Last Updated on: April 18, 2017 by Ingrid King
Cats can develop allergies or “intolerances” to ingredients commonly found in commercial cat foods. The most common ingredients that cause allergies are chicken, fish and corn, as well as grains and dairy products. However, an allergy can develop to any protein to which the cat is repeatedly or constantly exposed, and sometimes, allergies develop over time.
Symptoms of food allergies
Food allergies may manifest as itchy skin, rashes or excessive grooming, or as digestive symptoms, including vomiting or diarrhea. Digestive symptoms often mimic those of inflammatory bowel disease.
Diagnosis of food allergies through a food elimination trial
Food allergies are diagnosed by conducting an elimination diet trial. There are currently two approaches for these trials: a hypoallergenic diet, or a novel protein diet.
There are several hypoallergenic diets on the market, available only from your veterinarian. These diets are made from hydrolyzed proteins. They use a conventional protein source like chicken, but the protein is broken down into molecules too small to stimulate the immune system. It goes without saying that these diets are highly processed, and only one is available in canned form. All contain by-products and fillers.
Novel protein diet
Novel protein diets used in a food elimination trial must contain a protein that the cat has not previously been exposed to.Unfortunately, with pet food manufacturers coming up with ever more exotic diets, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a truly novel protein. Typically, novel protein diets would be venison, rabbit or duck based. Depending on what your cat has been eating, you may need to reach for even more exotic proteins such as pheasant or even kangaroo.
How to conduct the diet trial
With both methods, the new diet needs to be fed exclusively for a minimum of 12 weeks. This means no treats, unless they contain only the same novel or hydrolyzed protein, and no table scraps. You will need to check the ingredient list on any supplements you give, since many pet supplements have chicken or beef flavoring added. If you give medication with pill pockets, you will need to find an alternate method of giving your cat’s medication.
If a food allergy is present, cats will start responding to the elimination diet within four to six weeks, but it is important to continue the trial for the full 12 weeks. If the trial is successful, cat guardians are asked to return to the food that was fed before the trial. If symptoms return, a food allergy has been confirmed. Many cat guardians won’t be willing to go back to the original diet to confirm an allergy if they’re seeing an improvement or complete resolution of their cat’s symptoms. Cats can stay on these hypoallergenic or novel proteins indefinitely.
Holistic treatment of food allergies
Cat guardians who would prefer a more natural approach can use raw or home cooked diets using novel proteins for the food elimination trial, or as a long term solution. Work with your holistic veterinarian to determine the best approach for your cat. There are anecdotal reports of food allergies resolving by simply switching to a raw diet even without the use of novel proteins.
Homeopathic remedies can help strengthen the immune system so it will no longer react to the substance causing the allergies. Work with a veterinarian who is trained in homeopathy. Randomly choosing homeopathic remedies, especially combination remedies, tends to not get very good results.
Spirit Essences Skin Soother can provide relief from the itching and anxiety that can go along with allergies and can help balance the cat’s energy system.
Treating allergies can be frustrating, and finding a solution can take time.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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