Food Sensitivity in Cats

Cats often develop food sensitivity or an adverse reaction to certain foods that are consumed. Most commercial food products contain additives, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives that sometimes upset the pet's gastrointestinal tract and give rise to symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and pain in the abdomen. There are different types of food sensitivities that develop in cats that pet owners need to be aware of.

Types of Food Sensitivities Include:

  • Allergic reactions to food (commonly called food allergy)
  • Food Intolerance
  • Food Poisoning 
  • Metabolic reactions to certain ingredients

Understanding Food Sensitivity

It's important to obtain an accurate diagnosis when the cat suffers from food sensitivity so that the owner can take precautions and avoid feeding the cat any ingredients that cause the condition. To begin, the vet will carefully evaluate the symptoms of food sensitivity to determine the type of diagnostic tests that have to be conducted. If the cat exhibits symptoms of rash, hives, facial swelling and itching, the underlying cause may be food allergies. Cats develop food allergies to certain ingredients that they have been fed over a long period of time. Intolerance on the other hand occurs when the cat has consumed something out of the ordinary. Pets suffering from intolerance don't show signs of skin reactions or hives. This is the reason why the vet will carefully evaluate the signs and symptoms exhibited. It's also important to inform the vet if your cat has been administered any drugs. This is because certain medications reduce the body's ability to metabolize specific nutrients and this gives rise to food sensitivity associated with metabolic reactions.

Diagnosis of Food Sensitivity

If the cat is suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, the vet will ask you to avoid feeding the pet any solid foods for nearly 8 hours. Once the cat is stable, you will have to feed him bland food until he completely recovers. Diagnostic tests that are performed depend on the type of symptoms exhibited. While there are several tests such as enzyme linked immunosorbent assays, intra-dermal skin tests and radioallergosorbent tests that may be conducted, these tests have their own limitations. Most vets will conduct a food trial to find out what the cat is allergic or intolerant to. During this trial, the cat will be placed on a hypoallergenic diet or a prescription diet. If you choose to give your pet home cooked meals you will have to feed him or her a source of protein and carbohydrate that he has never consumed before. After feeding this diet for nearly 8 weeks you will have to reintroduce one ingredient at a time to the cat's diet, to find out which ingredient triggers an adverse reaction.


To find out the real cause of the sensitivity, it's important to avoid feeding your cat any treats or table leftovers. The pet should also avoid consuming food or water found outdoors or in the garbage. You therefore need to prevent the cat from roaming outdoors. After confirming the ingredient that causes the intolerance, make sure that your pet's food doesn't contain that particular ingredient. You may also have to use a rotational diet, to make sure that your cat doesn't develop any new food sensitivities.

It is only through trial and error that you will be able to find out the cause of the sensitivity. If a particular medication was the cause, you will have to discontinue the drug and avoid administering it to your cat in the future.