Imagine coming home to your feline friend, only to find him scratching incessantly at himself. You immediately suspect fleas, but upon further inspection you find none. What’s more, he has begun vomiting. Of course, you’re worried about your precious kitty. ‘What could be the problem?’, you ask. It is quite likely that your cat is having an allergic reaction to something he ate. This article will help you develop an understanding of what a food allergy is, outline the most common food allergies in cats, and go over some basic treatment options for your furry friend.
What is a Food Allergy?
Before jumping into the most common offenders when it comes to food allergens in cats, let’s first go over some of the basics in understanding these allergies. When speaking about food allergies specifically, it is important to distinguish between an intolerance and an allergy.
An intolerance occurs in animals, including cats, when the gastrointestinal system is upset by an ingested substance. Symptoms of intolerance can include gas, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Some of these symptoms are shared with food allergies, but just because your cat exhibits these signs after ingesting a particular food does not necessarily indicate an allergic reaction.
Allergy, on the other hand, is an immune response to a particular substance. In the case of food allergy, it would be to a particular food ingredient. An allergic reaction occurs when your cat’s immune system perceives a substance to be a threat, and reacts with a large number of antibodies. This can result in a multitude of symptoms, including but not limited to gastrointestinal upset.
Most Common Food Allergens for Cats
While a cat can technically be allergic to any specific food ingredient, some allergies occur more often than others. Among the most common food allergies for cats are beef, lamb, corn, soy, and wheat. Not coincidentally, these are also some of the most common ingredients in cat food. As a cat is exposed to a food ingredient repeatedly, the risk of developing an allergy increases. This phenomena partially explains why the most common ingredients in cat food are also the most common allergens for felines. In addition, the simple regularity of exposure to these ingredients means that there will be more recorded instances of allergy to them – so just because these ingredients are the most common food allergens for cats does not necessarily mean you should try to cut them out of your pet’s diet.
Other Common Food Allergens
While allergies to these ingredients are slightly less common in cats than the ingredients listed in the previous section, these are still relatively common allergens. They are also common ingredients in cat food, and the correlation between allergy occurrence and exposure follows a similar pattern to the most common food allergens discussed in this article. While it is somewhat daunting to think that all the top ingredients in cat food are also the top allergens for cats, there are developed methods for determining and treating food allergies.
Treating Food Allergies in Cats
Treatment for food allergies is extremely simple and is the same for humans and cats. If your child was determined to be allergic to peanuts, you would know to keep him away from all foods containing peanuts. The same principle is used for cats. Avoidance of the allergen is the treatment. Determining whether your cat is suffering from a food allergy, and then figuring out what the ingredient is that is causing the reaction, is the difficult part of the process when it comes to treating food allergies in cats.
When you take your kitty to the veterinarian because it is suffering from symptoms of a food allergy – itchy skin and an upset stomach, for example – the first thing the vet will do will be to rule out disease, intolerance, and other possible causes of these symptoms. This will be done by either testing for viruses, etc. or by treating for other possible causes and monitoring results. If tests come back negative and treatment has no effect, a food allergy is likely.
Next, your cat will be placed on what is known as an elimination diet. He will be started on a diet of one to two ingredients. If symptoms subside within a week or so, food allergy is a probable cause, and you can begin slowly adding ingredients to the diet, giving time for symptoms to arise. Once the allergen is reintroduced into your cat’s diet, symptoms will return and you can begin feeding your cat a normal diet that excludes the suspected allergen.