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The Most Common Food Allergies in Cats

When a cat has a food allergy, it can lead to great discomfort. As a result, cat owners must be able to identify a food allergy so their pet can receive the necessary help. In this article, our veterinarians at Seattle discuss cat food allergies, including the common causes, signs, and treatment options.

Cats & Food Allergies

Food allergies in cats are caused by a reaction to a specific ingredient in their diet, most often a protein. This is also known as an 'adverse reaction to food,' which is an abnormal response or overreaction to a certain food or additive. There are two types of adverse reactions: those involving the immune system (food allergies) and those in which the immune system does not play a role (food intolerances).

It's important to note that a cat's food allergy is likely to last for the entirety of its life, so it's crucial to eliminate the ingredient from its diet.

Common Culprits of Cat Food Allergies

Animal proteins cause the most common cat food allergies. Beef, fish, and chicken are cats' most common food allergens. Unfortunately, these are three of the most widely used pet food proteins available for purchase.

Although they are less common, cats have been known to develop allergies to other foods such as lamb, rabbit, egg, dairy, wheat, barley, and corn. Some foods may contain artificial coloring to appear more appealing to pet owners. However, this is another component that can cause an allergic reaction.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

It isn't always easy to tell if a cat has an allergy unless they have a severe reaction. That being said, if a cat does have an allergy, the owner will likely see one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Licking
  • Itching & scratching
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Overgrooming
  • Biting
  • Skin inflammation
  • Skin or ear infections
  • Diarrhea

Skin lesions may also appear due to a cat continuously licking, biting, and scratching their skin. These may include:

  • Self-induced trauma
  • Self-induced hair loss
  • Ulcerations
  • Plaques (raised circular nodules)
  • Small crusts (miliary dermatitis)
  • Redness
  • Papules

Potential Risk Factors for Feline Food Allergies

Food allergies can develop in cats anytime, even if they have been on the same diet for years. They are often linked to genetic predisposition and can be associated with atopy (inhalant or environmental allergies).

Both male and female cats can develop allergies regardless of age or breed. Unfortunately, neither pet owners nor veterinarians can prevent allergies from occurring.

How a Veterinarian Diagnoses a Food Allergy

Diagnosing a food allergy isn't always easy, nor is it an exact science. An elimination diet trial is the best way for a vet to determine the cause of a cat's allergy. This test involves feeding a cat a diet that does not contain any proteins to which they have previously been exposed. These trials will typically last at least eight weeks. A trial diet could include:

A veterinary hydrolyzed protein diet is one in which the protein molecules are broken down to a size too small for your cat's immune system to recognize.

Veterinary novel protein diet that contains no products found in your cat's previous foods.

Home-prepared novel protein diet that contains no ingredients found in your cat's previous diets.

During an elimination diet trial, cats must only eat what has been recommended by their veterinarian. No other treats, supplements, or edible products should be given to the cat.

The next step is to reintroduce the cat's old food. If the cat's symptoms improve following the diet but return within one week after returning to their old food, they will be diagnosed with a food allergy.

Treating a Cat Food Allergy

Since cats have no cure for food allergies, the best way to manage them is by providing a diet that does not contain any allergens. Over-the-counter cat food may contain proteins that can trigger allergies, so opting for a prescription diet is best. Retail pet foods may have labels like "limited-ingredient" or "contains allergens," but they don't adhere to the same health and safety standards as veterinary diets.

Once you find a diet that works for your cat, it's crucial to follow it strictly. Following a carefully managed diet, cats with food allergies can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

Has your cat been showing signs of a food allergy? Contact our Seattle vets to have your kitty examined. Our team can also provide food recommendations for your feline friend.

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