When our feline friend scratches or licks fur down to bald, irritated skin, or when red, swollen bumps appear all over their body, we (our cat’s humans) are seeing “cat-tale” signs of a cat allergy. Only, what type of allergy is it? A cat with those symptoms could be experiencing a flea allergy or reacting to a parasite, but it’s also possible your kitty has food allergies.
As your cat’s human, it’s up to you to:
- Know how to spot a food allergy.
- Work with a vet to link the allergic reaction to specific cat food ingredients.
- Take necessary precautions to eliminate or lessen their exposure to the culprit.
Nobody wants to eat something that makes them feel sick, including your cat. Pet Supermarket is there to help you care for your cat’s health and well-being.
Do Cats Experience Food Allergies in the Same Way as People?
Yes. A food allergy is biologically the same for cats as it is for humans. An allergic reaction occurs when your cat’s immune system responds abnormally to a specific protein in their food.
Here’s a simplified description of what happens when your cat has an allergic reaction to an ingredient:
- Your cat eats food containing an ingredient (protein) that is an allergen.
- Your cat’s tongue spreads the allergen when they groom.
- Their immune system produces histamine to attack the protein anywhere it’s found.
- Your cat’s skin and internal organs react.
Though we know what happens, we don’t know why allergic reactions happen - in cats or humans.
Veterinary medicine has found that, at any age, a cat can develop a food allergy, even if they’ve been on the same diet consistently. Their diet is key as an untreated cat food allergy can develop into more serious health problems for your furry friend.
Why Does My Cat Have a Food Allergy but My Dog Doesn’t?
We don’t know why, but some cat breeds are more prone to food allergies than others. Also, food allergies are more common in cats than other pets like dogs. The reason for this isn’t clear either.
One thing is clear: Cats have to eat the source of the food allergy to experience symptoms.
Research on ingredients in cat food has identified specific antigens (like chicken eggs) that result in a cat’s immune system mistaking that ingredient as something harmful rather than nutritional. A study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that most major pet food brands contain ingredients that trigger an allergic reaction in cats.
What Do Cat Food Allergy Symptoms Look Like?
It’s tricky for a veterinarian to know if your cat’s allergy is to food, an inhalant (pollen) or their environment (dust mites). To differentiate a food vs. other type of allergy, vets will want to know about their excessive grooming around the head, neck and ears.
Help your pet (and your vet) by noting these common cat food allergy symptoms:
- Constant and prolonged scratching.
- Scabs on the skin where your cat grooms.
- Continuous grooming.
- Hair loss.
- Watery, irritated and crusty eyes.
- Biting legs and paws.
- Gastrointestinal distress such as frequent bowel movements, loose stools and diarrhea.
In rare cases, your cat may have a severe reaction such as trouble breathing or swelling of the head or eyes. If this happens, contact your emergency veterinarian right away. Typically, signs of an allergy in your feline friend will show up gradually.
What Risks to My Cat Does a Food Allergy Pose?
First, a food allergy in cats is treatable. However, there are symptoms of a food allergy that can negatively impact your cat's long-term health and wellbeing in the following ways:
- Skin irritation that develops into a bacterial infection.
- Vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration.
- Malnutrition and weight loss from refusing to eat the food provided.
- Lethargy caused by dehydration or under-eating.
Does My Food-Allergic Cat Need a Special Diet?
Yes - but a lot goes into pinpointing the ingredients (food allergens) that make your cat miserable. What you feed your cat will largely depend on their nutritional needs, your budget and the availability of different types of food.
If you are considering one of the following specialized diets for your food-allergic feline, be sure to talk with your veterinarian:
- Raw food diet.
- Hydrolyzed protein food.
- Hypoallergenic diet.
- Novel protein (venison or kangaroo meat) cat food.
What Ingredients in Cat Food Should Be Avoided?
The ingredients that cats often react to are the ones most cat food products get their protein from, including the following:
- Chicken eggs.
- Chicken meat.
- Cow protein.
Cats also develop food allergies to other dairy products and fish protein sources. Remember that your cat will develop a food allergy only to a protein they eat regularly.
How to Address a Cat Food Allergy.
When your veterinarian has determined that your cat’s allergic reaction is most likely a food allergy, the next step is a food trial, which can take several weeks or months.
- The first week, kitty goes on a bland diet using a protein not commonly found in their regular food, like salmon with brown rice.
- After a week or two, if there is no reaction, another protein is added.
- If there is an adverse food reaction, you don’t stop testing.
- You’ll continue to test the common sources of protein in pet food until you’ve recorded them all as reactive or non-reactive.
Based on this information, you can select an appropriate diet for your cat.
How Are Food Allergies Treated in Cats?
The main thing for treating cat allergies is limiting or eliminating the protein source that your cat’s immune system attacks. Changing your pet food and cat treats for friendlier options will go a long way to help your feline friend’s overall health and well-being.
Other Ways To Manage Your Cat’s Food Allergy.
In addition to selecting the right pet food and treats for your cat, you should also have supplies on hand to soothe their allergy symptoms, such as special shampoos, sprays and bath products with aloe or oatmeal. Regularly clean their litter box and bathe your cat to keep dander down that can irritate a cat’s skin (and yours).
If you need help selecting the right pet food for your cat with food allergies or products to address their allergic reactions, you’ve come to the right place. Here at Pet Supermarket, We Speak Pet™ and are passionate about ensuring the health and well-being of your four-legged baby.
Visit your nearest Pet Supermarket for holistic care of your cat’s food allergies.