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HomePetsNutritionPet Nutrition Expert Interview: Exploring Pet Food Allergies with Claws 'n Paws

Pet Nutrition Expert Interview: Exploring Pet Food Allergies with Claws ‘n Paws

Pets24 recently had the pleasure of speaking with Megan Bayne, pet nutritionist and CEO of Claws ‘n Paws (CnP). Founded in 2016 and now woman-led, CnP has evolved into a leader in pet nutrition, providing personalized consultations and developing high-quality pet foods, treats, nutraceuticals, and supplements. In this interview, Megan shares her expert insights on managing pet food allergies and sensitivities.

Please give a background of what Claws ‘n Paws is and what services you offer.

Claws ‘n Paws, or CnP as we affectionately call it, is a nutrition firm for companion animals (dogs and cats). We cater to both pet owners and vet patients, but also product development for pet food brands. We offer nutrition, and food therapy consults to pet owners with unwell pets or vet referral patients, but we also have an incredible, award-winning team that develops pet foods of all models, treats, nutraceuticals, and supplements. 

Our team is small, but woman-led and operated. CnP was originally formed in 2016 as a pet care team, but as our team’s qualifications and achievements in other fields grew, the direction of our Company changed. We are now strictly focusing on nutrition and related services and have deep roots in community and welfare as well. 

Could you explain the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance?

A food allergy happens when the pet’s immune system, which normally fights infections, sees the food as a threat and has a severe immune response to it. Allergies are more likely to manifest as inflamed and itchy skin. Food intolerances often mimic allergies and their symptoms, but intolerances present more often as digestive upsets and dysregulation. They are not as severe as an allergy response. 

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Could you discuss the most common types of pet food allergies, focusing on both dogs and cats and how they manifest in our furry friends?

We see so many complaints from pet owners that their pets struggle with food, environmental and skin allergies. The typical symptoms of these flare-ups are the usual itchy skin, flaky skin, a dull coat, red and inflamed ears (which is most often seen with food sensitivities), fluctuating bowel movements, so some diarrhoea and then constipation and then back to diarrhoea, yeasty skin, chin acne in cats, lip smacking and nausea around mealtimes, and even gas and burping, with some reflux. Other symptoms also include lethargy.

What advice would you give to pet owners who suspect their furry friends may have food allergies or sensitivities? Where should they start, and when is it time to seek professional guidance?

While these responses are all very vast and different, they all come down to immunity and its reactions. We need to be aware that pets that are on chronic drugs, battling an illness or even pets that are reactive and stressed 95% of the time all metabolise and use their foods differently. 

One way to be sure your pet is actually allergic to food items is to do the food allergy test that will identify true allergies and intolerances. This will provide a great guideline for what the pet is truly responding to based on their genetic makeup.

Here is a link for Muttmix allergy testing for dogs.

Only a small percentage of dogs in the world have true food allergies; most issues are due to intolerances or sensitivities, where the body cannot properly metabolize certain foods. We always recommend proper food allergy testing, and there are reputable companies that offer DNA and genetic testing for pets. These tests can provide valuable insights into what your pet’s body is negatively responding to based on their genetic makeup. If you suspect your pet has a true allergy, starting with a food allergy test is essential.

Here is a link to the Easy DNA dog intolerance test

The next step would be to work with a qualified pet nutritionist who consults with pet owners, and ideally one who is open to multiple diet models and not just one set of feeding and who has the correct qualifications. The pet nutritionist will be able to formulate a plan just for your pet. This industry is quite unregulated; unfortunately, we find people giving themselves titles with only short, one-sided certificates from courses. Ideally, you want to work with someone who is a PGDip or CertCN / CertACN to formulate for you. For development, you need to have the applicable degree in Animal Science

While balanced commercial foods are available for pets, we must always remember that these are for a normal, standard dog or a standard dog with that type of illness, for example. When there is a unique health challenge, let’s say your pet has a unique true allergy, something custom and tailored is definitely required to help the pet and commercial pet food won’t work – which is what pet parents often report. They have often already tried all the commercial options available with no improvement. 

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Hypoallergenic pet foods have gained popularity in recent years. Could you explain what makes a pet food hypoallergenic? Are there specific ingredients to look for, and how do they differ from standard pet foods?

For the ingredients aspect, hypoallergenic pet food often uses a novelty protein—a protein that is not very common or one of the proteins reported to cause reactions in pet foods. These novelty proteins are things like Duck, egg, fish variants, or even Hydrolysed proteins. Then, they usually forgo the usual corn and cereals and tend to opt more for things like rice or vegetables for the base of the kibble. 

