What are Meat Protein Allergies?
Meat protein is the third most common type of allergen known to cats, just slightly less common than inhalant allergens and flea bite dermatitis. The allergy is caused by one or more protein-based ingredients present in your cat’s food. Common meat protein-based foods that cause feline allergies include chicken, beef, lamb, fish and meat byproducts. Meat byproducts are not muscle meat, but rather the organs, tongue, and ears of the mammal. A feline may consume the same type, brand and flavor of food before developing an allergic response, as the body creates antigens to fight it. Some cats won’t shows signs of a meat protein allergy for nearly two years.
If your cat is itchy and scratchy, she could be suffering from regular seasonal allergies, but if the problem continues on into the months of winter, she could have a hyper allergic reaction to meat proteins. An allergy is characterized by an overreacted response to a foreign substance produced by the immune system. The immune system works to keep infectious microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses, from invading the body and making the cat sick. Sometimes the immune system mistakes a potentially harmless substance for an infectious organism, creating antigens against the element, which we see as an allergic reaction. In most allergic reactions, a feline will become itchy and the skin will become irritated. However, food allergies tend to only affect the cat’s head and neck with small, fluid-filled skin lumps. It is also estimated that approximately 10 percent of felines exhibit gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and vomiting, as the body’s immune system tries to remove the hazard from being absorbed by the body.
Symptoms of Meat Protein Allergies in Cats
An estimated 10-15 percent of felines will develop gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, indicating a meat protein allergy. However, the most common symptom of this type of allergy is skin eruptions of pale, small, fluid-filled lumps on a cat’s skin. The lesions tend to remain localized to the head and neck of the feline, but can be found in other areas of the feline’s body. The aggravating skin lesions do not pose a significant hazard to the feline, other than being extremely, irritatingly itchy. However, vigorous scratching poses a risk for secondary skin infections known as a pyoderma. A pyoderma is an infected skin wound caused by a bacterial infection. Additionally, the feline can lose a dangerously large amount of weight as the cat links her food to vomiting and diarrhea. Clinical signs a cat owner can watch for that may indicate a meat protein allergy in their cat include the following:
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Small, fluid-filled bumps
- Excessive licking
- Otitis externa (external ear inflammation brought on by scratching)
- Non-seasonal itching
Causes of Meat Protein Allergies in Cats
Meat protein allergies in cats is caused by the immune system overreacting to one or more ingredients in your cat’s food. The cat’s immune system mistakes a potentially harmless substance for an infectious organism, creating antigens against the element. Canned foods, cat kibble and raw food diets are all possible causes of a meat protein allergy. Potential meat protein allergens present in a cat food product include; chicken, beef, lamb, fish and meat byproducts.
Meat protein allergies are not specific to any age, sex or cat breed. Felines with other inhalant, seasonal, or insect allergies are at a high risk for developing an allergy to meat protein products in cat food.
Diagnosis of Meat Protein Allergies in Cats
Diagnosing a meat protein allergy in cats is difficult, as there is no specific test available for identifying a food allergy. Your veterinarian’s diagnosis will be based on ruling out other possible allergens and feline conditions that could cause similar symptoms that mimic meat protein allergies. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history and a consultation with the pet owner. Skin tests will aid in ruling out the possibility of feline mange, ringworm, inhalant allergies and flea allergy dermatitis. Once other possible allergens have been ruled out, the veterinarian will place your cat on a food elimination trial. In this trial the doctor will prescribe your cat a diet for approximately 8-12 weeks. During the trial, you will not be able to give your cat any other food, including treats, table scraps, vitamins, or minerals. If the allergy clears up after the trial period, the veterinarian will have determined the cause of the feline allergy.
Treatment of Meat Protein Allergies in Cats
Food avoidance is the most effective, cost-effective and easiest way to treat a meat protein allergy in cats. Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe your cat a diet based on his or her needs. While your cat is recovering from the initial allergy, the veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids and antihistamines to control the itching. If your cat’s vigorous itching has caused the feline to develop a skin infection, antibiotics may be prescribed for a temporary period to eliminate bacterial infection.
Recovery of Meat Protein Allergies in Cats
A feline will make a full recovery from his or her meat protein allergy if the feline is fed the appropriate diet. In order to avoid food allergens in the future, avoid feeding your cat table scraps, treats and any other food that was not prescribed by your veterinarian.