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What is Gluten Allergy?

In recent years there has been an increase in concern over pets having an allergy to grains and gluten.  However, this is a rare finding. There are ways to determine if your cat has a gluten allergy and should be pursued if you think he is suffering from one.  Symptoms of an allergy to a food item typically affect the skin and gastrointestinal system.  If a gluten allergy is suspected, it can be confirmed or ruled out by a food elimination trial.  If confirmed as a true gluten allergy, you simply remove it from your cat’s diet and his prognosis of recovery is good.

A true gluten allergy in a cat is rare; it is more likely he has a sensitivity or intolerance.  Either way, it can affect his daily life and cause him misery.  If this sounds like your cat, take him to your veterinarian for an evaluation.

Symptoms of Gluten Allergy in Cats

  • Weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Feline asthma
  • Constant itchy, dry skin
  • Vomiting 

Types

Your cat can have a gluten allergy, versus gluten intolerance, versus gluten sensitivity.  A true gluten allergy in a cat is rare, but possible.  It would be considered a type of food allergy which can develop at any age, any breed, and to either sex.  Many people may think their pet has an allergy to gluten but in reality it may be something else in the pet’s diet, not the actual gluten.

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Causes of Gluten Allergy in Cats

A food allergy is caused by a hypersensitivity reaction to a food ingredient or additive.  If your cat is allergic to a type of food or ingredient, it is his immune system thinking something is a threat to his body when in reality it is something harmless.  In this case, your cat’s system thinks the gluten is a threat and therefore the body responds in an attempt to protect itself by breaking out with skin discrepancies and gastrointestinal upset.

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Diagnosis of Gluten Allergy in Cats

The veterinarian will want to take a proper look at your feline’s symptoms and rule out possible causes of his condition based on what she sees in the physical evaluation.  An allergy in a cat has a specific appearance to it; by appearance alone, she will be able to know if your cat is possibly suffering from a food allergy or not.  In addition to the exam, your veterinarian will also collect a medical history.  The veterinary caregiver will want to know when your pet’s symptoms started, if they have been progressing, and whether you have been trying to treat your cat on your own at home.  The veterinarian will need to rule out other possible causes of his symptoms such as gastrointestinal parasites or flea bite hypersensitivity.  These conditions can cause similar symptoms in your cat and will require some basic diagnostic testing to rule them out.  Blood tests can be indicative in some cases, of environmental allergies.

There are no available serum, blood, or intradermal tests considered reliable for diagnosing food allergies.  The main way to come to a proper diagnosis is a trial and error dietary study; it is known as an elimination diet trial.  In this situation, you remove gluten from your cat’s diet for a minimum of 12 weeks.  This gives his system time to rid itself of gluten and symptoms will begin to resolve.  Gastrointestinal signs may resolve between 1 to 3 weeks but dermatologic symptoms can take much longer to resolve as the skin needs to heal.  If your cat’s  symptoms have resolved during this time, you need to reintroduce gluten to his diet to get a confirmation.  If his symptoms reappear once your reintroduce gluten, you have your conclusion.

In the case of a gluten allergy, you may have to cook a homemade diet for your pet if you cannot find a commercial diet that does not contain any gluten.  It may be inconvenient, but it may also be the only way to determine if your cat’s allergy is truly to gluten or not.  You may discover you cat is not actually allergic to gluten, but a different ingredient within the food.

If asthma is a concern, the veterinarian may want to take a radiograph of his lungs.  This will either confirm or rule out the condition and therefore treatment can be started if needed.

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Treatment of Gluten Allergy in Cats

There is no specific or exact treatment for a food allergy.  Instead, the veterinarian can offer supportive treatments and therapies in response to the symptoms your cat is suffering.  For example, she will prescribe antibiotics for a skin infection if one has developed from all the scratching he has been doing.  Depending on his condition, she may also prescribe medications such as glucocorticoids or antihistamines to help with the itching and inflammation. She may also recommend a topical medication in the form of a liquid, ointment, or spray for you to apply directly to the lesions themselves.  

If he is experiencing any gastrointestinal upset from the gluten, your veterinarian can offer medications and therapies for it as well.  There are anti-diarrheal medications to calm the GI tract she can administer to your cat.  She will also want to ensure he is not dehydrated from the diarrhea.  If he is, she will want to administer fluid therapy to restore what he has lost.  

Finding the source of your cat’s allergy is ideal.  If you are able to confirm there is a gluten allergy, you can remove it from his diet and prevent his symptoms from continuing and even worsening.  Without removing gluten, your cat will continue to suffer from the allergy since you will only be treating his symptoms, not the cause.

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Recovery of Gluten Allergy in Cats

Once an allergy has been determined, efforts must be continuously made to avoid the gluten. Otherwise, your cat will be miserable from the itching and you will be miserable from his scratching keeping you up at night.  You will also have to make repetitive visits to the veterinarian for medications and therapies to ease his symptoms. Prognosis for recovery and relief from the itching and scratching is good, once all traces of gluten are gone from the diet.

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Gluten Allergy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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kiwi

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tuxsedo

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6 Weeks

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Mild severity

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1 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Bloated Belly

HI, my 6 week old kitten has a very bloated tummy. He has been treated for worms twice. We feed im kitten food, but he often eats our older cat's food which has Dinovite in it.

