A novel idea: about novel protein and grain-free foods

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Last updated April 28, 2014

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You may have read about novel protein foods… You may also have been introduced to them as “limited ingredient” or “hypoallergenic” diets.

You may have read about novel protein foods online, heard about them at the pet store, or even been recommended one in the clinic. (You may also have been introduced to them as “limited ingredient” or “hypoallergenic” diets.)

What exactly is a “novel protein” food, and why are novel protein and/or grain-free diets recommended for some pets? Read on for the answers.

Allergies vs. food sensitivities

Some pets experience skin or gastrointestinal issues with certain pet foods. In the case of allergies, the pet’s immune system mistakes a food ingredient for something harmful and reacts against it. The most common result is skin issues: rashes, excessive itching, scratching or licking, and hot spots.

Iams Vet Formula novel protein

Novel protein diets can resolve skin & coat issues as well as gastrointestinal symptoms in some pets

Of course, not all skin issues are caused by food allergies! Your vet can help you determine the cause of your pet’s skin issues and develop a treatment plan.

Food sensitivities or intolerances are the inability of the pet’s digestive system to digest the food. This may be due to particular ingredients in the food, the quality of those ingredients, or the way the food is processed. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, vomiting, and diarrhea are common with food sensitivities.

Again, food sensitivities are not the only cause of gastrointestinal issues. Your pet’s doctor can help you get to the bottom of tummy troubles.

Diet solutions

Although allergies and food sensitivities have different causes and symptoms, many hypoallergenic diets are designed to provide relief from both.

There is no set definition of a “novel protein,” but the less common its use in pet foods, the more preferred. Venison, duck, kangaroo, and rabbit are examples of novel protein sources.

For suspected allergies or sensitivities, it is not always known which specific ingredient or ingredients trigger the reaction. Often the first step is to try a diet that excludes the most common pet food ingredients.

This is where grain-free and novel protein diets come in. A novel protein is a protein source (typically from an animal, but not always) that is not commonly found in pet foods, and ideally that your pet has never been exposed to before.

There is no set definition of a “novel protein,” but the less common its use in pet foods, the more preferred. Venison, duck, kangaroo, and rabbit are examples of novel protein sources. Some ingredients like lamb, which used to be uncommon in pet foods but are now very common, may not be as effective in treating food allergies or sensitivities.

Limited ingredient diets

Not all diets with novel proteins are suitable for treating allergies or food sensitivities. 

Not all diets with novel proteins are suitable for treating allergies or food sensitivities. It is important that the food have only novel protein sources – and ideally, only one. For example, a food that is advertised as “Duck formula,” but that also contains chicken, may not be appropriate.

Many novel protein diets are also grain-free and/or use a single carbohydrate source, to further restrict the ingredient list and increase the likelihood of success with the food. Some novel protein or grain-free diets are also formulated for easier digestion.

Therapeutic diets

Although many pets will see good results with over-the-counter limited ingredient diets, there are therapeutic (prescription) diets that can provide more immediate or complete relief from symptoms.

Therapeutic diets offer the most restriction of ingredients and are often used when trying to determine the type of allergy. This often starts with a trial phase, where the food is most restricted, before ingredients can be added back in as tolerated.

Many veterinary diets are also processed differently than over-the-counter foods. They contain hydrolyzed proteins that bypass the allergic or gastrointestinal response that a pet would normally have to the food.

Your pet’s doctor can help you decide if a therapeutic diet is appropriate for your pet.

So what food should you buy?

We can provide you with a list of appropriate foods for your pet, with information about ingredients, price, where to buy, and even what the package looks like.

We are happy to recommend novel protein and limited ingredient foods for clients. We can provide you with a list of appropriate foods for your pet, with information about ingredients, price, where to buy, and even what the package looks like. Ask about it at your next appointment!

Questions about nutrition? Call or e-mail (nutrition@biggervet.com) anytime!