Just like us, our pets can suffer from food allergies too. Cat food allergies can happen at any age, even if your cat has been eating the same food for months. Let's look at the common food allergens found in cat food, and the symptoms of food allergies.
Food allergy vs food intolerance
Food allergy and intolerance symptoms may appear similar, but they are very different. An allergy is mediated by the immune system and can affect multiple organs like the skin and paws of the cat, while food intolerance is usually an isolated digestive issue. Lactose intolerance is an example of food intolerance and its’ symptoms - stomach upset, diarrhoea, or vomiting – are isolated within your cat’s digestive system and will usually appear a few hours after ingestion of lactose.
At any time when your cat is ill, whatever your suspicion may be, it is best to consult your vet for a proper diagnosis.
Cat food allergy symptoms
The most common symptom of food allergy is itchy skin. Apart from the itch, you may notice some of the following signs:
The most common source of food allergy is the cat food protein – chicken, beef, and fish. Others can include eggs, corn, wheat, soy, and dairy. After ruling out other environmental allergy triggers, your vet may suggest an Elimination Diet or Allergy Testing to identify the allergens.
Environmental allergy triggers can include fleas, pollen, dust mites, or grasses. These can all cause the same symptoms as a food allergy. For more information on environmental allergy triggers, please read our earlier article - When Your Cat Has Allergies.
Once the food allergen has been identified, it’s best to check the cat food labels and the ingredient list before making a purchase. Take note that some cat food products can contain more than one protein source. The secondary protein source may not be highlighted on the front of the cat food packaging, but it will be listed in the ingredients list. Please check the label for any secondary protein sources and avoid any cat food containing ingredients that your cat is allergic to.
The best cat foods for cat allergies are the limited ingredient and single protein source formulas. A single protein source cat food does not contain a secondary protein source. This will eliminate the risk of feeding your cat a ‘hidden’ protein allergen. For raw feeders, we have good news for you. We have the PetCubes single protein, raw food for cats. This is a holistic, limited ingredients diet, without artificial flavours, colours, and preservatives. You don’t have to worry about chemical nasties that may trigger an allergic reaction. Lamb protein is one of the more hypoallergenic protein sources. Always check the ingredients and choose the protein source that your cat is not allergic to.
When it comes to cat treats, always choose 100% natural treats free from additives, colouring, preservatives, flavourings, wheat and gluten. Similarly, with cat treats, avoid food allergens that can trigger an allergic reaction. If your cat is not allergic to fish, here’s an all-natural treat that is completely free from additives, the Just Fish Natural Fish Pops Treats For Cats & Dogs.
Hypoallergenic cat food for allergies
There are no official definitions for hypoallergenic cat foods, but the general understanding is that a hypoallergenic cat food does not contain ingredients that are known to be allergens. Hypoallergenic cat food is carefully formulated using only ingredients that are not potential allergens.
These cat food for allergies is made with a single source of protein, such as lamb only, duck only or venison only. This makes it easier for cat owners to avoid protein sources that their cats are allergic to. It is usually grain-free and does not contain artificial flavours, colours and chemical preservatives.
Depending on the severity of your feline friend’s allergies, your vet may recommend a specific hypoallergenic cat food. In other cases, if you are to purchase commercial cat food, choose a limited ingredient cat food with one source of protein only. Find one that is free from all chemical nasties.
Supplements that may help with cat allergies
Please consult your vet before starting on any allergy supplements. This is especially important if your cat is being put on medication. Some supplements may interact with the medication, increasing or reducing the effect of the medication.
A safer supplement that can help allergies by working with your feline’s immune system is a probiotic. Probiotics have been shown to modulate the immune system and help to manage symptoms of allergies. Cats and dogs with healthy guts are less susceptible to allergies. You can help to improve your cat’s digestive health by giving her a probiotic formula. The NaturVet Digestive Enzymes Prebiotics Plus Probiotic Powder Cat & Dog Supplement is formulated by veterinarians to support digestion and gut health. It provides both pre and probiotics and is formulated to help with food transitioning, sensitive stomachs and flatulence.
Food allergies can be successfully controlled and remain in remission with good dietary management. Once you have found a diet that works for your cat, you will need to continue that diet long-term. Always read cat food labels, avoiding cat treats and foods containing the allergen that may trigger an allergic reaction.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practising Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.