Aug. 21, 2018

kiwi's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Bloating in kittens is normally associated with worms and you should have a faecal sample done to ensure that there are no signs of worms. Other causes for a bloated tummy may be due to diet especially if Kiwi is dipping into your other cats food since sudden dietary changes can cause some gastric upset. You should think about visiting your Veterinarian if there is no improvement to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 22, 2018

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Mischa

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Rag doll

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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2 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Constant Vomiting

Mischa vomits constantly. It is not hair balls. He has been eating Royal canin dry food for a year and it helped a bit at first but not at all now. He will vomit a short time after eating but it does not seem to be related to eating too fast. He is extremely picky with canned food so he is not currently being fed any canned food. He likes eating a bit of yogurt/kefir and it doesn't seem to affect him. Obviously he must be allergic to something in the food- even the so-called special vet-prescribed Royal Canin dry food doesn't seem very good for him. The list of ingredients does seem rather questionable. Any solutions?

Aug. 19, 2018

Mischa's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

The problem with cats and dogs is that they are just as likely to have a meat protein allergy (or reaction) than one to grains or other ingredients if this is the case; I would try to initially feed a restricted ingredient diet for a few weeks to see if there is any overall improvement and then add ingredients from there and monitor for any changes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM http://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2017/01/food-allergies/

Aug. 20, 2018

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olly

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old type siamese

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Abdomen

one of my Cats always has a swollen tummy and looks overweight. when i cut his food down he is always looking for food and his belly still swells out. {he has not got worms] he has had 6 month checks at vets but they can,t feel anything wrong with him and just say cut down his food. he is 5.5kg. he does not have diarrhea. sometimes he acts as if something is biting him {not got flees] and has dry flaky skin. i feed him on premium brands

Jan. 8, 2018

olly's Owner


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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, without examining Olly, I can't comment on what might be going on with him. If you are very concerned and feel that his belly isn't normal, your veterinarian can take an x-ray to assess whether his GI tract looks normal, or if he has a mass, or gas, or other abnormalities that need to be treated. I hope that everything goes well for him.

Jan. 8, 2018

thank you

Jan. 9, 2018

olly's Owner

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Niven

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Domestic shorthair

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8 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Wheezing

My cat has been struggling with respiratory issues since I got him, and it has been getting worse as he gets older. He is currently on prednisone and prozac to try and help his breathing. I am trying to acclimate him to a feline mask in an attempt to put him on an inhaler. But I thought maybe if he was allergic to gluten, then it might be contributing to his difficulties. Is this possible?

Nov. 14, 2017

Niven's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Whilst gluten may cause some respiratory issues, it would normally present with skin and gastrointestinal symptoms first. Everyone thinks their pet has gluten allergies but it is infact very rare in dogs and cats despite what some ‘experts’ may say; it is really more of a fad to sell expensive diets (I know I have opened a can of worms on this one). The symptoms which you are describing are most likely to be attributable to environmental allergies or irritants, infections, dental disorders, foreign objects or a nasal mass; if Niven’s symptoms are increasing in severity it would be wise to visit another Veterinarian for another opinion or an Internal Medicine Specialist. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 15, 2017

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Kat

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Russian Blue

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I'm going to say 10.

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Please See Above.

I adopted a senior cat 3 yrs ago, and was told she had gluten/grain allergies. Recently (I had not kept her diet gluten/grain-free, as she had not exhibited allergy symptoms) she began to constantly groom, scratch, and develop many small, scaly skin growths over the last few weeks.

Nov. 6, 2017

Kat's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

There are various causes for itchy skin, lumps and bumps which include allergies, chemical irritants, parasites, infections, hormonal conditions among other causes; there are so many different skin conditions with many looking the same which can make diagnosis difficult. I would bathe Kat with a medicated shampoo and try her on a restricted ingredient diet to see if you notice any improvement; also try to think if you have changed anything in your home like cleaning products etc… But if you don’t see any improvement, you should visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Nov. 6, 2017

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Herbie

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dsh

dog-age-icon

7 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

My cat has had cycles of vomiting since he was 1 year old. He's been to a specialty vet and we've tried just about every special diet. They all work for a couple months but then he goes back to vomiting. When he vomits, everything he eats comes back up and he cannot keep any food down. So his weight drops fast. He's had a couple of ultrasounds and they show inflammation in his intestine. The last special food the vet put him on was hydrolyzed protein. Worked for a couple of months then stopped. I now have him on Duck-a-la-veg from Fromm because I'd read that cats that need hydrolyzed food can sometimes eat duck. The current food is working but it's only been a month. For awhile he was on a steroid; again worked for awhile then stopped. I have his weight back up but every attack is a potential killer. At one point he was just bones, his weight was so low. He isn't anemic but his reticulocytes are high, 105.

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Cyrus

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Orange tabby

dog-age-icon

18 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea

I have an older cat (now 18) who developed chronic diarrhea several years ago. After trying many things, the vets and I thought he might need hypoallergenic food. But he wouldn’t eat it. Then I found ‘grain free’ cat food. He ate it and the diarrhea stopped within 1-2 days. He’s been on that diet ever since. If he ever eats regular cat food, the diarrhea returns within a day. The problem is that recently he stopped eating the grain free food. I tried another brand, but he won’t eat. He eats other food, but has diarrhea again. I’ll try another brand of grain free, but I’m getting worried.

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Sully

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domestic short hair

dog-age-icon

12 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

I have a 12 year old male cat who has always been a puker. Sometimes he would just regurgitate his food. I switched him to a raw diet several years ago and he stopped doing this but about six months ago he quit wanting to eat the raw. I've found another food called Tiki Cat highly digestible that he seems to do better with, but still occasionally throws it up. He doesn't act like he feels good after this, hunkering. In a few hours he is usually ok. He also over grooms (and scratches) and throws up hairballs. On some occasions, he eats, throws up, then throws up 4 to 5 more times. After that he is all good. Like he needs to get it all out of his system. This happens about once a month but he throws up about every three days. Sometimes it just liquid and a little hair. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe there is a gluten thing going on? I've had him to the vet, they've run tests and everything appears normal. He did much better on the raw diet, but if he won't eat it now, what to do?

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