Conducting an elimination diet trial for dogs and cats while juggling owner’s expectations can be challenging. Undeniably this is often a lengthy process, but the rewards can be well worth the effort.
As a veterinary surgeon it is important to explain to owners that this is a diagnostic test in itself which needs to be carried out with total commitment. Communicating your expectations to the owner and ensuring their understanding will hopefully result in a higher level of compliance.
Getting a definitive diagnosis will mean, that in most cases, an effective lifelong treatment plan can be put in place which is both convenient and affordable for the owner. Making your clients aware of potential pitfalls, such as the ones in the list below, will give a greater chance of success!
Common mistakes during a diet trial:
- Giving treats – if the owner wants to continue to give treats suggest having a container with a small amount of the approved food in it for those moments when they want to give a reward.
- Flavoured medication – owners should avoid tablets and other medications which contain a protein based covering or flavouring to aid palatability.
- Other potential sources of allergen – list with the owner everything else the pet normally consumes as they may not assume these are included, for example; supplements, dental or rawhide chews, pigs ears, bones or anything used to coat the inside of chew toys.
- Accidently contaminating the diet – owners must take great care to wash bowls, serving scoops and their hands before preparing food to avoid stray proteins being passed on. It is also worth changing to a ceramic or glass bowl if the clinical signs are predominantly around the muzzle and face in the (albeit unlikely) chance of a contact reaction with the bowl.
- Children dropping food – removing animals from the dining area at meal times and making sure any spills are cleared up straight away is important.
- Cats going to other houses and being fed by neighbours – making neighbours aware of the diet will help. The owner may also wish to invest in a bright coloured ‘do not feed me’ safety collar and tag if a collar is appropriate for their cat.
- Someone else looking after the animal – making sure that kennels, dog walkers, pet sitters and friends and relatives who visit, all understand what food is to be fed will ensure the diet is strictly kept to. The more people involved the greater the chance of a lapse.
- Stealing food from work tops, bins or raiding feed stores – keeping all kitchen and dining areas clean, general waste bins inaccessible and all cupboards and feed bins secure will help avoid mishaps.
- Eating something out on a walk / while out of house – keeping dogs on leads while walking will help prevent this. Putting a bell on a cat (if appropriate and safe to do so) will make hunting more difficult. In addition keeping them inside at natural hunting times (dawn and dusk) may decrease hunting activity.
- Having more than one animal in house – separating pets at meal times and cleaning out bowls afterwards will stop animals eating food intended for other pets.
- ‘Non believers’ in the house sneaking a snack – it is really important that everyone involved is on board. Owners should sit down and explain the ‘rules’ and why the diet trial matters (the impact the condition is having on their pet) to all family members and friends who live there, visit the house or have contact with the pet.
- Stopping too soon – some animals can take eight weeks or longer to show a positive response to a diet trial, so owners must understand the importance of persevering right through to the agreed end date. Gastrointestinal signs usually improve faster than skin signs so a positive improvement in the gut can be helpful in persuading owners to keep enduring.
A list of common mistakes can be downloaded here which can then be printed off and handed out to clients.
Owners must understand the need for a re-challenge of the diet, the improvement could just be coincidental and caused by something totally unrelated to the diet. This is something which many pet owners are not keen to carry out for obvious reasons, but it is the only way to confirm a diagnosis.
Brief the owner before so they feel prepared and reassured about what will follow. Talk them through what plans are in place in case the animal flares up so they feel like they are one step ahead.
Supporting owners from start to finish
- Starting the process by running a SENSITEST for your client will help to select suitable foods for an elimination diet.
- Talking owners through the rules of the trial and the reasons for it will help keep them going through the challenging moments.
- Regular check-ups or phone calls to monitor progress will help to keep motivation high and iron out any problems along the way.
- Provide details of a specific named person to contact at the practice if they have any concerns or for general advice and support.
- Having nurse led allergy clinics where owners can drop in for support would help offer a guiding hand all the way through the trial.
Supporting you from start to finish
We know that there are never enough hours in the day so our customer services team are always on hand to offer you and your clients extra advice relating to diet selection. They can also help you in setting up a nurse led allergy clinic at your practice, to give added time and support to owners.
If you are interested in running a test or speaking to one of our advisors please contact Customer Services.
Emma Kilmurray is a Customer Service Advisor for Avacta Animal Health
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