The pet market is a fast-growing segment, and because of this, it seeks new ways to specialize every day to meet the demands of pets and their tutors.
The search for a better quality of life is not just a trend among humans: we seek to provide a healthier life for our pets as well. Cultural changes in past decades have made them part of the family, therefore receiving special care.
This fact became even more evident with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine — in which the number of adoptions of domestic animals increased. With a greater need for isolation among people, the company of a pet could potentially meet socialization demands, besides decreasing the loneliness of the person.
According to a survey done by Insituto Pet Brasil, the Brazilian pet market earned BRL 40.8 billion in 2020. However, according to a SEBRAE survey, the crisis arising from the pandemic impacted part of the segment’s businesses with around 70% of pets shops showing a reduction in revenue in the same year.
Even so, the tendency is one of growth, with about 140 million pets currently living in Brazilian homes — 54.2 million dogs, 23.9 million cats, 19.1 million fish, 39.8 million birds and 2.3 million other animals.
One of the main reasons for the growth of this market is related to the role of animal nutrition and its influence on the health, longevity and quality of life of pets. However, improving the quality of the relationship between the pet and its owner is also very important. This is attainable through the reduction of defecation and unpleasant odors in the excreta, and the reduction of animal hair loss, which can ameliorate problems related to maintenance of the pet's hygiene and the environment in which it is in — this last feature is seen as extremely important by tutors, as it reduces the time spent on household chores.
Among the various trends in the pet market today, we can highlight eco-friendly products, organic products, vegan products, natural foods and hypoallergenic foods.
In general, the concern tutors have with the health and well-being of their pets, combined with the sustainability of the products, are what these segments have in common.
In recent years, the need to control food allergies by methods other than prevention has stimulated the development of new technologies. One of these advances was the introduction of pet food formulas containing different protein sources and the incorporation of low molecular mass hydrolysates.
Hypoallergenic diets are more common today than they were in the past. Feed manufacturers have in this target audience an increasingly demanding segment willing to invest in food of proven quality.
But, to assess whether hypoallergenic foods are suitable for your pet, we must outline some of the traits of these foods, as well as define when they are indicated, how to use them and what are the main characteristics these diets have.
What is Food Allergy?
The term ‘food allergy’ is used to describe an adverse immune system reaction to certain foods. Thus, food allergy is nothing more than an individually determined immune-mediated reaction to a food component, which is usually a source of protein for cats and dogs.
The main nonspecific clinical manifestation is pruritus, which leads to scratching, licking and skin injuries. Diarrhea and vomiting occur less frequently. Most allergens are water-soluble glycoproteins ranging in size from 10 to 70 kDa and relatively stable to heat, acid and proteases. However, many ingested allergens are glycosylated with oligosaccharides. These carbohydrates can be present in many different protein types and are prone to extensive cross-reactivity.
For dogs, most registered food allergens derive from beef, dairy wheat and eggs. For cats, the most common food allergens are present in beef, dairy, fish and lamb. However, as carnivorous animals, the foundation of their food comes from protein sources, which is why caution towards ingredient processing is required.
Food Allergy Diagnosis
Generally, the animal experiencing itching or irritation on the skin provoked by a food ingredient has an immunological response because its organism understands that a certain component is trying to harm it, so then it reacts to defend itself.
To diagnose adverse food reactions, the veterinarian can use different approaches. Dietary investigation in individual animals, in the form of elimination diets and test meals, is the decisive diagnostic tool.
Blood testing for food allergy involves a high risk of a false-positive result. Classically, elimination diets are not nutritionally complete and contain a new source of protein to the patient—a starchy ingredient.
If food sensitivity causes itching and/or diarrhea, the elimination diet induces improvement, as long as the animal is not sensitive to it. There should be a relapse after reintroducing the original food. The results of challenge tests with individual dietary items can point to a suitable and complete commercial food. Alternatively, a tolerable food, whether labeled as hypoallergenic or not, can be identified as such through testing.
