Understand how food allergies and intolerances present themselves in cats, and what you can do to prevent and care for cats with allergies.
Jenny of Floppycats: OK, good. So today is June 7, 2013 and we are going to talk to Jr. Jean Hofve about cat food allergies. Dr. Jean, thank you very much for doing another interview with us.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of food and inhalant allergies are often identical; though inhalant symptoms are a little more likely to show up in skin than in the gut. I still use an elimination diet, because simplifying the diet will often help with inhalant allergies as well. As I mentioned, blood tests and skin tests are not very helpful in cats.
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Food allergies, or food hypersensitivities, are caused by a hypersensitivity to a component (allergen) within the diet. The allergen may be a protein or carbohydrate source or may be a preservative or food additive. Signs of food allergies often occur after a cat has been on a particular food for a while. This is because it can take repeated exposure to an allergen to sensitize the immune system. Cats can develop food allergies to food components even if they have been on the same food for years.In some cases, your veterinarian may elect to try hydrolyzed protein diets. These prescription diets have proteins that are broken down to lower molecular weights in order to reduce allergic stimulation. As with hypoallergenic diets, only this food should be feed for the duration of the diet trial. Just switching your cats’ food to another regular cat food may not alleviate symptoms as many cat foods contain similar ingredients. Multiple diet trials may be necessary to identify the source of allergy. If the food trial is not conducted properly, there is no way to know if the cat truly has a food hypersensitivity.Currently there is no reliable skin or blood test available for food allergies. Diagnosis requires an elimination trial, typically with a hypoallergenic diet. A hypoallergenic diet is either a homemade or prescription diet that contains a protein and carbohydrate source that the cat has rarely or never been exposed to (examples: venison, rabbit, and duck). The diet trial must bewith this food only. The skin is monitored for signs of improvement over a period of 6 to 8 weeks. It is important to note that during the trial, your cat CANNOT have other foods or treats of any kind. If there are multiple pets, access to other foods must be restricted. Indoor/outdoor cats may need to be kept indoors to ensure dietary restriction.It is currently very popular for pets to be on “grain free” diets. A grain free diet is not a good way to rule out a food allergy; eliminating grains in the diet is only helpful if a pet has an allergy to a grain (wheat, corn, oats). Although it is certainly possible to have a grain allergy, it is not as common as current popular fads or employees at pet food stores may lead you to believe. The most common food allergies I see in dogs are to beef, chicken, and dairy. In cats, fish is high on the list too. Some people want to feed “grain free” diets because of the theory that grains are more inflammatory to the body. Although there is some evidence for this theory with high amounts of wheat in humans, it could also be argued that non-grain carbohydrate sources such as potatoes have a much higher glycemic index than whole grains, causing inflammation in the body due to insulin spikes.