I’ve spent a couple of entries deconstructing pet food, but I wanted to take a moment to specifically mention a brand that has done something really good.
When we suspect a pet of having a food allergy, it can be very difficult to get to the root of the problem. Pets can be allergic to anything, but usually they have a reaction to one specific protein or carbohydrate. Trying to figure out what it is- fish, beef, chicken, wheat, corn- can be difficult. If you read the labels on your pet food (which you should!) even those foods marked “sensitive stomach” or “sensitive skin” tend to have a variety of ingredients including some of the most common allergens.
Up until recently, pet owners have had two choices: home cooking, or prescription diets. A food allergy elimination diet typically entails eliminating all the major allergen sources, and providing a diet that has one single novel protein source and one single novel carbohydrate source (one the pet hasn’t been exposed to before.) The diets therefore have odd ingredients: venison, duck, peas, hydrolyzed soy (the latter being a protein that is broken down to the point that the immune system no longer recognizes it as an antigen.)
While some unlucky allergic pets react even to the prescription diets, most food allergic pets respond quite nicely. They are very effective. And, being a prescription diet, they are also pretty pricey. Unlike other prescription diets, such as the renal disease diets and the heart failure diets, there isn’t a nutritional imbalance that would make it a poor choice for your average healthy pet, so it’s fine to use long term. There’s no reason a similar diet couldn’t be produced for over the counter use, aside from the fact that the ingredients are more expensive.
Dick van Patten’s Natural Balance has responded to the need with a great over the counter line of Limited Ingredient Diets. They have one protein source and one carbohydrate source, and the ingredients are very similar to those of the prescription diets. I used their vegetarian formula with good success when I needed a lower-fat, lower-protein low allergen diet for Mulan (who was allergic to the prescription renal diets.) I know the prescription diet manufacturers are extremely strict about their processing of the allergy diets (as in, they do not share equipment with other types of pet foods), and I can’t say how this brand’s manufacturing compares. That being said, for pets with a mild to moderate allergy that is suspected to be food related in origin, this could be a nice alternative to at least try out. In this economy we all appreciate saving where we can, right?
The line is available for dogs and cats, in canned and dry forms.