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Vet Talks: Hypoallergenic Diet for Pets—Does Your Pet Need It?

Vet Talks 5 min read

The term hypoallergenic diet for pets gets used a lot. But what does hypoallergenic mean? Does your pet really need it? In this edition of the Vet talks Blog, I’ll help you understand what a hypoallergenic diet is. 

Do you know that chronic skin problems, vomiting, ear infections, and itching can be caused by food allergies? Just like humans, pets can be allergic to various foods and environmental factors. Allergies can occur in all breeds of dogs and cats, at any age. If it is a food allergy that your pet is coping with, vets often recommend a hypoallergenic diet.

Having your vet identify between a food allergy and an environmental allergy is key in deciding if your pet needs a hypoallergenic diet.

How to identify if it is a food allergy or an environmental allergy?

Although identifying a food allergy is something that only vets can do, here is a simple explanation of identifiable symptoms that can help you understand if your pet is having a food allergy:

  • Recurring eye or ear infections
  • Lesions all over the body, especially around the belly generally suggest food allergies
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy paws and face (although this generally suggest environmental allergies, it can also potentially be a food allergy)

Differentiating Between a Food Allergy and Environmental Allergies in Pets

Having your vet identify between a food allergy and environmental allergy is key in deciding if your pet needs a hypoallergenic diet.

Dust, pollen, cleaning supplies, plants, and pollens are common environmental allergens for pets. Your vet may prescribe anti-allergy drugs and recommend eliminating any lingering allergens post-walks or outings, checking all household supplies and pet articles for allergens or strong chemicals. Your NHV team will recommend adding NHV Alge-Ex to help control some of the symptoms like runny eyes or nose or itchy paws. Like all NHV supplements, Alge-Ex can work in conjunction with any vet-prescribed anti-allergy drugs.

Food allergies, on the other hand, have a more comprehensive protocol. Food allergies in pets are most often caused by specific proteins. Poultry and beef are the most common proteins pets are allergic to. The only way to find out is either by elimination trials or by offering them a hypoallergenic diet which is either a novel protein or a hydrolyzed protein. It will have to be a systematized long-term process as allergies can take months or even years to show up. Your vet will help you. You can support your pet’s immune system with NHV Stimmune while you work this out.

When dealing with a pet that has food sensitivities, make sure you tell everyone who comes into your home about the allergy. Many times, pets will receive a ‘treat’ from a guest which can cause a flare-up in their allergy symptoms.

Now that we’ve covered the different allergy types, let’s move on to understanding the diets that vets recommend for pets with food allergies and what exactly is a hypoallergenic diet.

What is a hypoallergenic diet for pets?

“Hypo” is a prefix meaning low, under, beneath, down, or below normal. “Allergenic” means causing allergic sensitization.

A hypoallergenic diet is designed to minimize the likelihood of an allergic response by containing few or no potentially irritating substances. These diets are typically recommended to narrow down specific foods that are known to cause food allergies in pets.

Protein from animal sources, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products are the most common allergens. Certain carbohydrates can also cause allergic responses, though it is much less common than proteins causing these reactions.

Is a hypoallergenic diet going to be useful for your pet?

Given all the possible causes and limited diagnostics available, any animal suspected of having an adverse reaction to a food should ideally undergo a food trial. A food trial involves feeding an elimination diet containing a single novel protein or a hydrolyzed protein diet for 2 to 4 months. A careful dietary history must be obtained from the pet owner before selecting the type of diet.

A commercial diet available for cats and dogs with suspected adverse reactions to food is a hydrolyzed (broken into fragments) protein diet. Protein is the most common nutrient associated with adverse reactions to food because protein is needed to bridge two IgE molecules. Hydrolyzed proteins are broken down to the molecular level, to the point that the body no longer recognizes them as an allergen. Although these diets are helpful in most cases, they can be expensive. Therefore, a novel protein diet is often tried first; if clinical signs do not resolve, then a hydrolyzed protein diet can be used.

The trial diet has to be exclusively fed for the recommended length of time, and all treats, snacks, table food, and medications that contain flavoring should be changed or discontinued. Other therapies such as hyper-sensitization and flea control are necessary for animals with concurrent disease. Depending on the severity of the clinical signs, medications may initially be needed to decrease itching and inflammation or treat any secondary bacterial skin infections. NHV supplements can also be included.

Test various suspect ingredients by reintroducing them to the diet one at a time followed by recurrence of clinical signs is an affirmation of adverse reaction to that ingredient.

A simplified homemade diet is also a great way of helping a pet with food allergies. Formulated by a veterinary nutritionist, a well-balanced homemade diet allows for a wider selection of source ingredients and it becomes easier to keep your pet interested in what’s in the bowl. You can always get a customized diet plan for your pet made by me.

How to help a pet on a hypoallergenic diet eat better and get healthier?

Watch for symptoms

It is very important to be aware of the symptoms of a food allergy in pets. Symptoms may become worse by switching to the wrong foods or giving the wrong diet altogether.

Cats and dogs with food allergies usually have itchiness. You will notice incessant licking and chewing of the paws, flank, groin, neck, and ears. Cats often scratch their faces and ears. The itching occurs consistently throughout all seasons. Some dogs may have recurrent ear inflammation or infections. Gastrointestinal signs such as chronic vomiting, diarrhea, belching, and frequent bowel movements may also occur. It is common for both skin signs and gastrointestinal problems to be present in the same animals, and these problems tend to persist or reoccur.

Provide holistic support

NHV Stimmune is a blend that is vet-formulated to help reduce symptoms like ear and eye infections and itchy skin. It helps promote the body’s natural histamine response. This supplement can be an excellent support to integrate into your pet’s regimen.

Vets may also prescribe topical relief for pets with food allergies. If you are looking for all-natural topical sprays and ointments for your pet then NHV has a few options. Echo Gold helps with ear infections, Ey Eas helps reduce watery eyes, Ouch Away Spray helps reduce itchiness and All Clear ointment can help to soothe inflamed skin, reduce infection and soothe itchy, flaky skin. According to your pet’s symptoms, you can keep some of these handy.

NHV Stimmune for pet food allergies

Stimulate healthy appetite

One problem that my pet parent clients share with me is that their pets are rejecting hypoallergenic foods. In this case, the first thing I recommend is giving fresh, cooked food a try. I also recommend using NHV Multi Essentials, as it is a herbal multivitamin that helps boost the metabolism and can stimulate a healthy appetite. This further motivates the pet to eat the hypoallergenic diet food in their bowl. It also helps fill any possible nutritional voids.

Handling a food allergy case can get very overwhelming for pet owners, but the reward comes along by being very patient with your pet. If you need more information about a hypoallergenic diet for pets or want to understand how to better help your pet cope with food allergies, you can always book an online vet consult with me. If you want help deciding which NHV supplements are right for your pet, then one of our Pet Experts will be more than happy to help.

You can consult Dr. Amanda here or get a customized diet plan for your pet made from her.

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda Nascimento DVM, MVSc, PhD

Dr. Amanda completed her undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine in 2010 and graduate studies in veterinary pathology (MVSc. 2012 and PhD 2016) at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of São Paulo. She completed her post-doctoral training at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine – University of Saskatchewan in 2018. Dr. Nascimento will be hosting her own blog series and sharing her knowledge with our extended NHV family.

Published: December 28, 2018

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