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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Gluten Allergy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Niven
Domestic shorthair
8 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Wheezing
Coughing

Medication Used

Lysine
Prozac
prednisone

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?

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1722 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

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Kat
Russian Blue
I'm going to say 10.
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Please see above.

Medication Used

I "live" on a small pension.

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.

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1722 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

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Jon Snow
Siamese
1 Year
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
allergic
Blood In Stool

Hello!
I live in China and have a cat which poops diarrhea all the time, sometimes it can contain blood. it can also come blood with it. So if I'm not home and he goes to the litterbox there will be poop everywhere. and it will be stuck in his fur.

What can cause this reason? Can he be allergic to something in the food? He does not lose weight or act sick at all, just have stomach problems. We have been to the veterinarian here in China But they have not found any problems with the cat, but I'm still worried.

My phone number is: +86 18618134460

Health Expert
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1722 Recommendations
There are a few possible issues which may be causing these symptoms which may include infections, parasites, foreign objects, food sensitivity, colitis among other issues. I would start by feeding a bland sensitive diet to see if that helps, this may help to calm the gastrointestinal tract; faecal sampling may also show something like parasites or culture for bacteria. Feeding more fibre may firm up the stool slightly but doesn’t address the present of blood. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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