Another thing hypoallergenic foods tend to do is add additional support aids, like Omega 3 and Rooibos, etc. These are for their therapeutic properties and are usually included at higher rates than the feed guidelines for formulae dictate. 

These foods also tend to offer slightly more fibre and easily digestible ingredients compared to the standard pet foods; and some brands may opt for a less fatty recipe as well. Essentially, all of the key components together make the food hypoallergenic. 

Sensitive stomachs are a prevalent issue among pets. How does Claws ‘n Paws address this concern for both dogs and cats?

We see so many IBD/S pets, more dogs than cats, but it is such a big issue. Often, these are pets that have had a bad reaction to medicine, flea treatment, chronic medicines, or genetic factors. 

When we work with these pets, we always review a complete medical history from the vet, test results, reports, and our detailed intake form that the pet parent completes. We then get tons of poop photos! Poop photos can tell us many things, but some of the most common things we see are segmented and “broken” stools, and this is easily repaired by increasing moisture. Another thing we see is the colour and texture, whether it is porous or not and whether there is any inflammation in the gut or not. It’s pretty cool!

This process also allows us to identify triggers or exposures. We then decide on the best plan and way forward and schedule a very detailed consultation with the pet parents. Because we are international nutritionists, these can also be done via Zoom for pet parents who are not in Cape Town to see us in person. 

Our sensitive tummy pets are usually placed on a custom reparative gut protocol or yeast protocol, or a combination based on their outward symptoms. The new diet is then introduced after 3 to 4 weeks of their reparative protocol and then the owner and I work together over 8 to 12 weeks as part of their plan, to ensure that their pet is happy and healthy long-term. 

Besides our active GI approaches with pet parents, we also share free education on our social media platforms with some easy tips and tricks for our pet parents. Education is our passion – whether you are a client of ours or not. 

Recovered dog. Paws n Claws dog patient.
Lucy, recovered from IBD after Claws ‘n Paws plan

Grain-free pet foods have become increasingly popular. Could you elaborate on the relationship between grains and pet allergies? Is a grain-free diet always the best choice for pets with food allergies or sensitivities?

Pets are so different, but the grain-free diets are great options for pets that truly do struggle with the standard foods. While dogs and cats have evolved, they still remain carnivorous animals that require animal protein to thrive. This means that they are not always able to thrive on a commercial diet where a lot of the protein content comes from the corn or wheat in the food. Due to the world we live in today, overexposure can also cause intolerances and issues down the line. So, while grains are rarely a true allergy, they can trigger a response. For these pets, opting for a grain-free diet would work. There are some really great products out there that offer higher animal-based protein and more vegetable-based food. 

Skin allergies are another common concern for pet owners. What ingredients or nutrients does Claws ‘n Paws suggest we incorporate into pet food to alleviate skin allergies in dogs and cats?

What works for one pet might not work for the other. Some general tips for aid with pets prone to skin allergies are to include more moisture in their foods, especially dry foods, as there is a part of the digestive process that requires moisture – and feeding a diet with almost no moisture puts stress and pressure on the digestive system. This can be done with added black decaf rooibos tea, water, bone broths, etc, at mealtimes. Another tip would be to include some whole foods in the diet. Foods that naturally contain Quercetin, a powerful natural antioxidant, would be great for pets with allergies. You find Quercetin in foods like broccoli, berries, and citrus fruits. And the last but most important tip is to look after the gut. A good soil-based probiotic 30 minutes before or after a meal is a great way to keep the bacteria in the gut happy. 

Recovered dog.
Lulu, recovered from skin allergy after Claws n Paws plan

Looking ahead, what future developments or innovations can pet owners expect from Claws ‘n Paws in the field of allergy-friendly pet nutrition?

We are so excited about what is to come. We are working with some incredible pet brands to put exciting products out that are nutritious and functional because we have the strong belief that everything your pet consumes serves the goal of having a thriving pet. Internally, we are working on some great projects and branches for CnP. One of these ventures is a pet management app that allows you to have a massive amount of resources, management tools, and diet tools to aid you in managing your pet’s wellness and journey. We are also working on another tasty project that we can’t share much on yet – but it will be brilliant when it launches in 2025, God willing. We are also always offering exclusive discounts to our community of pet owners on our socials – which include consults, training and seminar days.

If you haven’t followed Claws ‘n Paws yet, you can find them at @clawsnpawswellness on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and LinkedIn.

Megan Bayne’s expertise as a pet nutritionist and CEO of Claws ‘n Paws shines through in her dedication to advancing the field of pet nutrition. Through innovative solutions and personalized care, Claws ‘n Paws continues to make significant strides in improving the lives of pets and their owners.

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