What is Beef Allergy?

Beef intolerance can demonstrate in various ways, ranging from itching to gastric symptoms.  The term “allergy” is frequently interchanged with “sensitivity” when referred to the responses generated with consumption of certain foods.  Beef, chicken, fish and milk are foods which can cause allergic symptoms in small animals, with cats being included, showing symptoms at as young as 3 months of age.

Beef allergy in cats can be simply defined as an intolerance of varying degrees to the proteins in beef which can sometimes cause allergic type symptoms in small animals.

Symptoms of Beef Allergy in Cats

While the cause of the sensitivity or allergy may vary, the symptoms that you will generally see in your cat are:

  • Itching - Sometimes excessive and severe, most often in the head and neck area but can be anywhere on the body
  • Small, crusty bumps on the skin which are filled with fluid, found anywhere on the body
  • Alopecia - Baldness or patches of skin which show that fur has been pulled out
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dull coat
  • Inflammation
  • Ear infection

Types  

The types of beef allergy in cats relates to whether the afflicted feline is actually “allergic” or is just “sensitive” to a protein or enzyme in beef.  While the terms “allergic and sensitive” are used interchangeably, they are not the same condition.  Here is a brief synopsis of the two types and how they differ:

  • Sensitivity - Often referred to as “intolerance”, symptoms which usually present are gastrointestinal in nature (vomiting and diarrhea); generally intolerance or sensitivity only cause gastric issues, presenting in a similar fashion as in we humans when we eat something very spicy or greasy that doesn’t “agree” with our digestive systems
  • Allergy - This type presents with the skin irritation and inflammation symptoms noted above and can also present with the gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea as well; the allergic state can sometimes take months or years to develop.

Causes of Beef Allergy in Cats

Food allergies are responsible for approximately one third of the most frequently diagnosed allergies in cats. 

  • The feline in question eats a particular food (could be a food which has been eaten for months or years and that he actually likes and eats readily)
  • The immune system responds to an “offending substance” in the food (usually a protein) and that substance is believed by the immune system to be “foreign”
  • Generally, after having to deal with this “foreign” substance for a period of time, the immune system of the feline begins to build up a defense against the perceived “invader” by manufacturing substances (antibodies) designed to battle the “invaders”
  • The feline’s body reacts to the antibodies and a battle ensues, causing the allergic responses noted above to develop over time

Proteins are the most frequently identified substance known to cause the allergic reactions and, because proteins can commonly be found in meats, meat meals, eggs, grain and vegetables, you have a recipe of potential components which can cause the allergic reactions of which your cat may be suffering.

Diagnosis of Beef Allergy in Cats

If you notice your feline exhibiting any of the skin irritation and/or gastric symptoms noted above, get your veterinary professional involved.  He will need a complete history from you in which you cite the symptoms noted and the duration of those symptoms and diet being fed as well as any other unusual behaviors which your feline may be exhibiting.  He will need to do a physical examination of your cat, noting where the skin eruptions and irritations are located.  Diagnosis of the cause of the symptoms and clinical signs noted in your pet can be challenging and frustrating for everyone involved.  

Diagnosis of beef allergy in cats, as well as any other type of food allergy, rests with something veterinary professionals refer to as an elimination trial diet.  This involves changing the feline’s diet to something completely different than what has been fed in the past and what is being fed now.  This trial diet will need to be fed for at least 8 to 12 weeks for the cause to be determined if it is food related or environmental.  If it is food related, the elimination trial diet should allow the symptoms to quiet and go away.   Environmental allergies generally are problematic on a seasonal basis, ebbing and flowing seasonally, whereas food allergies are continual and persistent. Strict control must be exercised to maintain the strict elimination diet and feed nothing else.

Treatment of Beef Allergy in Cats

Once the cause has been determined to be food related via the utilization of the elimination trial diet, foods will be added back into the feline’s diet, one food at a time, and monitored for any reaction.  If the “invader ingredient” is added back in, it will produce the previously noted symptoms and reactions in your feline.  Once the “invader ingredient” has been identified, the main treatment for the diagnosed food allergy is total avoidance of the food in the feline’s diet.  Some vets have had success treating the afflicted animal with glucocorticoids, with some cats responding well while others have not. If the mode of treatment is the avoidance of a particular protein, it will require strict monitoring of the food, treats, and flavored toys given to your pet.  

Changing the food being offered to your pet will likely be recommended but just making the change from one brand of food to another may not work if the same” invader ingredient” is present in the new food brand.  Since many of the commercially made cat foods are comprised of many of the same basic ingredients and types of protein, great care will have to be exercised to find one which does not contain the identified allergenic ingredient. In some cases, a homemade diet may be recommended for a trial period.

Recovery of Beef Allergy in Cats

During the elimination trial diet, your vet will likely recommend several special feeds which can be fed to your feline.  You can also prepare food for your feline at home, taking care to use ingredients recommended by your vet.  A word of caution here...homemade diets for felines are not always recommended for the long term as there exists a great potential for the inability to provide all of the feline nutritional components needed for some felines as these components are usually supplemented in commercially made foods for cats.

Also, you should also be aware that, just changing the food given to your cat may be successful at resolving this episode of food allergy, but it is possible that your pet could also develop an allergy to other ingredients in other foods as time goes on.  The good news here is that, now you know the symptoms to watch for in your feline and the steps needed for identification of the “invader”.