If you’re concerned that your pet may have food allergies and think you would like to try your pet on a new diet to address a medical condition like itchy ears or soft stool there are a few options in regards to which hypoallergenic diet you can choose. First consider if you need a prescription diet or if you could try to get away with an over the counter diet. The best person to help you decide this is your veterinarian.
The basis of a hypoallergenic diet, also called a limited ingredient diet, is a combination of a protein and a carbohydrate that your pet has never been exposed to before. Most foods are chicken, beef, lamb or fish based so you would want to avoid any of these. The most common allergens in dogs are beef, dairy, wheat, lamb, chicken and soy. For cats the list includes beef, dairy and fish. Ingredients such as venison and pea, rabbit and sweet potato or kangaroo and tapioca are common examples of hypoallergenic diets.
Another type of prescription diet that is used to treat food allergies in pets are the hydrolyzed protein diets. With these diets the protein has been broken down into tiny pieces so that the body does not recognize it and thus does not create an inflammatory reaction that then leads to allergies. Examples of these diets are Hill’s z/d and Purina HA.
The benefit of prescription diets is that they are truly hypoallergenic and are specifically formulated to help with food allergies. The prescription food companies completely sanitize their production line removing any traces of left over proteins or other components of the diet that was made previously. You don’t get this in over the counter diets; a limited ingredient over the counter diet that says venison and potato may have traces of chicken in it. This might not affect your pet at all; it just depends on how sensitive he is to the particular allergen.
The benefits of an over the counter diet are availability and cost. You can find them at any pet food store and while they are more expensive than a basic adult maintenance diet they should be lower in price than the prescription diets. You also don’t need a prescription from your veterinarian for the OTC diets.
Once you have chosen your diet you are ready to start a food trial. To perform a food trial correctly you cannot feed your pet ANYTHING else other than the food for 4-8 weeks. This means no treats, no Greenies and no table scraps – it is really hard to do! During this time you should take particular notice of how your pet is responding, hopefully the condition you are trying to address improves. It may not completely resolve but these diets are just one of many tools we can use to address food allergies.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM