proteins for pets eating these ingredients would include venison, rabbit, duck, kangaroo or ostrich. Because the pet’s body has never been exposed to these ingredients, they are unlikely to solicit a negative response from the body. It is important to also use a novel carbohydrate when trying to fully eliminate allergic reactions. If a cat was eating a chicken and rice based food, a novel food for them might be duck and potato.
So remember: a diet with a wide variety of proteins makes for a happy and HEALTHY pet, and can prevent dietary insensitivities down the road!