What is Meat Allergy?
Meat allergies are not discriminative, and both male and female cats are equally affected. However, these allergies usually take a while to build up so your cat probably will not show any signs for at least one year of age. The problem with commercial pet foods is that they almost always contain ingredients that you would not think would be in there such as meat by-products like ground up hooves, tail, and lips. Sometimes, just changing the protein source can make a big difference. For example, if your cat is allergic to all kinds of meat, you could try soy-based protein food. One thing to note; just because a bag of cat food says chicken flavored that does not mean it contains chicken. Also, even if it does have chicken in it, that does not mean that is the only meat in there. There may be several types of meat in a bag of “chicken” cat food.
Meat allergy in cats is common due to the fact that meat is found in almost all cat food brands in some form or another. For example, a bag of dry cat kibble contains several different types of meat (beef, chicken, and fish) even if it does not say that on the front of the package. Once your cat has been eating the same food for many years, she builds up a sensitivity to it and the immune system eventually sees it as a threat. Antibodies (IgE) are produced to attack the threat and this creates histamines to be released into the body, causing skin itching, rash, and gastrointestinal distress. If your cat has been eating a certain type of food for a long period of time and you notice that she is scratching and vomiting more often, you should probably call a veterinary expert for advice.
Symptoms of Meat Allergy in Cats
Although vomiting is not uncommon in cats because of hairballs, if your cat vomits after eating on a daily basis, you should see a veterinarian to check for a meat allergy. Some other signs of meat allergy include:
- Scratching more than usual
- Itchy ears, head, and neck
- Chewing on paws
- Bald spots cause by chewing on skin
- Redness of the skin
- Raised red lesions anywhere on the body
- Dry and flaky skin
- Crusty lesions on skin
- Red ears or ear infections
There are four types of allergies, which include:
Type I Immediate Hypersensitivity
This is an IgE response that includes smooth muscle and mast cell vascular responses. This type is the basic allergy that occurs immediately after eating and causes itching and vomiting. This can be dangerous and can instigate a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis that causes throat inflammation and suffocation. However, this is very rare in cats.
Type II Antibody Mediated Hypersensitivity
This occurs when the immune system reacts to a certain food and causes intestinal upset, extreme itching, and inflammation. This is a more aggravating type of allergy commonly called autoimmunity.
Type III Immune Complex Hypersensitivity
This type is an overreaction of the immune system that can create problems in major organs in the body such as with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Type IV Delayed Hypersensitivity
This type does not appear until at least 24 hours after exposure and is considered to be genetic.
Causes of Meat Allergy in Cats
Food allergy in cats accounts for almost 60% of pruritus (itchiness) in cats so it is a common complaint with cat owners. The cause is usually a meat such as beef, chicken, or pork, but can be any type of meat. However, novel proteins like bison, ostrich, and venison are less likely to promote a response from the immune system because they are not common cat food ingredients. Some of the most common ingredients in cat food that affect cats with meat allergies include:
Diagnosis of Meat Allergy in Cats
Diagnosing meat allergies in cats can be difficult and is usually done by excluding other possible causes of the symptoms. Once your veterinarian does a physical examination and gets a medical history from you, blood tests (CBC, biochemical analysis), a urinalysis, fecal examination, and a tissue sample biopsy and culture may be included in the diagnosis. An elimination diet is usually the best way to determine the culprit that your cat needs to avoid.
Treatment of Meat Allergy in Cats
Treatment and diagnosis go together in this kind of condition because to get the diagnosis, you will need to do an elimination diet, which is also part of the treatment. In addition, there are medications and shampoos that can help with skin irritation and gastrointestinal troubles.
Topical antihistamines or hydrocortisone creams are good choices typically prescribed to relieve itching and inflammation. The veterinarian may also give your cat a corticosteroid injection for immediate relief in severe cases of skin irritation. Other medications that the veterinarian may use are omeprazole and similar drugs to calm the stomach. Intravenous fluids will be employed to flush the kidneys and prevent dehydration.
Food Elimination Diet
The elimination diet is a long process that takes a lot of patience from you and your cat. You may have to change foods several times to find one that is right for your cat. However, with your veterinarian’s help, you have a good chance of helping your kitty. A novel protein such as venison, kangaroo, or duck may be perfect for your cat because it is not a protein normally used in commercial cat foods.
Recovery of Meat Allergy in Cats
Although it may take several months, the prognosis for your cat is excellent if you do the elimination as directed by your veterinarian. Be sure not to give your cat any treats or toys during the process because these can contain traces of meat or other allergens that can give false positive results. For example, if your cat chews on a stuffed mouse that she chewed on before the elimination diet, saliva from the food she was eating at that time could still be on the toy. You will have to have your cat on the new food for at least six weeks to be sure it is right for her. Once you find the right food, you can start introducing treats (with the same protein) and new toys one at a time. It is a long process, but it will definitely be worth it for both of you.