Find out if unusual dog food ingredients can help improve your pet's health.

Find out if unusual dog food ingredients can help improve your pet's health.

Venison, kangaroo, alligator, duck, rabbit, bison and even eel-these are all trendy exotic meats you may be seeing in pet foods. At the same time, it seems more common proteins like chicken, tuna and beef have earned a bad rep. Pet owners often buy foods containing exotic meats because they believe their pet suffers from a food allergy or they think that these more unusual meats may be "easier to digest."

Yet food allergies are actually pretty uncommon in pets-less than 1% of pets suffer from a real food allergy. Most gastrointestinal and skin issues are actually due to other factors in the diet, such as too much fat or not enough fiber-or they are caused by environmental allergens, such as pollen. In addition, there's no science to show that exotic meats are easier to digest than more common proteins.

Bottom line: Exotic meats can be expensive and are no more nutritious than conventional meats. If you think your pet has GI issues or an allergy, talk with your vet; diagnosing a food allergy requires feeding a specific diet that warrants vet supervision. If your pet does have a food allergy, you'll need to feed your pet a protein it's never eaten before-and that's when exotic meats can be helpful.

Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN, is an Assistant Professor, Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

July/August 2014