Dealing with food allergies in cats
A cat that scratches every now and then is usually nothing to worry about. Grooming and scratching to a degree, are perfectly normal behaviours. Sometimes though, you may notice your cat scratching a lot more than usual and perhaps rubbing their head against the furniture to get relief. You may also see them grooming themselves a lot more than usual. If you start seeing this, take a closer look at your cat’s skin. Red, irritated skin or hair loss in the areas your cat is scratching or grooming, could be an indication that your cat is dealing with a skin issue, and potentially even suffering from an adverse reaction to their food. Unlike us, food allergies in cats and dogs will usually show up as itchy skin rather than tummy troubles, and the first step to dealing with a food allergy is to spend some time with your local vet, trying to identify the cause of your cat’s itchiness.
What are food allergies?
To put it simply, a food allergy is an immune system response to a food protein source that the body doesn’t agree with. This abnormal, ‘negative’ reaction occurs when the immune system tries to fight off this protein source and typically leads to itchy skin. A food allergy can show up as red, itchy bumps on your cat’s skin or patches of hair loss as a result of them scratching or grooming more than usual. Sometimes these symptoms can also be paired with stomach upsets. If you’re at all concerned that a food allergy may be affecting your cat, a trip to your local vet is always your best option. Your vet will undertake a thorough examination and some simple diagnostics. If a food allergy is suspected, this will most likely mean you’ll be asked to initiate a food elimination trial that can help narrow down and pinpoint the exact allergen in your cat’s diet that they may be badly reacting to. These allergens and typically only ever proteins, and primarily from the meat source in the diet.
What’s a food elimination trial?
A food elimination trial involves removing any potential allergenic proteins in your cat’s diet, and feeding them a brand-new diet usually over an 8 - 12-week period. This diet trial works by first seeing if your cat improves on a special diet, and if so, by then identifying what protein actually triggering a skin reaction in your cat so you are able to avoid that protein source for your cat in the future. These trials involve feeding your cat a specialised diet that either has a protein source your cat has never eaten before (novel protein diet) or a protein that has been broken down into tiny particles that can no longer be recognised by the body’s immune system (hydrolysed protein diet). These diets lessen the chances of your cat experiencing an allergic response because their body doesn’t fully recognise the allergen. After the trial is complete, you may want to slowly challenge them with what seems to be the suspected allergen to prove it was a dietary issue all along. This then usually means your cat should be fed a hydrolysed protein or novel protein diet long term in order to avoid any more adverse reactions to their food.
If your cat is usually an outdoor cat, you should keep them confined to the home during the period of the food trial to stop them getting into other foods and potentially coming into contact with the proteins they may be allergic to. This is even more important if your cat roams the neighbourhood, nibbling at other pet’s food or getting into bins. Multi-pet households can also be a little difficult to manage, especially when they require different diets. The best way around this is to feed each pet in separate rooms to make sure the cat that needs to be fed a specialised diet doesn’t have access to the other pets’ foods. You should also try sticking to a regular feeding schedule and if meals aren’t finished by your cats straight away, remove their meals to stop them getting into foods they shouldn’t. In some situations, you may need to utilise a specialised microchip cat bowl available from your local vet clinic or pet store.
What’s the best food for allergies?
At ROYAL CANIN®, we offer both hydrolysed protein diets and a novel protein diet that can either be used as part of short-term elimination feeding, or as long-term nutrition if your cat suffers from a food allergy. Our Hypoallergenic diet is formulated using soy protein that has been broken down into tiny particles to prevent your cat’s immune system recognising it and our Anallergenic diet utilses a very unique and novel feather protein hydrolysate that is very easy for your cat to digest and has the lowest chance of your cat reacting to it. We also have a selected protein diet called Sensitivity Control which contains duck and rice, and could be used as a novel protein diet if your cat has never been fed duck before. All three of these formulas use long chain omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil to promote a healthy skin and coat, as well as B vitamins and the amino acid histidine to help maintain the skin’s natural barrier effect. Our ROYAL CANIN® diets can be used as complete, balanced nutrition to not only make sure your cat’s allergies are managed, but to ensure that they are getting everything else they need from a well-balanced diet.