In the first part of this blog posted last week, we defined what food allergies are as well how to diagnose them using a food trial. In the second and final part of this blog, we will discuss the types of specialty diets used in food trials, along with a closer look at the diets available and what to expect once a food trial has been completed.
Novel protein diet vs. hydrolyzed protein diet
The menu of restricted ingredients that are allowed to animals during a food trial is often referred to as a novel protein diet. Novel protein diets usually include ingredients such as rabbit, venison, fish, duck, and/or kangaroo – items that are rarely used in commercial pet foods, thus making it unlikely that your pet has been exposed to them in the past. It is important during a pet’s lifetime not to introduce a huge variety of proteins to their diet, as this will limit the diets with new ingredients that can be tried should they ever require a food trial.
In some cases, the doctor may need to rely on a hydrolyzed diet. These diets use proteins such as chicken or soy, however instead of providing an intact protein, the proteins are broken down into significantly smaller components. These smaller components are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction because the immune system no longer recognizes them as the proteins that it previously had an abnormal response to.
In summary, a novel protein is a food or ingredient the animal has not eaten previously, while a hydrolyzed protein has been broken down into smaller components which reduces the body’s reaction to them.
What diets do we carry for food allergies?
Luckily, there is actually an extensive list of veterinary diets available for pets that suffer from food allergies. However, it is best to work with a doctor in order to find the most appropriate choice for a dog or a cat with food allergies as each case is unique. The options listed below are exclusively available for purchase at veterinary clinics only, as opposed to retail brands that can be obtained from pet or grocery stores. Veterinary diets are ideal and highly recommended over retail brands, which can sometimes contain trace amounts of common allergens. Additionally, veterinary brands are backed by extensive clinical trials and research, while retail brands typically are not.
PURINA VETERINARY DIETS
DRM Dermatological Management Diet
HA Hydrolyzed Diet
Treats: Gentle Snackers
HILLS PRESCRIPTION DIETS
Prescription Diet d/d (duck, salmon or venison formulas available)
Prescription Diet z/d
ROYAL CANIN DIETS
Hypoallergenic Hydrolyzed Protein Diet
Hypoallergenic Selected Protein Diet
Sensitivity VR Diet
Treats: Hydrolyzed Protein Treats
RAYNE CLINICAL NUTRITION
Kangaroo DIAG & MAINT
Low-Fat Kangaroo MAINT
How long does a food trial last?
Generally, we recommend to continuously feed the food trial for a total of 12-16 weeks (3-4 months). Although we typically start to see positive results within the first 4-8 weeks, it can take up to 16 weeks to eliminate the remaining allergens from an animals system.
Remember, it is critical that the animal does not get anything else during this time period! Something to think about would be how many foods beyond their regular meals actually cross your pet’s mouth over the course of an average week. Such items as:
Drive-thru treats (pupaccino, anyone?)
Goodies from neighbours/service persons
Licking of cereal bowls, ice cream bowls, plates, etc.
Access to other pets food or stools
Pilling treats (pill pockets, cheese, etc.)
Supplements (glucosamine, omegas, etc.)
The ingestion of any of these example items while on a food trial could result in the trial failing.
What happens after a food trial?
Once a food trial has been conducted and the animal has responded favourably with a reduction in the clinical signs of food allergies previously exhibited (ie. itching, licking and/or ear/skin infections), we can slowly start to reintroduce regular foods. By adding in ingredients one at a time over a period of weeks, we can determine which ingredients the dog or cat reacts to.
When managing a pet that has potential allergies, it can feel like a long process. Whether a food trial is in order, or the doctor recommends other testing, the key thing to remember is that we are doing this to help make our pet feel better. Allergies can be a frustrating and (sometimes) expensive condition to get a handle on, but at the end of the day, our pet will feel much better once they are diagnosed and eating the appropriate diet. The future should hold a lot less itching and licking – and, of course, a lot more cuddles as your dog or cat will be feeling infinitely better!
Thank you for reading and we would love to hear about any experiences you have had in managing a pet with food allergies. Please feel free to comment below, or post any pictures you may have.