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The Most Common Food Allergies in Cats

When a cat has a food allergy, it can lead to a great deal of discomfort. Because of this, it is important for a cat owner to be able to identify a food allergy so their pet can get the help they need. In this article, our Avon veterinarians discuss food allergies in cats, including the common causes, signs, and treatment options.

Cats & Food Allergies

Food allergies are caused by a reaction to a particular ingredient in a cat's diet, which is most often a protein. Also referred to as an ‘adverse reaction to food’, it is described as an abnormal response or overreaction to a certain food or additive. There are two types of adverse reactions, those that involve the immune system (food allergies), and those in which the immune system does not play a role (food intolerances).

There is a good chance that a food allergy will last for the entirety of a cat's life, so it is crucial to eliminate the ingredient from their diet.

Common Culprits of Cat Food Allergies

The most common cat food allergies are caused by animal protein. With that being said, the most common food allergens for cats are beef, fish, and chicken. Unfortunately, these are three of the most widely used proteins in cat food that are 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

A food allergy can develop at any time in a cat's life, even if they have had the same diet for years. Food allergies are the result of genetic predisposition and are frequently associated with atopy (inhalant or environmental allergies).

A male or female cat can develop an allergy at any time regardless of age or breed. Unfortunately, there isn't anything a pet owner or veterinarian can do to prevent an allergy from occurring.

How a Veterinarian Diagnoses a Food Allergy

Diagnosing a food allergy isn't always easy, nor is it an exact science. the best way for a vet to determine the cause of a cat's allergy is an elimination diet trial. 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:

Veterinary hydrolyzed protein diet, 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 there is no way to cure food allergies in cats, allergies are treated by providing a diet that does not contain any allergens. Over-the-counter cat food may contain contaminant proteins, so a prescription diet is likely the best option. Retail pet foods may be labeled 'limited-ingredient' or 'contains allergens', but they are not produced using the same health and safety protocols as veterinary diets.

Once a diet that works for the cat has been found, it will be important to strictly follow that diet. When following a strict and carefully managed diet, cats with food allergies can go on to live a long, happy, and healthy life.

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

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