What is Food Allergy?

While the precise reason for the reaction causing allergies is mostly unknown, there are many ways that your cat can be treated to minimise the effects. Allergies affect both male and female cats, and are indiscriminate about age or breed. There is a difference between allergy and intolerance to food, with the allergy showing the classic itchiness and skin problems while an intolerance is characterised by diarrhea and vomiting from an upset stomach. Both situations can be treated by eliminating the problem food from the diet.

Food allergies in cats are quite common, and happen when your cat is sensitized to a particular food which causes reactions within the antibody structure.

Symptoms of Food Allergy in Cats

  • Irritated itchy skin that does not respond to steroid treatment
  • Intolerant or aggravated cat attitude because of the irritated skin and upset digestion system 
  • Excessive scratching
  • Self-inflicted baldness 
  • Bumps on the skin known as pustules which contain pus and are inflamed 
  • Abrasions or injury to the skin due to scratching frequently 
  • Restlessness 
  • Excessive stomach sounds and passing of gas
  • Dermatitis on the skin surface 
  • Erythema (redness of the skin) 

Types

  • Hypersensitivity (allergy) refers to a physical reaction to a certain food or foods 
  • Non-immune (food intolerance) reaction is brought on by a direct negative reaction from the stomach and/or intestines (such as with spoiled meat) 
  • Immune reactions happen when the immune system over reacts to a particular food that your cat has eaten 
  • An allergy occurs when your cat’s system misjudges a safe substance and reacts violently to it 
  • Allergens form an extensive list and include protein such as beef and lamb, pork or fish

Causes of Food Allergy in Cats

  • A response to the ingestion of one or more allergens that interferes with the digestion; sensitisation may happen as the food travels into the intestine, or it may happen after the substance is absorbed or it could be both
  • Food intolerance reaction often results from your cat eating food with a high-level histamine which is an antigen known to cause hypersensitivity
  • Young kittens can have intestinal parasites or infections that damage the intestinal mucosa which results in poor absorption of allergens and subsequent sensitisation

Diagnosis of Food Allergy in Cats

Diagnosis of food allergies can be tricky as there are many conditions that produce similar symptoms. Your veterinarian will rule out these other conditions prior to diagnosing an allergy. Clinical symptoms of an allergy are usually a year-around symptom, and the most obvious indicator is that when a food is eliminated from the diet and the symptoms clear up. The well-known ‘’elimination diet’’ is the only proven method to determine what food is causing the problem. It does require time and patience through the trial and error stages but can produce amazing results.  Elimination diets rely on changing your cat’s diet and giving them food which they have not had before. An example may be replacing beef and lamb protein with turkey or even kangaroo meats. 

Toys or treats should also be avoided during the elimination diet as they often include ingredients which can adversely affect your kitty. Your veterinarian may treat your cat for secondary skin infections and for any gastrointestinal symptoms at the beginning of the diet trial. If these medications clear the problems, then the specialist may reintroduce the normal diet to see if any signs of the allergy reoccur. Blood tests are available for allergies but the general consensus from medical and dermatology circles suggest that the tests are too nonspecific, and as such, are nowhere near the effectiveness of the elimination diet.

Treatment of Food Allergy in Cats

The time honored and proven method for treating allergies of your cat remains the elimination diet where the usual everyday diet is replaced by new and never before tried foods and ingredients. This is accomplished by removing the offending food, and then once your cat’s condition improves you start adding back a food at a time to see which foods react with your cat. It is a long process, and requires patience and veterinary consultation throughout but the results that have been received using this process have been well and truly worth it. 

Your cat at first may be a little wary of the new diet, but will soon adjust and adapt to new tastes and sensations. It does take a while for your cat to adjust to a new diet and it will take a while for the allergy to slowly withdraw, but after a couple of weeks you should see the improvements starting to happen. Your cat’s fur will fill out and gain condition and his skin will recover with the skin irritations receding and clearing. The elimination diet can be continued indefinitely as long as it is a balanced diet and provides all the nutrients your cat requires. Allergies can be overcome or controlled using a lot of observation, veterinary support and of course, patience.

Recovery of Food Allergy in Cats

Time and patience are needed to sort out food allergies but it is worth the time involved to cure your kitty and keep him happy. With diet the main line of defence, your cat can recover and enjoy life again without the incessant itching that comes with allergies. It pays to focus on the response to new additions to your cat’s diet, keeping in mind that allergies take a while to become obvious. 

Introducing one food at a time is important, if that food shows no reactions, then slowly introduce another and so on. Slow and steady is the name of the game. Cats can be picky eaters at times, so patience is important during these changing times. A good variety and mix of foods will ensure your cat’s health returns to what it once was. Alternating foods so that the flavors alternate will keep your cat interested in his dinner.