Jessica Taylor of the PetFoodIndustry.com, a news service for pet food professionals recently wrote about this unfortunately all too common problem with our pets:
“Hypoallergenic diets for dogs and cats are gaining popularity and do offer some health benefits, but some marketing can mislead pet owners because pet food allergies are entirely specific to the individual pet, according to The Honest Kitchen. There are lots of different theories about how and why pet food allergies occur. Pets don't actually develop allergies as a result of exposure to allergens but because they have suddenly become susceptible or vulnerable in some way.
Bad quality food in itself may deplete the immune system over time because it can be laden with toxins and other substances that place unnecessary burden on the body or because it lacks important nutrients, antioxidants and enzymes.
Pet food allergies are defined as immune system or inflammatory responses triggered by certain foods. Other pets may not have true allergies but are still sensitive to certain ingredients on a less severe level. For many pets, the most common culprits are wheat, corn, soy, rice and sugar beet pulp as well as various preservatives.
Allergen free: The way to be!
A pet's diet has a tremendous impact on its skin, digestion and overall metabolism. Pets with sensitive systems can be highly allergic to less expensive, lower quality pet food ingredients, such as protein fillers, or even premium ingredients. That's for example, why California Natural dog and cat food's mission is to refuse to use allergens in its production. For the company more important it is what's missing that matters. The company’s literature claims with its lines of natural dog food, cat food, puppy food and dog treats, you'll never find fillers, by-products, wheat, corn, soy or artificial preservatives or flavoring and added coloring, all substances that can cause allergic reactions or stomach issues in pets.
California Natural also says it has the shortest ingredients list of any dry pet food but is still able to offer a variety of flavors in a complete and balanced diet. The list of ingredients used includes:
Essential fatty acids, including omega-6 and omega-3, are provided in optimal proportions to assure healthy and lustrous skin and coat and provide efficient sources of energy to support exercise and endurance and a strong immune system;
Sunflower oil is added as a high quality source of omega-6 fatty acid to help animals that may be prone to itchy skin; and
Single carbohydrate sources come from rice, either whole, ground brown and/or white and whole sweet potatoes.”
Jessica then looks at another interesting option asking “Are pulse fractions the ideal ingredients for dog food?
Imagine a food ingredient that is healthy, gluten free, nutritious and good for the environment. Think pulses. Pulses, beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are "super foods" that, according to some research, prevent diseases and contribute to overall good health. According to the same research, pulses can help manage weight related health problems, such as type II diabetes and heart disease, and have shown great promise in addressing certain cancers.
Peas are the predominant pulse crop and are grown in very large volumes, so supply can readily be established for pet foods and treats.
There are a number of processing plants that separate the components of peas so the pet food manufacturer’s ingredient buyers can get the whole pea or pea fractions. The primary components are the starch, fiber and protein. The protein fraction of peas contains over 50% crude protein, making it comparable to other protein concentrates.
To explore the potential to use pulses in dog food formulations, a two fold research project was recently completed with the cooperation of Petfood Ingredients Inc., Wenger Manufacturing, Forte Consulting and Kennelwood Inc.”
Here is a summary of their findings:
Peas, beans and lentils are known as pulses. They are the seeds of plants belonging to the family Leguminosae, which gets its name from the characteristic pod or legume that protects the seeds while they are forming and ripening. With approximately 13,000 species, the family Leguminosae is the second largest in the plant kingdom and it is very important economically.
Different kinds of legumes provide us with food, medicines, oils, chemicals, timber, dyes and ornamental garden plants. Legume products include carob, senna, gum arabic, balsam, indigo and licorice. Pulses are valuable because they contain a higher percentage of protein than most other plant foods.
Pea fiber lowers cholesterol levels (both total and LDL), assists in the management of type 2 diabetes by leveling out blood glucose curve, and is a source of insoluble dietary fiber for improved intestinal health. It also contains lysine, an essential amino acid required in both, cat and dog nutrient profiles established by AAFCO. Yellow, green and split pea flowers are high in protein.
Pulses have been used as food for thousands of years. The lentil was probably one of the first plants ever to be domesticated by humans. Most pulses prefer warm climates but there are varieties which grow in temperate regions. They can be eaten fresh or dried and come in a great number of varieties with a range of colors, flavors, and textures. In spite of its common name, the peanut or groundnut is also a legume rather than a nut.
All pulses, except for soy beans, are very similar in nutritional content. They are rich in protein, carbohydrate and fiber, and low in fat which is mostly of the unsaturated kind. They are also important sources of some B vitamins. Fresh pulses contain vitamin C, but this declines after harvesting and virtually all is lost from dried pulses. Canned pulses however, retain about half their vitamin C except for canned, processed peas which have been dried before canning. Canning doesn't affect the protein content, eliminates the need for soaking and considerably reduces the cooking time compared with dried pulses. Frozen peas will have also lost about a quarter of their vitamin C content.
Read more on the study online at www.petfoodindustry.com/PeaPulses.aspx.
Finally, Jessica rounds up her comment by taking a look at what so many pet owners always forget about: Treats. I literally had pet owners coming to me telling me that their dog would be allergic to beef and can’t have any food with beef as a protein source. In addition then they ordered bully sticks by the case. If you want to cure the problem you have to do it all the way. In this example, if the dog is indeed allergic to beef, the best food in the world will not make a difference if it is fed combined with the treats.
Hypoallergenic treats for pets
Several pet food manufacturers are entering the hypoallergenic market with treats for cats and dogs. These treats are designed for pets with allergies and sensitive skin. They are available in canine and feline formulas and supposedly help eliminate the potential for adverse reactions to foods, as some of them contain hydrolyzed proteins. Additionally, some of them according to their manufacturers support skin barrier function and nourish the skin and coat with antioxidants and omega fatty acids. I am kind of skeptical about these as one of their manufacturer, is making these treats available through its veterinarian distribution channel. When looking at prescription food we found more than once that there are better solutions to some of the problems supposedly to be cured by these products. But as we also know, pet owners will buy and use them because their vet tells them so. It is that simple.
I am way more in favor of Aunt Jeni's Home Made’ approach. This company, known for its high quality raw diets takes a more natural approach and offers dehydrated natural dog treats in a number of protein varieties including goat. The crispy chip alike pieces are hypoallergenic, holistic and organic. They contain no preservatives, yeast, soy, chemicals, salt, sugar or grains. The same company also offers seafood and other protein based holistic cat treats with a crisp texture. The variety contains fish, baby shrimp, clams, beef, lamb and goat lung chips. These feline treats too according to the company are hypoallergenic and all natural.