If your dog or cat has been experiencing symptoms of a potential food allergy or food intolerance, your veterinarian will likely recommend an elimination feeding trial to confirm a diagnosis. The food used to carry out this feeding trial is known as the novel protein diet.
Symptoms of Food Allergies and Food Intolerance
Food allergies rank as the third most commonly diagnosed allergies that affect cats and dogs. Food allergies can present in pets at any age. As with most allergies that afflict cats and dogs, the symptoms of a food allergy include:
- Itchy skin
- Excessive scratching
- Hair loss
- Recurring ear infections
Food intolerance differs slightly from a food allergy. Pets that suffer from a food allergy experience the above symptoms because an ingredient in the food is triggering an allergic response. Pets that suffer from food intolerance experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting or diarrhea, because an ingredient simply does not agree with them. Inflammatory bowel disease is one of the common conditions that can present with food intolerance. Whether your pet suffers from food allergies or food intolerance, the diagnosis and treatment are the same. Learn more about nutrition here.
What Is a Novel Protein Diet?
Most pet foods that are manufactured to be sold in supermarkets and pet supply retail stores contain chicken, turkey, beef, fish, egg or lamb as the protein source. The most commonly used carbohydrate ingredients found in these foods include wheat, corn, soy or barley. A protein source is the most common culprit to incite food allergies and food intolerance in pets, followed by a carbohydrate source.
In order to determine whether your pet’s symptoms are caused by one of these ingredients, your veterinarian needs to perform an elimination feeding trial in which your pet consumes one of the prescription novel protein diets that are available on the veterinary market. These diets contain limited ingredients that include protein and carbohydrate sources to which your pet has not been previously exposed, hence the term novel.
Alternate Ingredients of Novel Protein Diets
The pet food companies that produce prescription diets all offer several different novel protein recipes to choose from. Your veterinarian will discuss your pet’s dietary history with you before selecting one of the novel protein diets for your dog or cat. Lamb is one protein source that is used in some novel protein foods because some pets, especially cats, have not sampled commercial foods that contain lamb before. If your cat has been consuming chicken, turkey and fish, then a novel protein diet of lamb and green peas is an acceptable alternative if your cat has never dined on lamb before. Similarly, if your dog has savored a diet of beef, liver and chicken and has never before been offered fish, then a novel protein diet of fish and potato may be used.
If your dog or cat has been lavished with variety that includes all of the commonly used protein ingredients, then a novel protein diet that contains an exotic meat becomes the trial food of choice. These diets contain such protein sources as venison, rabbit, kangaroo and duck. Peas and potatoes are the novel carbohydrates that are contained in novel protein diets.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Once the particular novel protein diet has been selected, your veterinarian will discuss the food elimination trial. You will be instructed to feed your dog or cat solely the prescribed novel protein food and water for an extended period, which typically lasts for two to three months. It is imperative that your pet does not receive any other food, including treats, during this trial. The purpose of the trial is to eliminate all potential allergens from your pet’s diet, observing whether or not the allergy or intolerance symptoms subside.
If your pet’s symptoms have cleared up by the end of the elimination feeding trial, then the diagnosis of food allergies or food intolerance is confirmed. The treatment is to permanently ban the offending ingredients from your pet’s dish. The simplest way in which to accomplish this is to continue feeding the same novel protein diet that was used for the feeding trial. Refrain from trying the various novel protein diets to provide variety in your pet’s diet because you may need to turn to one of the other formulations in the future. Over time, some pets can develop allergies or intolerance to the novel protein diet that they have been eating, and then an alternate novel protein diet must be used.