Pet parents can tell something’s wrong when they hear the incessant jingling of a collar. Their furry companion won’t stop scratching, but they have no idea why. Itchy skin is often accompanied by vomiting, leaky eyes and infections—symptoms that point to any number of health problems.
One possible explanation for these symptoms is protein allergies. While pets need protein to thrive, many are allergic to the most common animal products found in pet food. Luckily, protein alternatives are available to fulfill their dietary needs free from allergies.
Signs of protein allergies in pets
The signs of food allergies are easy to spot. Pet parents will quickly notice when their furry companion starts itching, vomiting and losing weight. However, it’s much trickier to confirm the presence of allergies because the symptoms are so vague. Itchy skin and digestive upset are commonly seen in many diseases, making it impossible to identify the problem on your own.
A vet can help determine the cause of your pet’s symptoms. Schedule a trip to the vet if you notice any of the following signs of protein allergies:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Itchy, red or swollen skin
- Lesions or secondary skin infections
- Watery eyes or nose
- Itching the eyes, ears, paws, groin or muzzle
- Low appetite and weight loss
How to pinpoint the offending protein
Vets have several methods for diagnosing protein allergies. They’ll conduct a series of lab tests to see if your pet is reacting to a food allergen. These tests will also rule out other potential diseases that match your pet’s symptoms. Once a protein allergy is confirmed, the vet will then determine which protein triggers the allergic reaction.
Your vet may choose to conduct an intradermal skin test. This type of allergy test involves injecting a tiny amount of a suspected allergen under the skin. After 20 minutes, the vet inspects the injection site for signs of an allergic reaction. Intradermal skin tests aren’t the most reliable form of diagnosis because they can lead to false positive or negative test results.
Vets can also diagnose protein allergies through a blood sample. Allergy blood tests measure your pet’s immunoglobulin E levels, which is a type of antibody the body uses to fight off foreign substances. Allergic pets will have higher levels of immunoglobulin E because their immune systems are working overtime to eliminate the allergens. However, while blood tests can confirm the presence of a protein allergy, they don’t specify which protein is causing the allergic reaction.
A food allergy trial is the most effective way to detect protein allergies. Not only that, it will pinpoint which protein in particular is the culprit. To start the food allergy trial, your vet will prescribe a hypoallergenic diet that contains zero ingredients from your pet’s current food. Pets should eat nothing but the new prescription food until their symptoms disappear, which could take anywhere between four and 10 weeks.
Once symptoms clear up, the vet will instruct you to perform a challenge. This involves reintroducing different types of protein one at a time. Your pet will eat the single-source protein, such as ground beef or chicken strips, for about two weeks. Monitor your pet to see if their allergy symptoms come back. Keep putting protein sources back into their diet until you identify the one that triggers an allergic reaction.
Protein alternatives for allergic pets
Avoiding a protein allergy isn’t as simple as cutting meat from your pet’s diet. Cats and dogs depend on protein as their primary source of energy. Eliminating meat without a protein substitute can lead to a slew of other health problems like lethargy and nutrient deficiencies. If your pet has a confirmed protein allergy, work with your vet to find a hypoallergenic alternative for your furry friend.
Many vets recommend feeding hydrolyzed protein to allergic pets. This protein source is broken down to the point where your pet’s immune system can’t identify it as an allergen. Enzymes break the animal protein into its basic building blocks to make it easier for the stomach to digest.
You could also try feeding your pet a novel protein. These are protein sources your pet has never encountered before in their diet. Examples of novel protein sources include venison, buffalo, alligator, rabbit and kangaroo. These are considered novel proteins because they’re not typically found in commercial pet foods.
A protein allergy doesn’t mean your furry companion has to swear off meat forever. Plenty of protein sources exist outside the chicken, beef and pork typically seen in pet foods. Allergic pets can still enjoy a balanced diet full of protein that won’t cause unpleasant symptoms. Hypoallergenic alternatives are key to helping your pet manage protein allergies!