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Do hypoallergenic diets work?

Hypoallergenic diets can work really well for pets that have a food intolerance or allergy

Contrary to popular belief, true food allergies aren’t very common in cats and dogs and what most owners believe are “food allergies” are actually, intolerances.

An intolerance differs to an allergy: an allergy involves the immune system, so the body must have been previously exposed to the ‘allergen’ (which is usually a harmless molecule). In comparison, an intolerance does not involve the immune system and can occur the first time a dog or cat encounters that substance. An example would be a lactose intolerance in a cat: in this case, the cat would lack the enzymes needed to digest lactose, so if given some milk he or she may suffer from diarrhoea because of an inability to digest the ingredient.

Although not always the case, an allergy tends to provoke a skin reaction, such as a swelling or itchiness, more commonly than a gastrointestinal problem like vomiting and/or diarrhoea, whereas an intolerance is more likely to result in gastrointestinal signs.

Either way, a hypoallergenic diet may help and it’s possible that your vet may suggest an exclusion diet trial. This is where you temporarily feed your pet a hypoallergenic diet where the proteins in the ingredients are so small that they aren’t recognised by the body and can’t (or very rarely) cause a reaction.  

It takes patience and perseverance to stick to the diet and, the occasional slip up might happen. If it does, be honest with your vet, as they need to know all the facts, including any refusals to eat the diet.

At the end of the trial period, your vet will check your pet to see how they are doing. In particular, they’ll want to know if symptoms have improved, changed or remained the same. If there’s been no improvement, the chances are that your pet doesn’t have a food allergy and your vet will consider what else could be causing them to not feel themselves.

If there has been an improvement, that’s good news for you and your pet! Your vet will discuss what happens next but, depending on your pet’s specific problems, it may involve slowly reintroducing proteins to their diet one by one and keeping a close eye on their response. If their symptoms return when they eat a particular food, you may have found the culprit.

It’s then a case of finding a different, nutritionally balanced diet, in the long or short-term, that avoids that ingredient.

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple and there could be more than one food type responsible for your pet’s food allergy/intolerance. That’s why it’s so important to get your vet involved, and not try to do the detective work yourself. It can be a tough process, but will be worth it in the end when your pet can happily tuck into their dinner without the worry of any nasty after-effects!

In the PURINA range, our Hypoallergenic diet is within our veterinary range and called PRO PLAN Veterinary Diets HA.  For the dog, you can choose from a dry or wet format.  For the cat, we currently only produce a dry diet.

For pets with a slightly sensitive tummy, there are also a number of other products within each range that can help to support it e.g. Purina ONE Sensitive (Cats), PRO PLAN Delicate (Cats), BETA Sensitive (Dogs), PRO PLAN Sensitive (Dogs) etc.

If you need some advice about which diet to choose or understanding what your vet has advised, feel free to give the PetCare Team a call on 0800 212 161 (9am-5pm, Monday to Friday excluding bank holidays) and we can start the conversation.