What are Poultry Allergies in Cats?
Poultry allergies are a type of food allergy in cats that occur when the consumption of poultry products causes an allergic reaction. Symptoms can vary, but manifest in the skin or the digestive system, and can often be confused with other medical issues, or even other kinds of allergies.
Food allergies are one of the top three most common types of allergies in cats, and can affect a cat of any age or breed. If you notice your cat constantly itching or having digestive complaints, an allergy to their food may be the problem.
Symptoms of Poultry Allergies in Cats
The signs of a poultry allergy do not suddenly appear, but intensify over a long period of time while your cat is exposed to that allergen. The most common symptom is itchy, irritated skin that risks becoming infected the more your cat scratches. While skin in various areas of the body can be affected, itchy areas mainly on the face and head may point to a food allergy rather than another type, such as pollen or fleas. Some cats can also exhibit symptoms in their gastrointestinal system, which if left untreated, can lead to weight loss and other complications.
Symptoms can include:
Patches of reddened, irritated skin
Types of Poultry Allergy in Cats
While chicken is the most common kind of poultry allergy in cats, as it is one of the most popular ingredients in commercial cat foods, a cat can develop an allergy to other kinds of poultry as well. A poultry allergy can be triggered by:
Causes of Poultry Allergies in Cats
A food allergy occurs when the immune system mistakes a safe protein in a food as a dangerous invader, and mounts an attack to get rid of it. The result of an army of antibodies on the march is itchy, reddened skin and the other symptoms seen in an allergic reaction. But why does the immune system attack a harmless food?
While scientists are still researching why the immune system misidentifies harmless substances as allergens, there are a couple of predominant theories.
Genetics- Some cats may have inherited genes that identify certain foods or other common allergens as dangerous, such as Siamese cats that seem predisposed to food allergies.
Long-term exposure- A food allergy may develop in a cat that is fed the same food for a long period of time. Veterinarians and researchers have noted that cats only develop an allergy to a food which they have been exposed to, and usually after two or more years of eating that same food.
Diagnosis of Poultry Allergies in Cats
The symptoms of a poultry allergy are similar to several other medical conditions that could affect your cat, such as bacterial skin infections, yeast infections, skin or ear mites, internal parasites, or pancreatitis. They can also mimic those of other kinds of allergies, such as to fleas, pollen, dust mites, medications, chemicals, or even other foods.
Your veterinarian will start by giving your cat a physical exam, and may take urine, blood or fecal matter for testing. If another medical condition is suspected, other testing may occur. Tell your veterinarian about any and all symptoms you have noticed, including changes in your cat’s elimination, appetite and behavior, and what your cat eats daily. Also relate any treats, medications or supplements they may take.
If your veterinarian suspects an environmental allergy, you may be prescribed antihistamines to see if that stops the symptoms. Once your veterinarian has narrowed down the issue to a food allergy, then the real work begins.
While there is some allergy testing available, it may not be reliable enough to determine exactly what your cat is allergic to. The gold standard of diagnosing a food allergy is an elimination trial diet. This entails feeding your cat a special food made with one meat protein and one carbohydrate protein that they haven’t yet been exposed to in their life for a 6 to 8-week period. During this time, you can only feed your cat this specialized diet, also called a hypoallergenic or novel diet. If your cat is allergic to something in their normal food, eating this specialized diet should reduce their symptoms by 50% - 100%. Once the trial is over, your cat will be fed their regular food again to see if symptoms return, which can confirm the diagnosis of a poultry allergy.
Treatment of Poultry Allergies in Cats
Food allergies cannot be cured or medically treated, but they can be managed. The main treatment for a poultry allergy is to permanently eliminate poultry from your cat’s diet. Further elimination testing may be able to confirm if your cat is only allergic to chicken, turkey, duck or pheasant, or to some or all of them, which can help you navigate different food choices.
While you can find many foods on the market, your veterinarian also can suggest or prescribe an appropriate diet for your cat. Foods to manage a particular food allergy can fall into three basic categories.
- Commercial Novel Protein Diets - Like the diet used in your elimination trial, these diets contain one meat protein and one carbohydrate-protein that are usually uncommon in most commercial cat foods, along with other limited ingredients. Some are even made especially for sensitive stomachs, or supplemented to help calm the immune system.
- Hydrolyzed Protein Diets - These diets are made by a special process that breaks down the allergic food, such as chicken, into tiny pieces that are too small to be noticed by the immune system. While these can work for many cats, you should consult with your veterinarian to see if they are a good choice for your cat.
- Home-Cooked Novel Protein Diet - Using the same idea as commercial novel protein diets, these are meals made in your own kitchen that are catered specifically to your cat’s needs. These can be tricky, as you’ll need to add all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients yourself, and should never be undertaken without veterinary guidance.
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Recovery of Poultry Allergies in Cats
With the right diet, your cat can fully recover from the symptoms of an allergic reaction to poultry, and prevent another allergic reaction from occurring. Elimination of poultry should be observed throughout your cat’s lifetime.
When managing your cat’s dietary needs, be sure that treats and any human foods in their diet are also free of poultry. Practice looking at ingredients, and learn the terminology of the pet food industry to ensure your cat doesn’t accidentally consume poultry or its by-products. Since a reaction to a poultry allergy isn’t fatal, an exposure won’t be life-threatening, but it can cause discomfort and secondary medical issues if it continues.