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The immune system protects your pet against external pathogens such as bacteria, and viruses. An allergy is where the body’s immune system abnormally responds – this response can be to pollen, dust or even food. In the case of food allergy in pets, the immune system reacts to proteins in the diet, that healthy non-allergic pets will be able to consume with no issue. The immune system mistakes the dietary protein for a potential allergen, triggering an allergic reaction that causes the pet to develop itchy red skin, and in approximately one third of cases, gastrointestinal upsets such as diarrhoea.
Food allergies are a relatively uncommon cause of itch in cats and dogs, estimated to affect less than 1-2% of the cat and dog population. The majority of itchy skin observed in our pets at home can be attributed to fleas or an allergen in their environment, such as pollen or dust mites. Allergies in pets, regardless of the cause, can appear identical. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to differentiate between allergies to fleas, food and environmental allergens, and so your veterinarian will need to perform a series of tests for an accurate diagnosis.
A dietary elimination trial is the only proven way to rule in or out a food allergy in your pet. This involves feeding your cat or dog at home a specific diet for a period of eight weeks. Your vet will recommend the most appropriate diet for your pet during this time, selecting either a diet containing a protein your pet has never consumed before (i.e. a novel protein diet) or containing protein that has been modified to no longer trigger an allergic response (i.e. hydrolysed proteins).
Hydrolysed protein diets are an excellent choice for dietary elimination trials, because when it comes to food allergy, the size of the protein matters. Hydrolysed proteins are simply large intact proteins that have been broken down into smaller protein particles. At a smaller size, they are no longer recognised by the immune system, and therefore do not cause an allergic reaction. Ultimately, the smaller the protein size, the less likely the immune system is to recognise it.
ROYAL CANIN® have two specifically formulated hydrolysed diet options available – Anallergenic and Hypoallergenic. Anallergenic contains extensively hydrolysed proteins that have been extracted from feathers – the protein in this diet is the smallest currently available, making it a gold standard choice for both dietary elimination trials, but also as an ongoing diet for pets with severe food allergies. Anallergenic is also manufactured on its own production line to avoid cross contamination with other dietary proteins and is subjected to strict quality control processes and laboratory tests to ensure its purity. Hypoallergenic is also an excellent diet option, containing hydrolysed proteins from soy, and has the added benefit of being formulated to support healthy growth, so can be fed to young puppies with allergic skin disease.
While food allergy is an uncommon cause of itch for pets, it is often necessary to complete a dietary elimination trial as a part of the diagnostic process, to help uncover the true cause for your pet’s allergies and itchy skin. For further health advice for your pet, please consult your veterinarian.