Got a pet with food allergies?

Believe it or not, these unusual proteins may help

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Cricket. Bison. Alligator. Grubs.

You probably wouldn’t think to feed these novel proteins to your dog or cat, but you can—and they provide great nutritional value.

But why switch to these proteins?

Novel proteins—proteins your pet hasn’t eaten before—are beneficial to dogs or cats with food sensitivities. Surprisingly, some pets are allergic to basic proteins, such as chicken, beef, lamb, and even fish.

“Insect protein is more environmentally friendly … there is no methane production, and insect protein is GMO free. Insects also contain as much protein as traditional proteins.” —Matt Wilson

“Food sensitivities in pets are a growing concern,” said Dr. Jennifer Adolphe, senior pet nutritionist at Petcurean. “One of the main causes for food intolerances is protein, so pet foods with novel proteins are a great option for sensitive eaters.”

Novel proteins, which also consist of bison, pollock, and turkey, aren’t exactly a new concept. Popularity of the proteins have increased because pet owners have been looking for alternative food for pets with food sensitivities.

Anne Carlson, CEO and founder of pet food manufacturer Jiminy’s, also weighs in. That brings us back to cricket—the main ingredient in Jiminy’s pet treats.

“Crickets are an incredibly sustainable protein source, using exponentially less land, water and feed than traditional protein sources,” Carlson said. “Crickets also have a fantastic nutrition profile. Pound for pound, more protein than beef, high in iron, low in fat, and high fiber.”

Pet food manufacturer FirstMate’s KASIKS Fraser Valley Grub also contains insect protein, as well as wild-caught, boneless, and skinless salmon. The product is available in Canada with pending approval in the United States.

Matt Wilson of FirstMate shares that insect protein is more environmentally friendly for additional reasons: there is no methane production, and insect protein is GMO free. Insects also contain as much protein as traditional proteins.

Another novel protein on the list: Asian carp. These fish were introduced to waters in the Southeastern United States to control weeds and parasites, but they’ve been crowding out native fish, compromising water quality and threatening sensitive native species that can’t compete with these aggressive fish. Asian carp can leap over barriers such as low dams and they lay hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time, so they quickly take over when they’re introduced to a new environment. The Mississippi River has been most affected, and there are fears that the carp will begin to invade the Great Lakes, which support that area’s $7 billion a year fishing industry. One pet food maker, BareItAll Petfoods, has been harvesting the fish and using them in their dog treats—Asian Carp have a very similar nutritional profile to salmon, but none of the mercury concerns because they don’t eat other fish. By using this novel protein in their pet products, BareItAll is helping control the population of this “nuisance species” of fish, and is also providing a lean, healthy protein in its all-natural treats.

Cod is another unique, high-quality protein with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including phosphorus, niacin, and vitamin B-12. Part of the cod family, Alaskan pollock is also an excellent source of protein, containing minerals and omega fatty acids. It’s also low in cholesterol and fat.

Some pet owners choose to feed their pets plant-based diets, on the grounds that plants contain essential and nonessential amino acids that are also found in animal protein. Studies have both supported and debunked the benefits of feeding pets purely plant-based foods, so the jury is still out on this diet.

But, because of this trend, peas and lentils have also become unique proteins being used in pet food. Proponents say they are rich sources of plant-based protein, providing most of the essential amino acids that dogs and cats need, as they contain antioxidant, vitamins and minerals, and insoluble and soluble fiber. Dr. Andrew Knight— a European veterinary specialist in animal welfare science, ethics and law; fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics; and associate professor at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine— published a study supporting the use of plant-based diets for pets. But Dr. Knight points out in his report that “they must be nutritionally adequate and reasonably balanced … and owners are advised to use a nutritionally complete commercial diet, or to add appropriate nutritional supplements to homemade diets.”

Pet food manufacturers are also incorporating exotic proteins like alligator, ostrich, and kangaroo in their pet food. Some veterinarians will swap out the ingredients suspected of causing the allergic reaction with one of these unusual protein sources.

While these curious and unusual proteins may provide relief to food sensitivities in your pet, always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet’s diet.

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