Does your dog chew at his tail or feet? 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 or insensitivities 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.
Dogs and cats are not born with allergies to specific proteins; they are developed over time by feeding the same ingredients over and over. If a dog is given chicken every day of his life, for example, over time his body may become less equipped to break down those proteins. The body begins to mistakenly identify chicken as a harmful ingredient, and creates defensive antibodies to fight against the food. This is what causes the symptoms that many of us have become familiar with.
How can you prevent these allergies from developing? The best way is through a rotational diet, much like our own. Each day, we eat a different assortment of foods than the day before. This helps us to receive a wide variety of 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 dog’s life.
Many pet parents are afraid to switch their pet’s food for fear that it will cause diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues. They think that finding one good food and sticking to it will keep their pet healthy and happy for life. This is what many food companies want you to think as well, as it keeps your pet food dollars coming in their direction for 10-15 years. 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.
It is recommended by progressive vets 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, Fromm or Acana, 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!
Jenna Yarosh is the owner of Patton Avenue Pet Company in West Asheville and a proponent of biologically-appropriate foods for your pets!