Beyond 9 Lives: How to Spot Food Allergies in Cats

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Food allergies are fairly common in cats, and it’s suggested that about 10 percent of all feline allergies are caused by food. Only flea and environmental allergens are known to cause more reactions. While many food allergies or intolerances present with typical gastrointestinal symptoms, many cause skin related reactions like itching and scratching.

Food allergies can show up in cats as young as five months old and in those as old as 12. Typically allergies will start when the cat is between the ages of two and six.

The most common foods that cause allergies in cats are chicken, fish, corn, wheat and soy. Though allergies to beef, pork, dairy products and eggs are not as common, cats can still develop adverse reactions to those items. Cats can become overly sensitive to the foods that they are most frequently fed.


It can important to distinguish between a food intolerance and food allergies. Symptoms vary for both but the symptoms of an allergic reaction are typically more severe including:

  • A very itchy rash on the head, neck or back
  • Unexplained hair loss
  • Excessive grooming creating bald spots or sores
  • Red and inflamed ears
  • Chin acne

In addition to these symptoms, other common symptoms of food allergies and food intolerances are:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or soft stools
  • Weight loss


As in the case of environmental allergies, many of these symptoms could also be caused by other factors. Your veterinarian will likely discuss diagnostics including lab work to rule out other underlying diseases or conditions.

Once your vet has determined that there are no other potential causes, he or she will usually recommend feeding your cat a prescription protein or hydrolyzed diet for 12 weeks without any flavored medication or treats.

Hydrolyzed diets are those in which proteins and carbohydrates are broken down into such small particles that they no longer trigger allergies. They are specifically called “hydrolyzed protein” diets. Limited protein diets are diets that feature only select novel proteins that aren’t as familiar to your cat like duck, venison, or rabbit. However many of these diets still contain other potential allergens like corn, wheat or soy.

Your vet might also run a food allergy blood panel that can test for common food allergies, but veterinarians will frequently recommend the trial diet instead. While opinion of the accuracy of food allergy blood panels vary amongst veterinarians, it can be beneficial in some cases. Typically, it is more cost effective to try the diet trials.

The goal in diet elimination trials is to find a food that your cat not only likes and will eat regularly, but one that does not cause any reaction. Diet elimination trials take dedication from the owner and the cat to ensure no other treats, flavors, or foods are introduced during the period. Even the smallest crumb can potentially cause a reaction.

Cats suffering from food allergies or intolerances typically do very well once the allergens are removed from the diet.

Next week, we will talk about another allergy treatment option: immunotherapy shots or oral drops.

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