For dogs, commonly, there is no predisposition to food allergies linked to factors such as race, age and sex. However, immaturity of the immune system and high intestinal permeability can increase the prevalence of food allergies in young animals. In addition, low protein bioavailability can promote the development of food hypersensitivity — that is, food allergies in dogs.
For cats, there is no evidence that breed, sex or age are factors that may cause a predisposition for developing food allergies. Although, there is some evidence that Siamese and their crosses may be at increased risk. Food allergies tend to be more common in younger animals, but they can occur in patients of any age.
The label on pet food that indicates it is hypoallergenic refers to food that controls food allergies. Hypoallergenic foods for cats or dogs, when they are well formulated, complete and balanced, provide good nutrition, in addition to preventing episodes of allergy.
The correct definition of hypoallergenic food is food that is unlikely to cause an allergenic reaction. These foods, labeled as hypoallergenic, must contain selected sources of ingredients.
Currently, the large offer of hypoallergenic foods existent in the pet market is the outcome of the industrially monitoring consumer demands. The food ingested by pets is often blamed for signs such as itching and intestinal problems, consequently leading to the self-diagnosis of food allergies.
This diagnosis can be further reinforced when these symptoms disappear after switching to hypoallergenic food. Understandably, the owner repurchases the brand. It is worth mentioning that skin or bowel issues may improve after a change in diet due to a spontaneous recovery, a change of season or associated interventions.
The hypoallergenic food manufacturing process must exclude contamination with undesirable components, thus being a more meticulous process. According to Beynen (2014), the formulation of hypoallergenic foods follows three principles:
- The amount of ingredients (including proteins) is limited;
- New sources of protein are used;
- Substances known to cause allergic reactions are avoided.
Most allergenic protein components have a molecular mass above 10kDa (PRÉLAUD; HARVEY, 2006; DITTO, 1997). Hydrolysis breaks proteins down into smaller units that are sufficiently small, reducing the chance of immune recognition by patients allergic to the intact protein. Hydrolyzed proteins are commonly used in elimination and hypoallergenic diets.
In light of this, BRF Ingredients has Chicken Protein Hydrolysate (CPH) — an ingredient considered hypoallergenic as it has 100% of its peptides being formed below 3000Da, thus reducing the propensity of allergic reactions, in addition to also improving nutrient absorption and digestibility.
Enzymatic hydrolysis is used to produce this ingredient, which enables the release of short-chain peptides and amino acids, making this food more digestible and palatable to the pet. This process also generates special peptides in Chicken Protein Hydrolysate that can promote bioactivities in the body.
The animal organism has enzymes that break protein down into smaller sizes for absorption. However, this process does not always occur in the desired way and, because of this, Chicken Protein Hydrolysate is distinctive. This ingredient already has smaller-sized proteins, thus facilitating digestion, because it requires "less effort" from the organism to absorb it. Consequently, this is a benefit for animals with food sensitivities.
Utilizing hypoallergenic foods is one of the options the tutor has for an allergic cat or dog. As food allergy is a frequent problem for many animals, the interest in the matter has been growing. Objectively, hypoallergenic food is characterized by offering a balanced diet and complete nutrition for the pet, be it cat or dog, aiming to reduce the likelihood of allergic reactions.
Another highlight of the hypoallergenic feed is the presence of Chicken Protein Hydrolysate by BRF Ingredients, which has a lower molecular mass, thus reducing the probability of allergic reactions and improving nutrient absorption. This ingredient also has bioactive peptides that generate specific functionalities to improve animal health and metabolism.
With this, it is necessary to emphasize that hypoallergenic foods are a trend for the current pet market. Analyzing the molecular mass and the raw materials used in this process is of fundamental importance to ascertain the properties of each ingredient. As a result of this demand and its increasing use, the development of research and technologies to meet these requirements will increase exponentially, further promoting the use of protein hydrolysates in cat and dog food.