Does Your Cat Have a Food Allergy?

Cat food allergy is the leading cause of itching and hair loss in cats. A cat with allergies will itch, paw and rub the face, feet, ears and belly areas and hair loss may result. The skin appears red and irritated and secondary skin infections can develop. The ears can become swollen from the trauma associated with itching.

Food Allergy Vs. Atopy

Allergic reactions to pollen, molds and other airborne irritants cause many of the same symptoms, but they tend to occur seasonally, while food allergies afflict cats all year. Unlike food allergies, airborne allergies (atopy), may cause watery eyes and nasal discharge.

Common Allergens

Often, the source of the allergy is one of the many common ingredients in commercial cat food. Corn, wheat and soy are often at fault, but any ingredient can be responsible including meat proteins, preservatives, colorings and fillers.

Hypoallergenic Diets

If your suspect a food allergy, a cat natural remedy diet featuring high quality, hypoallergenic ingredients may relieve symptoms and improve overall health. Allergy free cat food usually contains limited ingredients to reduce exposure to allergens. Often the protein is a novel source such as duck, venison or salmon.

It will take up to 12 weeks to determine the effectiveness of a hypoallergenic diet. During this time, there should be no treats, snacks or other foods.

Alternatively, your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet or a "limited antigen" or "hydrolyzed protein" diet. These specialized foods contain proteins and carbohydrates that are broken down to a very small size so that the ingredients do not trigger an allergic response.

Homemade diets can also be used. A veterinary nutritionist can help you devise a long-term diet based on your cat's unique nutritional needs.

Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity?

A food sensitivity may cause diarrhea, gas and vomiting. Some cats are not able to tolerate or digest certain foods. A food intolerance may stem from the same ingredients as an allergy and may occur in combination or it may be a stand-alone condition that is not accompanied by the itching associated with allergies.

Testing for food sensitivities is similar to testing for allergies, but the results are usually faster. Begin by feeding a hypoallergenic food. Veterinary diets are available for this purpose, or you can purchase a commercially available, limited-ingredient product. Look for foods that are formulated specifically for sensitive stomachs or gastric security.

Once you have eliminated the source of your cat's food allergy or sensitivity, her symptoms should resolve. Consider the addition of a fatty acid supplement (EFA) to help to rebuild and restore healthy skin and hair coat.

Food allergies are common in cats and responsible for over half of all skin-related veterinary visits. Be alert to the signs and symptoms of an allergic skin condition to keep your cat healthy and itch-free all year.