Humans are quite familiar with allergies. Most are allergic to at least one thing, be it a food ingredient, pollen, or even hair from our favorite pets. While people often take great lengths to prevent allergic reactions in themselves and their children, they do not always consider their pets as being susceptible to allergies. The fact is that they are – and allergic reactions in animals such as cats can be dangerous and sometimes deadly. Cats can suffer from a variety of allergic reactions, and food allergies are among the top three offenders. This article will outline what a food allergy is, as well as list common symptoms that indicate your favorite feline may be suffering from one.
What is a Food Allergy?
A food allergy is an over-reaction of the immune system to an ingested substance that it perceives to be a threat. While many cats experience intolerance to a variety of foods, this is different from an allergy in that it does not involve the immune system. An intolerance is merely an adverse reaction of the gastrointestinal system to a certain food. An allergic reaction to food, on the other hand, may not even include gastrointestinal symptoms.
An allergic reaction does not occur the first time your cat is exposed to an allergen. Rather, it will occur after repeated exposure and oftentimes the reaction will get more severe with each additional exposure. While any individual food ingredient can cause an allergic reaction in your cat, some are more likely than others. These include beef, chicken, eggs, lamb, wheat, soy, corn, and fish. Symptoms of food allergies develop when a cat’s immune system releases a large number of antibodies in response to a substance it perceives to be a threat.
As in humans, the only way to treat a food allergy in your cat is to eliminate the allergen from his diet. This sounds simple, but finding the specific ingredient causing the reaction can be challenging. The preferred method once a food allergy is suspected is to place the cat on an elimination diet, which starts with one or two ingredients and slowly adds foods to check for allergy.
Most Common Symptoms of Food Allergy in Cats
Skin problems are the most common symptom of food allergies in cats, and can include an array of specific symptoms. Most commonly, cats will develop small, opaque, fluid-filled lumps on their skin. These tend to show up on the head and neck areas, and they cause the cat intense itching. While other allergies to things such as fleas and pollen can cause your cat to exhibit similar symptoms, it is relatively uncommon for the irritated areas to be localized to the head and neck, as with food allergies.
The itching can be so severe that bald areas and lesions develop on the affected area due to scratching. These symptoms often develop and intensify over a period of weeks to months, as the cat’s allergic reaction to an ingredient in his food becomes more severe with continued exposure. When you take your kitty to the vet with these symptoms, they will rule out other causes and then place him on an elimination diet to determine the allergen so it can be avoided.
About 10-15% of cats with food allergies exhibit gastrointestinal symptoms. These can include obvious signs like vomiting and diarrhea, as well as more internal issues like bloating, gas and stomach pain. There are a number of ailments that could cause a cat to exhibit these symptoms, and one of the only tell-tale signs that food allergy is the culprit is the extended duration of symptoms. If the allergen is present in your cat’s daily food, these symptoms will likely occur on a daily basis and become more severe with time.
Other common symptoms of food allergy in cats are as follows:
- Ear inflammation/ Ear infection
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Swollen paws
- Snoring (due to inflamed throat)
Treatment of food allergy in cats is the same as in humans: avoidance of the substance. Once an allergen is detected, it must be avoided. The process of determining that symptoms are arising due to food allergy, and the subsequent trial and error of using an elimination diet to find the allergen, is where the challenge lies in treating food allergies in cats. Once you are able to find and remove the allergen from your cat’s diet, however, his symptoms should subside within a week or two and he will surely be grateful to you.