What is Food Allergy in Cats?
A cat food allergy manifests as an adverse response triggered when the feline's immune system excessively reacts to a previously encountered dietary component. For a cat to develop an allergic reaction to a specific ingredient, it must have previously consumed it.
Primarily, cat food allergies tend to impact the skin, leading to symptoms such as persistent itching, excessive scratching, overzealous grooming, the potential for secondary infections, and skin sores. Additionally, these allergies can disrupt the cat's gastrointestinal system, leading to symptoms like diarrhea and/or vomiting.
It's important to note that food allergies are relatively uncommon in cats. It's estimated that only around 1% of all cats suffer from food allergies, and this percentage rises to approximately 15% in cats with persistent itching. Among cats with itching and gastrointestinal distress, up to 42% may have food allergies. So far, no discernible correlation has been established between age, gender, or breed and the likelihood of developing food allergies in cats.
Symptoms of Food Allergy in Cats
The primary and prevalent indication of cat food allergies typically manifests as incessant itching that remains consistent throughout the year.
Additional symptoms that may accompany food allergies encompass:
Itching can manifest on any part of the feline's body, but it is most frequently observed in the head and neck regions.
Skin abnormalities may also be evident, potentially encompassing:
- Self-induced trauma (sores due to scratching, biting, or licking)
- Plaques (raised circular nodules)
- Self-induced hair loss (due to scratching, biting or licking)
- Small crusts (miliary dermatitis)
Less frequently, gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms may arise, encompassing diarrhea and vomiting episodes.
Causes of Food Allergy in Cats
Food allergies can emerge at any stage of a cat's life, even if the feline has been consuming the same diet without complications for an extended duration. Most recognized cat food allergies originate from an atypical immune response to specific proteins found in their food. The following are examples of everyday food items known to trigger cat allergies. Still, it's essential to understand that any dietary substance can provoke feline food allergies and is not confined solely to these items.
The food sources that tend to be most frequently associated with food allergies in cats include:
Less frequently encountered food items that can potentially provoke food allergies in cats encompass:
Diagnose Of Food Allergies in Cats
The gold standard for diagnosing cat food allergies involves a strict hypoallergenic diet trial lasting 8 to 12 weeks to assess symptom improvement. No additional treats, flavored medications, or specific formulations like gelatin capsules should be given during this period.
The choice of a hypoallergenic diet depends on the cat's previous food history. Ideally, it's a home-cooked diet with a novel protein source the cat has never consumed before. However, creating a balanced long-term diet in this way can be challenging.
If symptoms improve, the original diet can be reintroduced to check if symptoms return. If they do, the hypoallergenic diet should be continued. Gradually, individual ingredients can be reintroduced every two weeks to identify allergens.
Alternatively, a hydrolyzed or novel protein diet may be prescribed for the elimination food trial. If it proves effective, this diet is maintained indefinitely as it's formulated for long-term use.
Several tests, like blood, hair, or saliva, are available for diagnosing food allergies, but they must be proven accurate in clinical studies.
Maintaining a detailed diet history is essential during the hypoallergenic food trial. The choice of food relies on this history. Even with hydrolyzed protein diets, selecting one with an ingredient the cat hasn't previously consumed is better. Some food-allergic cats may respond differently to various diets, so trying different options is possible if one doesn't work.
Treatment of Food Allergies in Cats
Treating cat food allergies involves offering a diet free of ingredients that trigger allergies. The specific foods suitable for your cat can vary. Prescription diets are preferred for hypoallergenic trials due to strict quality control, as over-the-counter cat food may contain allergenic proteins.
During a hypoallergenic food trial, many cats experience intense itching so that symptomatic treatment may be required. Low-dose corticosteroids like prednisolone are commonly prescribed for relief. If secondary bacterial or yeast infections occur, antibiotics and antifungals are necessary, and repeat treatments may be needed.
Management and Recovery of Food Allergies in Dogs
When your cat has a food allergy and is given a suitable hypoallergenic diet, the symptoms may take about ten weeks to improve. It's crucial to make sure there are no other food sources accessible during this period. Managing food allergies demands a strict and lifelong dietary approach.
Supplements aren't advised for cats with food allergies because they could trigger reactions and are unnecessary. These specialized diets are designed to be balanced and provide all the necessary nutrients. If symptoms persist despite the dietary change, it's essential to explore other potential causes for the symptoms.