If you’ve come into our store with questions about your allergic pet’s diet, you may recall that we invariably ask what proteins your pet has been eating.
Has he or she been eating the same protein source for a long time? Is it chicken? Maybe beef? Even lamb?
The reason we ask is because in our Calvin & Susie worker brains, we’re wondering if a change of protein (or a change to a few different proteins) might be a good move for your pet. More often than not, we’re thinking about “novel proteins”.
But what are novel proteins?
Simply put, a novel protein is a protein that your pet has never eaten before.
Sounds easy enough right? If your cat is used to eating chicken, give her beef. If your dog is used to beef, give him chicken. Allergy solved, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Many pet foods, unless explicitly marked as “single protein” or the like, have proteins other than the advertised protein in their recipe. Just because a pet food says “Lamb Cat Food” on the front of the can or bag, doesn’t mean there isn’t chicken, chicken broth, chicken meal, fish, beef, or another meat in it to round out the recipe. This doesn’t necessarily mean the food is poor quality or intentionally being deceptive (as long as all meats and meat products are listed on the food’s ingredient label), it’s just how a pet food company decides to formulate a food in order to reach nutritional, textural, or flavor goals.
We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: always read pet food ingredient labels!
As you probably know, chicken, beef, fish (usually white fish, cod, sometimes salmon), and more and more often lamb, are common cat and dog food proteins. Because of how common these proteins are, many pets develop an allergy to them after a while. If not chicken, beef, fish, or lamb, then what can my pet eat?
Enter novel proteins.
Novel proteins like venison, duck, rabbit, bison, some fish, pheasant, sometimes turkey, pork, or even kangaroo can be great alternative proteins for an allergic pet. These are proteins that your dog or cat most likely has not eaten before, and therefore probably does not have an allergy to.
I say “probably” because even proteins your pet may never have eaten could trigger a reaction. Closely monitoring your pet when altering their diet, with the supervision of a vet, is always recommended.
And aside from the fact that these proteins are less common to your pet’s diet, because most of them are not usually mass produced, they often contain fewer if no hormones, additives, or genetic modification. Many novel proteins are also easier to digest and absorb for some pets.
When trying a novel protein in your pet’s diet, we recommend restricting your pet’s diet to a single protein source at a time. That is, instead of trying venison, duck, and herring all at once, choose one protein and focus on that for a few weeks. In an allergic pet, it could take as few as two weeks or as many as six weeks to see an improvement.
We also recommend transitioning them slowly. As I’m sure you’ve heard us say, when switching any pet food we recommend this basic transition plan:
Step One: 1/4 of the new food, to 3/4 of the old food. Continue for at least two days, or two full meal cycles. (If switching to a drastically different food, say kibble to reconstituted dehydrated food, many pets need to go slower to even get used to the food’s smell and texture. 1/4 may need to be reduced to 1/8, then slowly up to 1/4 over the span of several days. No need to rush, most of all your pet must eat.)
Step Two: Increase to 1/2 new food to 1/2 old food. Continue for at least another two days, or two full meal cycles. Many pets require this “half-and-half” diet for several days to continue the successful transition. Again, no need to rush.
And if your pet gets loose stools/diarrhea at this point, or any point in the transition, as long as they do not display any serious signs of distress (vomiting, uncontrolled diarrhea, pain, worsening of allergy symptoms — if so call your vet) there’s no need to panic. You can add a little bit of plain steamed pumpkin puree or completely plain canned pumpkin to their diet (we like Nummy Tum-Tum canned 100% Pure Organic Pumpkin) to help settle their stomach. The pumpkin can be continued until symptoms subside.
Step Three: Increase to 3/4 new food to 1/4 old food. Feed this for at least one day or one full meal cycle, maybe more if your pet needs it. If your pet is not eating well or doesn’t like the food, you can always go back to half-and-half for a while, then slowly move up from there over several meals.
Step Four: Increase to 100% new food. Once you’re at this point, continue for at least two weeks if not longer, in order to see any changes in your pet’s condition. These things can take time! Don’t become frustrated if nothing seems to be happening immediately.
This transitional plan is on the conservative side, but we’ve always found slower is better. It not only prepares your pet’s stomach for new food, but also allows them to have a positive experience with new food, instead of forming a negative association or becoming “suspicious” of meal time.
But which novel protein should I choose for my pet?
Every pet is different. Without an allergy test administered by a vet (which isn’t even always 100% a sure thing) it is hard to say with complete certainty which novel protein will best suit your pet’s needs. However, we find that choosing a protein that is as different as possible from the protein your pet is having a reaction to, can be a solid place to start.
For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken (the most common protein allergy amongst dogs), try something like venison or rabbit. This may be more successful than doing another fowl protein like turkey or pheasant. Some dogs are sensitive to all fowl, others can do pheasant or turkey but not chicken. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying it out.
It’s also important that the new food you choose is a single animal protein food. That means that the only animal protein in the food is the novel protein. (Legumes are another source of protein.)
For example, Grandma Lucy’s Pureformance Rabbit food is a nutritionally complete, freeze-dried, dog food where the only animal protein is USDA rabbit. This, and foods like it, might be a good choice to transition to for an allergic dog.
Single animal protein is important because if there are other animal proteins “hiding” in the food (even if it’s just chicken broth) it could set off an allergic reaction.
Read those ingredient labels!
Once I’ve found a good novel protein for my pet, what next?
Finding a protein that your pet can eat without reaction can be such a relief, especially if your pet has been suffering for a long time. While one novel protein food is great, ideally your pet should be on a rotation of two, preferably three foods.
I realize that for severely allergic or sensitive pets, that may not be possible. But if it is, doing the extra work to find more than one protein that your pet can eat might avoid future allergy developments, or your pet getting bored (not eating) of their food. Just like you wouldn’t want to eat ONLY TURKEY for the rest of your life, neither does your pet. Plus, the variety of proteins gives them a variety of nutrition, important for your pet’s health.
Follow the same transition plan for each new food you decide to try with your pet (the transition may go easier/faster the second or third time around) and once you’ve deduced which foods your pet can eat, you can rotate between those foods on a regular basis.
And don’t fret! Once your pet is used to those two or three foods, you don’t have to keep transitioning every time you switch foods (only if you switch brands). My cat easily rotates between venison, bison, and lamb (which was a novel protein for her when I started her on it a while back).
And don’t forget treats!
Remember, treats count too.
Be sure that your pet’s treats only contain the protein or proteins that they can eat. Check ingredient labels to make sure that your pet’s treats don’t have another protein source in them.
Better yet, opt for a single ingredient meat or veggie treat. Wild Meadow Farms, Bravo, and Vital Essentials are popular brands with our customers. All three have single, novel protein options.
Learning to live with your pet’s allergies can be difficult at first, but with the right food and right know-how, allergies don’t have to rule your or your pet’s life.
As always, if you have any questions about food or novel proteins, you can drop by the store or give us a call. And if you’re interested in a food or treat, but aren’t sure if your pet will eat it, always ask us if we have samples available. We love giving out samples!
Give your furry family member a treat for us!
~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger
Note: Always check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt, always ask a vet.