Does Your Cat have a Food Allergy or Intolerance?

The Food and Drug Administration has been particularly careful in recent years to require companies to make consumers aware of products that contain gluten, peanuts, and other traces of foods that could potentially cause an allergic reaction. But when it comes to your furry feline friend the requirements ar less strict. Part of the reason for this is that many cat owners don’t know the difference between a food allergy and food intolerance. This article will help you to understand and identify the differences so you can make the best decisions for the health of your cat.

It is important to know the difference because an allergy can actually be life threatening to your cat. Owners believe that vomiting is a clear sign of an allergy but intolerance can also cause it.

According to scientists, a cat allergy is present when the cat has a very specific reaction to a protein which is present in the cat food the cat is being fed. The cat’s body reacts to the protein as if it is a germ, releasing white blood cells that cause the allergic reaction.

In contrast, food intolerance will affect the cat’s digestive system and you will notice signs similar to digestive problems in humans: gas, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and bloating. The allergic cat will be one who scratches itself abnormally. You may not notice it at first, but the excessive scratching will show up in the form of scabs, loss of fur in patches, and red bumps on different parts of its body.

But cats are not necessarily born with an allergy or intolerance. They can develop over time, so it is important to keep an eye on their general health and behavior regardless of their age. Certain breeds, such as the Siamese, are more likely to develop allergies or intolerances than other breeds, though they are not alone in this respect. One problem is that there is no list of breeds that has been compiled to identify specifically which are at greater risk.

All this information points to the owner being the first line of defense in noticing any problems and taking the cat to the vet for treatment if either food intolerance or an allergy is suspected. What is known from a recently published study is there is a list of foods that have been found to be more likely to be responsible for an allergy than others. These foods, in order, are:

  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Dairy products
  • Lamb

One useful point from the study is that these foods do not always immediately cause an allergy but can slowly build up in the cat’s system, popping up later in their life. Similar to human food, owners are urged to check the ingredient labels and look for ingredients such as “natural” flavoring, artificial colors, and chemical preservatives commonly used including BHA and BHT.

Veterinarians can be useful and recommend supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and digestive enzymes with probiotics. If this sounds like you should treat your cat as a member of the family when it comes to nutrition, you are on the right track.

What if your cat has an allergy that has been confirmed by your vet? The first thing is to work in cooperation with your vet to make any changes to the diet that are necessary to identify and eliminate the cause. One of the most popular approaches is to switch from the dry and canned foods to frozen cat food. If you are new to this idea, ask your vet about where to find it. There are other diet modifications that may be of a temporary nature, so once the problem has been found these restrictions can be lifted.

The reality is that because there is no known research that completely addresses the problem, owners with cats who have allergies need to be patient and work with their veterinarian. The primary goal is to discover the problem and make the necessary adjustments to get the cat back to a normal life. The symptoms of the allergy problem in most cases are not life threatening and should be gone once the source of the problem is discovered. But until then, every cat owner needs to understand that what may appear as a simple problem can be hiding a greater problem.


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