What's an Allergy-Free Diet for Pets?
And no, going grain-free isn't the answer.
Just like us, our furry companions can develop a negative reaction to certain types of food. And while the exterior symptoms on a pet can vary (also like us), the most common sign is itching. And this sometimes incessant scratching can happen in one spot or a specific area—for dogs, ears and feet are a common target. Other allergic symptoms include recurring ear and skin infections or even gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhea or vomiting.
For our pets, food allergies are most common due to animal and plant proteins, like beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken. Hyunmin Kim, DVM, veterinary staff manager at the ASPCA, says, "Often owners are worried about food allergies and think grain free food is a good choice to avoid allergies, which is definitely not the case." In the past decade, pet owners have started avoided rice or oats in food but this could pose a larger health threat than leaving it in. According to a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, grain-free food could potentially give dogs a life-threatening heart problem called dilated cardiomyopathy, also known as DCM.
How does a food allergy develop?
Dr. Kim says, "In order to develop a food allergy your pet must have had prior exposure to this food allergen and usually has had repeat exposures before an allergy develops."
Is there a universal allergy-free diet?
Basically, no, because each pet has individual needs and pets are allergic to different things. Dr. Kim adds, "Some foods can be categorized as hypoallergenic because of a novel or uncommon protein source, or contain hydrolyzed protein, meaning that the protein particles are too small to illicit an immune response, but these diets can still be allergenic for some pets. To determine an appropriate diet, consider a food trial using a hypoallergenic for a minimum of eight to ten weeks."
How do you select the best diet for your pet?
The best advice is to work with your veterinarian who received training in animal nutrition while in school and at educational conferences, and who may also consult with a board-certified veterinarian nutritionist, making them more educated on the subject than your local pet store employee.