Food allergies in cats, also called food sensitivities, are reactions of the immune system to a certain protein in the pet's food like beef, dairy, lamb or certain fish (tuna, mackerel, skipjack).
What are the symptoms of cat food allergies?
Common signs of feline food allergies include severe itching especially around the head, face, neck and ears, scaling and in severe cases, hair loss.
"Food allergies are the third most common cause of sensitive skin disorders after fleas or other external parasites and environmental triggers like pollen or grass," according to Dr. Simon Starkey, PetSmart veterinary expert.
They are also difficult to detect because the symptoms mimic those of other disorders. Cat food allergies are often confused with food intolerance or when the food simply doesn't agree with the pet.
How are cat food allergies treated?
"First consult your vet to determine if your cat has a food allergy or intolerance," says Dr. Starkey. "Then try a premium cat food with a limited number of protein and carbohydrate sources."
Grain free and limited ingredient diets are often recommended. Grain free cat foods do not contain wheat, corn or soy, which have been linked to some feline food allergies. And limited ingredient cat foods are made with fewer proteins and carbohydrates, reducing the risk of allergic reactions. Limited ingredient diets often contain novel meat proteins such as turkey, duck or salmon, further reducing the likelihood of food allergies.
Your vet may also suggest a prescription food. To transition your cat to the new food, mix a small amount of the new food with the current food and increase the new food over the course of 10 days.
Avoid foods with the leading protein allergens including beef, dairy, certain fish or lamb.
Avoid treats and people food.
It may take several weeks to see benefits. Vets typically recommend feeding your pet the new diet for six to 12 weeks and suggest that you document the type and amount of food your pet eats and any reactions they have. Review your notes with your vet, noting any changes in your pet's symptoms.
Would an allergy test tell me what my cat is allergic to?
While allergy tests for dogs and cats are available, the accuracy of these tests is still undetermined. Simple elimination and trial and error with your pet's diet is the best way to determine what is causing your pet's reaction.
I've been feeding my cat the same food for years – can she still develop a cat food allergy?
According to studies conducted by veterinary dermatologists, dogs and cats can develop food allergies after eating one type or brand of food for a long period of time.
Can my cat be allergic or intolerant to certain additives in their food?
While food additives are often blamed for causing food allergies or food intolerance, there are no published cases of reactions caused by pet food additives.
The information used in this report is approved by PetSmart nutritionists and vet experts.
Information from "Small Animal Clinical Nutrition," 5th Edition, Hand, Thatcher, Remillard, Roudebush, Novotny, Copyright 2010 by Mark Morris Institute was used in this report.
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