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By Leslie Kuczynski, VMD, DACVIM

Does my pet really need this special food?

An important part of medical management of many diseases can be dietary therapy; however, special prescription diets are higher in cost and can be less convenient to obtain that over the counter pet foods. Because of that, the question of how necessary is this special diet, often comes up. Depending on the medical condition of the pet in question, special diets are prescribed for different reasons.

“Hypoallergenic” diets

Depending on what your pet’s primary problem is, your veterinarian may recommend a “hypoallergenic” diet. Typically, these diets are recommended in dogs and cats with ongoing skin or ear problems or with chronic gastrointestinal problems that are suspected to be related to inflammatory bowel disease. In these pets, it is suspected that a food allergy may be triggering your pet’s immune system to over-react and create inflammation against their own body – either in the GI tract or in the skin (sometimes in other areas). There are two forms of what are considered “hypoallergenic” diets. A novel protein diet is a diet that is created from a single protein source that your pet most likely has never been exposed to before. Since your pet has not been exposed to this protein, their body is unlikely to react negatively towards it. An alternate type of “hypoallergenic” diet is a hydrolyzed protein diet. In hydrolyzes protein diets, the protein source is processed to be so small that the immune system has a harder time recognizing it as a protein and therefore, a harder time over-reacting to it. There are several conditions in dogs and cats that will improve dramatically with diet change alone. One very important thing to remember when transitioning your pet to a hypoallergenic diet is that this is the ONLY diet that they can eat. These diets can be costly. If your pet is receiving any other food (table food, dog treats, cat treats, other pets’ food), the special diet is rendered useless.

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