Just like us, cats can experience sensitivities and allergies to certain foods. The symptoms can vary widely depending upon the type of bodily response and severity of reaction, but often present as skin concerns or digestive issues. Symptoms of a food sensitivity may present suddenly or occur chronically. Examining their food for potential allergens may be helpful in identifying the offending ingredient.
What is a food allergy?
Allergies are a hypersensitivity or overreaction by the immune system to a specific allergen in a food, are primarily in response to protein sources.1 These immune responses often involve organ function disruption and airway inflammation, among other life-threatening concerns. Although the term “food allergy” is commonly used in reference to any food reaction in our pets, true food allergies in pets are relatively uncommon. The more common food-related concern are sensitivities or intolerances, which are non-immune mediated responses2 and can be in response to any component of a food, not just proteins. Both allergies and intolerances, however, are captured under the umbrella term of “adverse food reactions.” Commonly, intolerances manifest as digestive upset, skin issues, or a combination of these, but do not invoke a systemic immune reaction. A pet must have previously consumed an ingredient to develop an intolerance,4 and if left unchecked, intolerances can progress into allergies, and have been linked to the development of irritable bowel disease.3
A great example of the differences between allergies and is a peanut allergy vs lactose intolerance in humans; the severity of a peanut allergy is understood, and lactose intolerance may range from mild digestive upset up to extreme abdominal distress but does not involve an immune system response.
Signs of Food Intolerances
The most commonly documented signs of a food intolerance in cats are2,4:
Itchy skin & paws regardless of season (This can be particularly bad in the groin, armpits, and belly and result in hair loss and lesions)
Chronic ear infections
Digestive upset, including vomiting, diarrhea, and chronic poor stool quality
If you notice these symptoms in your cat, it could be a food intolerance, but it is important to contact your veterinarian to rule out other potential causes. For example, these symptoms mimic environmental allergies, and food may not be the culprit.
Most Common Ingredient Triggers
When it comes to adverse food reactions, the most common triggers in cats are beef, fish, grains, chicken and dairy.5
Based on a compilation of studies totaling 78 cats and the identified ingredient triggering an allergic response. Adapted from Mueller, Olivry & Prélaid, 20165
Choosing a food for a cat with food intolerances
Choosing a food for a cat with food intolerances can be difficult, especially because many foods contain multiple protein sources. The first step is reviewing a full diet history and cross referencing with when the symptoms began. This way, you can review the ingredients of that food and choose a new recipe which avoids those ingredients.
More information on identifying a food intolerance can be found on our blog, food allergies and intolerances in cats.
In some cases, your veterinarian may suggest an elimination trial, which is the “gold standard” for diagnosing an adverse food reaction.
An elimination trial consists, in part, of feeding a diet containing a novel protein source, one that the cat has not eaten before, for at least 6-8 weeks.6 At the end of the trial, it is suggested to ‘challenge’ the pet with the presumed allergen, to confirm this diagnosis.
A limited ingredient diet (LID) may also be an option for cats with food intolerances. Our Go! Solutions Sensitivities Limited Ingredient recipes feature single source primary animal proteins form novel sources, in addition to novel carbohydrate ingredients which a pet is less likely to have consumed before.
Limited ingredient recipes for your feline friend
Our Go! Solutions Sensitivities recipes are specially formulated by experts to help cats suffering from food sensitivities.
Explore our recipes
Dealing with adverse food reactions can be an itchy, smelly, and frustrating situation but with a little trial and error, finding a food that works for you and your cat is in reach! It’s important to identify the symptoms of a food intolerance and create a plan with your veterinarian to avoid them in the future!
Seo, K., Cho, HW., Chun, J., Jeon, J., Kim, C., Kim, M., Park, K., & Kim, K. 2021. Evaluation of fermented oat and black soldier fly larva as food ingredients in senior dogs. Animals. Vol 11(12).
Verlinden, A., Hesta, M., Millet,S., & Janssens GPJ. 2006. Food Allergy in Dogs and Cats: A review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Vol 46 (3).
Rudinsky, A., Rowe, JC., & Parker, VJ. 2018. Nutritional management of chronic enteropathies in dogs and cats. Journal of American Veterinay Medical Association. Vol 253 (5).
Food Allergies in Cats. VCA Animal Hospital. Food Allergies in Cats | VCA Animal Hospital (vcahospitals.com)
Mueller, R.S., Olivry, T., & Prélaud, P. 2016. Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC veterinary research. Vol 12 (9).
Bryan, J., & Frank, L.A. 2010. Food Allergy in the Cat: A diagnosis by Elimination. Journal of Feline medicine and surgery. Vol 12 (11).