Novel Protein Diets


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Belinda Stancombe

Gone are the days of putting any old leftovers in your pet's bowl for dinner. Modern consumers are more educated on the importance of nutrition, and the impact on our everyday health, with this focus naturally shifting to their pet's nutrition. More than ever, pet parents are seeking food options for their pets with perceived health benefits such as grain free, natural, organic and sustainable.

Novel or Unique Protein Diets have grown in popularity in the pet food industry, with many pet parents discovering and raving about the health benefits for their pets. For these reasons, novel protein diets are now widely available and formulated by many commercial pet food companies.

So, what are novel proteins and what are the potential health benefits for your pet?

Our vets have outlined what makes a protein novel, the recognised benefits, as well some diet recommendations and treats you can try at home. With a wide range of novel protein options available, you are sure to find the right protein to suit your pets unique health needs.


What is a Novel Protein?

A novel protein is a protein source that an individual has never been fed before. For our pets, this includes all protein sources that they have been exposed to from the time they were weaned as a puppy or kitten.

Many common commercially prepared diets contain chicken, pork or beef as the main protein source as these are widely available and a cost effective ingredient. Novel protein options are becoming more popular and are now widely available in many well known pet food brands, including dry, wet, freeze and air-dried formulas.

Some widely used novel protein sources include venison, fish, duck and kangaroo. More exotic novel protein sources include insect, goat and bison and even possum.

What are the benefits of feeding Novel Proteins?

Allergies and digestive issues are some of the most common chronic conditions affecting our pets. In fact food allergies are responsible for approximately 10% of allergy cases in dogs, ranked third after flea allergy and atopic dermatitis (airborne allergies). A food allergy or adverse food reaction occurs when the immune system reacts to a particular food ingredient. This ingredient is commonly a protein source- for example chicken, beef, soy or dairy.

These protein molecules resist the heat of cooking, stomach acids, and intestinal digestive enzymes, and make their way to the bloodstream, targeting organs where they can cause an allergic reaction. Most pets that develop food allergies, do so over a period of months or years of being exposed to a particular food. This is why pets can develop an allergy, even when fed the same food for years.

In affected animals, the protein within the food is recognised by the immune system as a foreign invader that needs attacking. This internal battle results in inflammation that can manifest itself as itchy skin, ear infections, vomiting, diarrhoea and frequent bowel movements.

    Common Signs of Food Allergies:

  • Pruritus or itchy skin
  • Gastrointestinal upsets- vomiting, diarrhoea or a sensitive stomach
  • Chronic ear infections

Feeding a novel protein diet can be a good hypoallergenic option, and helpful for pets that suffer from allergies or food sensitivities. Choosing an appropriate novel protein diet may be a matter of trial and error, as different diets and protein sources may be suitable for different pets. One animal's allergy trigger, say beef, may in fact be another animal's hypoallergenic diet.

Novel Protein Diet Options

When selecting a novel protein diet for allergy reasons, it is important to check that the recipe only contains the one type of meat protein you're after. Some pet food varieties may be labelled as a novel protein (such as 'kangaroo') but will also include 'chicken' or poultry by-products in their recipe. These combinations can be great for some pets, but in others may cause an allergic reaction.


Fish-based diets are not only a novel protein, but are rich in fish oil. Omega 3 fatty acids, naturally found in fish oil, have been shown to have many health benefits including natural anti-inflammatory properties, strengthening of the skin barrier, relieving dry and itchy skin, and improving brain function and development. This makes fish-based protein diets perfect for senior pets, those that suffer from food allergies (allergies to fish are very rare), or pets that just need a little extra skin support.

A growing number of pet owners are reporting great results when they swap their itchy pet over to a fish-based diet. It is often unclear whether this is due to the exclusion of common allergies like chicken, or simply due to the increased level of omega fatty acids from the natural fish oils.

Insect-Based Protein

Feed For Thought Dry Dog Food is part of a new generation of pet food companies using sustainably farmed insect protein, which uses less water, land and produces less carbon emissions. Utilising Black Soldier Fly Larvae as the number one ingredient, this Australian owned, complete and balanced diet, is a revolutionary way to reduce your dog's carbon paw-print.

Key Benefits:

  • Unique Insect Protein Source
  • Complete and Balanced
  • Farmed sustainably
  • Developed by vets

There are also a range of insect based treats available. TBH and One With Everything make a range of delicious and natural treats that are formulated from sustainably sourced insect or plant based proteins with the addition of carefully selected superfoods.


Venison, originally referred to as any edible game meat, is now considered meat from any type of deer. There are many commercially run deer farms located in Australia and New Zealand. Venison from New Zealand is of particular high quality due their temperate climate allowing for highly nutritious green pastures and year round farming.

A naturally delicate and lean meat, Venison is becoming a popular novel protein option for pets, and is the protein of choice in Hills Veterinary Prescription d/d Skin & Food Sensitivities Dry Dog Food.


Kangaroo is a high quality, low fat protein source that is not a widely used ingredient in commercial diets. For many years, it was the go-to protein option for pets with allergies or those involved in elimination diets due to it's low cost and high availability. Now more widely used in commercially prepared pet foods, it makes an excellent novel protein option for most pets.

Shop All Kangaroo Based Protein Dog Diets


Relatively new to the pet food market and increasing in popularity is duck. Rich in iron and easy to digest, this lean meat is packed full of essential amino acids to help maintain your pets optimal health. Not commonly available in generic food brands, duck is a good novel protein option and is the top ingredient in Royal Canin Sensitivity Control Dry Food, formulated for cats with food sensitivities.

How to Transition Your Pet

Image courtesy @lickimat

When starting your dog or cat on a novel protein diet, it's best to do things slowly to avoid tummy upsets. Introduce the new diet over a 7 day period, gradually increasing the amount of new food per day as you decrease the amount of old diet. This will give your pet time to adjust and decrease the incidence of gastrointestinal upsets.

Novel Protein Treats

Our pets love treats, and we love rewarding them. There are a wide variety of novel protein treats available for both dogs and cats. Perfect for pets that suffer from sensitivities, or just as a delicious snack!

Novel Protein Treats For Dogs:

Shop All Novel Protein Dog Treats

Novel Protein Treats For Cats:

Shop All Novel Protein Cat Treats

Further Reading

Natural Pet Food

Your Guide To Pet Supplements

What is the Best Flea and Tick Treatment?

Facts About Grain Diets

How to Calm an Anxious Pet

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