Food Allergies: What is best? – Grain free, limited ingredient, hydrolyzed?
Over the past several years, food allergies have become a recognized condition in pets. Because of this the food market has been flooded with a host of “allergy friendly” or “hypoallergenic” pet foods. So how do you know what is right for your pet? Food allergies, as in people, can be to a host of items. Most pets, unlike people, are allergic to the protein source (meat) in the food NOT the grain (which is more common in people). For this reason switching to a grain free option may not be effective. In pets that have food allergies, the first diet recommendation is to switch to a diet based on a meat source the pet has NOT been exposed to previously. This can be difficult as many food companies will mix meat sources. For example they may mix lamb and chicken, or salmon and beef. This is why prescription diets are formulated- to ensure there is only one protein source in the food. When in doubt looking at the ingredient list can shed light on what protein sources are used in the food.
Once a pet is started on a food trial, the chosen food must be fed a minimum of 8 weeks before it can be determined if it is effective in controlling signs. It must also be the ONLY item fed. This means flavored supplements, medications and treats must be discontinued and non-flavored options chosen. It takes this long for the immune system to finish reacting to the offending item in the previous food. If after 8 weeks there is little to no improvement, additional diet changes may need to be tried. In a small number of pets we find that the allergy is not to the meat, OR the grain, but is to a preservative or additive in the food. These pets face a bigger challenge in finding an adequate diet, and in some cases require hydrolyzed prescription diets or home cooked diets to avoid the offending allergens. If you believe your pet is suffering from food allergies, talk to your veterinarian about food trial options.
Written by Dr. Kerri Blackburn