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Cats and humans have very different dietary needs. As a result, vets are frequently asked questions regarding what to feed a cat. Usually, most high-quality cat foods will meet all of the cat’s nutritional needs without any issues. However, some cats are allergic or sensitive to common ingredients found in cat food.
A food allergy occurs when the body has an abnormal immune response to a substance—antigen—found within the food. This response causes the body to produce antibodies.
The cause of the abnormal immune response is unknown. However, some allergies can be genetic, so a kitten with a parent with a known food allergy is at a higher risk of also developing a food allergy. Overall, there’s no way to know if a cat will have an allergy.
A food sensitivity is similar to an allergy and has similar signs. However, a sensitivity causes the body to produce a different antibody than an allergy does.
Diagnosing cat food allergies can be difficult. Many of the signs are similar to other health conditions. Signs a cat has a food allergy include:
Excessive year-round scratching and inflamed skin
Skin wounds and hair loss
Frequent ear and skin infections
Itchy butt and scooting
Frequent bowel movements
Difficulty or straining to defecate
Little research has been done in the area of cat food allergies and sensitivities. Currently, the following foods are the most common foods that cause allergies in cats:
Due to the lack of research, there could be other common cat food allergies that haven’t been identified yet.
Once the pet parent or vet determines the cat likely has a food allergy or sensitivity, the hard part begins. Determining what specific antigen a cat is allergic to can take a lot of time and patience. A veterinarian or nutritionist can assist with putting a cat on a food elimination diet. This gradually introduces foods into their diet to determine the cause of sensitivities and allergies.
Cat allergy and food sensitivity blood tests are available. Most vets don’t recommend these tests because they’re very inaccurate and don’t test for all of the components that make up the cat’s food.
After determining the allergy, pet parents will need to change the cat’s food to remove the problem-causing antigen from the cat’s diet. Just know that abruptly changing the cat’s food can cause an upset stomach. Pet parents should try to gradually change their cat’s food over a period of seven to ten days. This new food should have different ingredients to make sure not to reintroduce an allergen. Cat foods contain a lot of ingredients, so cat parents should make sure they are reading the food labels completely.
Once the cat is on a new food, it can take several weeks or months to see improvement. If the cat’s symptoms don’t improve, then their food will need to be changed again. It’s not uncommon for allergic reactions to stop without ever identifying the exact cause. As long as the cat sticks with food that doesn’t trigger a reaction, they should be fine.