How to Spot if She's Suffering From Cat Food Allergies

How to Spot if She's Suffering From Cat Food Allergies

While cat food allergies are not hugely common − and can be mistaken for more common food intolerances − it is important to understand how to identify if your cat is suffering from a food allergy, and learn how to manage this food sensitivity so your cat can lead a happy and comfortable life.   

What is a Food Allergy?

A food allergy refers to “an abnormal immune-mediated reaction to an antigen within food”. It occurs when your cat’s immune system reacts abnormally to a particular protein found in his or her food. She will experience discomfort as her body tries to eliminate the allergen.  

To What Foods Are Cats Commonly Allergic?

While cat food allergies are relatively uncommon, there are some cat food ingredients that are more frequently found to induce allergic reactions than others. An allergy can only be formed to something they have been exposed to in the past, and not to a protein source they have never had before.   Tufts University Veterinary Medical Center cites the following ingredients as some of the most common catalysts for allergic reactions in cats: 
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Dairy products
  • Fish
Tufts also claims that grains, which are commonly regarded as hypoallergenic, are unlikely to be identified as the cause of food allergies in your cat, with most felines being allergic to animal proteins rather than plant-sourced ingredients.  

Cat Food Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms of a food allergy in cats typically involve either the skin or the gastrointestinal system. In contrast to environmental allergies, cats with food allergies will display symptoms all year long.
  • Chronic itching and skin inflammation
Affected areas may include your cat’s face, ears, belly, groin, armpits, and the legs/paws, and may cause your cat to over-groom and cause further wounds and abrasions − potentially leading to hair loss and infection.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues
Look for symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, weight loss, “scooting” − in which your cat is experiencing itching around the rectum − and frequent bowel movements. These symptoms can be associated with other allergies or health issues with your cat. For example, chronic itching and skin inflammation can be associated with flea allergy dermatitis,  so it’s important that your vet isolates the cause of the issue before proceeding with treatment.  

How to Identify if Your Cat is Suffering from Cat Food Allergies

It is always important to discuss any health issues your cat is having with your veterinarian. Because there are numerous potential causes of skin and GI issues, your vet can help rule out many of these causes and determine if an allergy to food could be the culprit. Unfortunately, there is not an easy test for diagnosing food allergies. VCA Animal Hospitals recommend a food trial as a tool to diagnose your cat and identify any potential food allergy. This is done by feeding your cat a special diet for at least a month or two. There are two basic options to consider as a diet for a food trial. 
  1. A hydrolyzed-protein diet
  2. A novel protein diet 
Hydrolyzed-protein diets work to “disrupt the proteins within the diet so as to remove any existing allergens and prevent recognition by a patient sensitized to the intact protein”. In other words, they are diets in which the protein has been broken down into tiny pieces that are too small to be recognized by the immune system. Sources of hydrolyzed protein include:
  • Soy
  • Chicken
  • Chicken liver
These are added to a carbohydrate source such as rice, potato, legumes or vegetables. Although it may be a more expensive route, hydrolyzed diets are appropriate for long-term feeding, and have a reasonable chance of being effective if your cat has been exposed to a range of different proteins in the past. Novel protein diets introduce a new protein to your cat and exclude any previous proteins your cat may have been exposed to − if your cat has developed a reaction to a commonly found ingredient such as chicken, this will substitute the food with less common foods including: 
  • Egg
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Rabbit
  • Duck 
  • Venison
During the food trial it is important to ensure that your cat is not eating anything other than the prescribed diet, as this may interfere with the results. Be mindful not to indulge your cat with treats, snacks, human foods or flavored supplements, and ensure your cat does not have access to scraps, garbage or your friendly next door neighbor’s snacks! After your cat has been put on this trial for the prescribed time and the allergic reaction symptoms have disappeared, you can slowly reintroduce the previously excluded ingredients to identify the offending allergen and observe carefully for the reemergence of symptoms.  If the symptoms recur, you will have identified the source of the allergy.  But before conducting any food trials, you should always check with your trusted veterinarian to discuss the best option for your cat.    

How to Treat Cat Food Allergies − The Best Cat Food For Allergies

While cat food allergies cannot be cured, the good news is they can be managed. The best diet for your food allergic cat is one that doesn’t contain intact protein from the ingredient(s) they are allergic to. Many cats can be maintained on novel protein limited ingredient diets. Unfortunately, cats who have food allergies often also have environmental allergies, so other therapies may be needed in addition to a diet change. You can either choose to continue feeding your cat the food used in your food trial that did not elicit any allergic reaction, or can work with your vet to identify a food that can provide relief from symptoms.  Depending on the severity of your feline friend’s allergic reaction, your vet may recommend a hypoallergenic cat food to ensure that there are no traces of the allergen in your cat’s diet.  Canidae has many options in both wet and dry formulas that may be beneficial to cats with food sensitivities. Our PURE limited ingredient recipes are made with 7–8 key, easily recognizable ingredients. With no artificial flavors and great taste, cats love the natural balance of real meat or fish first, paired with whole ingredients like sweet potatoes, green peas, or chickpeas never corn, wheat or soy. Looking for something else? Canidae All Life Stages is vet formulated for all ages − from kittens to adult cats − and comes in a range of wet and dry foods. Canidae Grain-Free Pure Ancestral Diet range is made with abundant amounts of real poultry and fish, is freeze-dried and raw coated for the amazing taste cats crave, and has high protein for the powerful nutrition cats need. All of Canidae’s recipes are ultra nutritionally-dense and full of only the good stuff − no fillers like corn, wheat, soy or animal byproduct meals. And they’re each perfection balanced with whole body health in mind, leveraging Canidae’s proprietary HealthPlus Solutions®, the ideal blend of vitamins, minerals, probiotics and antioxidants