Allergies to food account for around 10% of all allergies that vets see in cats and is the third most common cause of an allergy response after flea bites and inhaling something. Food allergies also account for over half of the cases of itching and scratching seen in cats.
The process of how the body becomes sensitized to a certain food or element in it then triggers an antibody response isn’t well understood. But there is plenty of information about the symptoms, how to diagnose the problem and what to do about it. Food allergies can occur in both cats and dogs but there is no strong link between specific breeds and an increased risk of an allergy. It can affect both sexes of cat whether neutered or not. It can occur as early as five months and as late as twelve years old, though the most common time is between the ages of two and six.
There is a difference as well between an allergy and an intolerance to a particularly food. Allergies show a series of symptoms in common with other allergies including itching and skin problems. Intolerances result in vomiting and diarrhea and don’t result in an allergic response. An intolerance is similar to when a person eats something that doesn’t agree with them.
Certain foods have been shown to be more likely to cause an allergic reaction in cats than others are. The most common foods are beef, lamb, seafood, corn, soy, dairy products and wheat gluten. These are all common elements in different cat foods.
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Symptoms of a food allergy are similar to those of other allergies. The first symptom is often itchy skin followed by hair loss, excessive scratching and even forms of dermatitis due to the itchiness. It can be difficult to know exactly what the cause of the allergy is simply by the symptoms but certain indicators might suggest food. If the symptoms are suffered during the winter or are suffered all year around, then a food allergy is possible. Sometimes, the itchiness from the allergy doesn’t respond to steroid cream when food is the cause.
There are a number of other illnesses that can cause the same symptoms as an allergy so your vet will likely rule these out first. These can range from a flea bite allergy, an intestinal parasite, bacterial infections or seborrhea. Once these are ruled out, a food trial will normally be used to find out what food the cat is allergic to.
Food trials are where the cat is given a new source of protein and carbohydrate for a period of 12 weeks. This would be something they hadn’t eaten before, such as duck and potato or venison and potato and there are a number of these diets available commercially. There are also special foods that have the elements broken down into smaller sizes to limit any allergic response. Homemade diets can be used but it is best to plan this with your vet to ensure all the necessary elements are included to keep the cat strong and healthy. They should eat nothing but the specific food for this time, no treats, medications with flavourings only the food and water. They should also not be allowed to roam where they could eat something different.