"Exotic" diets, which include less common animal protein sources such as kangaroo or alligator, are sometimes recommended for pets with suspected or confirmed food allergies to more common ingredients like chicken and beef. Often these diets are marketed as being more "natural" and less likely to cause allergies -- which generates a hefty price tag.
Are exotic diets really the solution to your pet's allergies? Are we about to see a whole lot more exotic meats on the shelves?
What the experts say
According to veterinary experts at Tufts University, there is no magical "allergy diet," since dogs and cats can be allergic to pretty much any protein under the sun. "Feeding a diet with duck, kangaroo, lamb, or venison doesn’t prevent food allergies, it just makes it likely that if your pet develops one, it will be to that protein instead of something more common like pork or chicken."
The Tufts Clinical Nutrition team also notes that exotic diets can face variations in nutrient levels, since the animals used are often imported from other countries and less information is available about the sourcing. Unfortunately, not all companies pay close attention to auditing their suppliers and testing ingredients.
Exotic proteins don't prevent allergies
"Feeding exotic proteins won’t prevent food allergies – they are no more or less allergenic than more common foods," says the Clinical Nutrition team. "We suggest ignoring the marketing and avoiding diets with exotic meats. In particular, do not switch between multiple diets containing different exotic meats. They aren’t helping your pet, but they are likely hurting your wallet!"
So what do we do about food allergies?
According to a recent study, the most common food allergens in dogs are chicken, beef, dairy, and egg. "Most [allergy-prone] pets are allergic to animal proteins," say the experts at Tufts. "What surprises many pet owners is that grains are actually uncommon causes of food allergies."
So rather than scouring the animal kingdom for an expensive and "exotic" protein source, eliminating animals from your dog's diet entirely might just be the solution.
Contrary to what pet food marketing will try to tell you (think: your dog running through the forest with a wolf), dogs are not obligate carnivores. Like humans, dogs can obtain all of their nutrition from plant-based sources -- including, of course, their protein. Plant-based protein sources tend to be easier on digestion and far less allergy-inducing than their meat-based counterparts. Plus, they're cruelty-free! (The kangaroos -- and your dog -- will thank you.)
To learn more about plant-based diets for dogs, check out our guide.
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