Hypoallergenic Cat Food - All You Need to Know

If you have a cat who seems to be constantly scratching, vomiting and having diarrhoea, your pet may actually be having food allergies. Similar to humans, cats too can develop allergic reactions to certain ingredients. As cat owners, we want our pets to be in the best of health. Hypoallergenic cat food can help you to manage your cat’s food allergies as well as pinpoint the ingredients that are causing the allergic reactions

What is hypoallergenic cat food? 

Hypoallergenic cat food is food that does not contain ingredients that are known to be cat allergens. Instead, they consist of only ingredients that are not potential allergens. 

Hypoallergenic cat food only contains one source of protein, such as lamb, duck or venison. It also contains only a very small amount of fibre. 

It does not contain ingredients that are likely to cause allergic reactions, such as corn, wheat, rice, sugar, soy and beet pulp. 

If you are aware of the ingredient or ingredients that your furry friend is allergic to, you turn to hypoallergenic cat food that absolutely does not have that ingredient(s). Your vet can also help you tailor a specific hypoallergenic cat food diet that is suitable for your cat. 

Hypoallergenic diets

A hypoallergenic diet is one that is formulated to be free from allergens that your cat might be sensitive to. It may use hydrolyzed proteins, which are proteins that have been broken down so much so that your cat’s body is not able to recognize the allergen. This allows your cat to process, and absorb the nutrients as intended. 

Novel proteins such as duck or venison can also be used in a hypoallergenic diet. These proteins are used because it is very likely that your cat has not been exposed to them yet. 

If you love giving your cat treats, hypoallergenic treats are available. Do check with your vet if they are suitable before giving it to your cat. Additionally, if your vet recommends a certain diet for your cat, it is best to follow it in order to avoid the foods that are causing discomfort to your cat’s tummy. 

It is also important to note that over-the-counter diets that are widely available are likely not hypoallergenic diets as there may be trace amounts of chicken, beef or other proteins that are present even though the labels say otherwise. This is due to the fact that the same facilities and same equipment are used to make numerous types of pet food. Cross-contamination during the manufacturing process is not uncommon. 

What causes food allergies or food intolerances in cats

Your cat cannot develop an allergy to something that it has not been exposed to before. Thus, the food must be one that kitty has been previously exposed to, in order for it to develop a food allergy. 

Common foods that are likely to cause allergic reactions include fish, chicken, beef as well as dairy products. Cats have also been found to be allergic to grains such as wheat and corn. 

Food allergies can develop any time and both male and female cats are equally likely to have allergies. While there are no definite causes, genetics do play a role. Certain breeds, such as Siamese cats, are more likely to suffer from food allergies. 

Siamese cats are mostly likely to suffer allergies
Photo by Rica Tejada from Pexels

What is a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when certain ingredients or foods trigger an immune-system response in the body. A lot of times, food allergies appear as itchiness or skin problems. Your cat must be frequently exposed to the ingredient before they usually develop allergic reactions. 

Food allergies are not to be confused with food sensitivities. Cats can develop allergies to food that they have been consuming their whole life. Food allergies can occur all of a sudden and without any reason, so it’s not your fault that it happens. 

How can you tell if your cat is allergic to food? 

Your cat may be allergic to certain foods if it seems to have year-round itching that affects the face, ears, armpits, legs, paws, belly and groin. 

The itchiness can cause over-grooming and result in hair loss, wounds and abrasions. Skin inflammation and infections in the skin and ears may also be due to food allergies. 

Unlike food intolerance, food allergies can also cause gut problems. Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhoea and vomiting can also be due to food allergies. Look out for scooting due to itchiness around the rectum, frequent bowel movement and strain during defecation if you suspect food allergies. 

To summarize, the following are signs and symptoms that your cat has food allergies:

  • Frequent scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Skin and ear infections
  • Flatulence
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing 
  • Sneezing

What should I do if I suspect my cat has food allergies? 

Mites, bacterial infections as well as yeast infections can also cause chronic itching. Hence, it is important to rule them out to determine the actual cause as to why your cat is scratching frequently. 

cat with food allergiesPhoto by Rica Tejada from Pexels

If you suspect that the scratching is due to food allergies, the best action you can take is to pay a visit to the vet. The worst thing you can do is to pick up new food at the pet store or your local supermarket. Switching diets or food will only make it harder for you and the vet to determine what ingredient your cat is allergic to and/or the best way to treat the allergy. 

The vet will most likely start your kitty on a food trial to test which foods are the cause of all the tummy issues and skin itchiness. During the food trial, your cat will be given a special diet free from proteins that your cat has been eating. Food trials usually take 10 to 12 weeks. 

Food trials include:

  • Hydrolyzed protein diets where proteins are broken down to a very small size so that your cat’s immune system is unable to recognize them.
  • Commercially available novel protein diets that do not contain any of the protein that your cat has been eating previously.
  • Home-cooked novel protein diets that do not contain any of the protein that your cat has been eating previously. 

Once your cat’s allergies have subsided, you can start kitty on a food challenge where your cat’s old food is slowly reintroduced. Your cat definitely has a food allergy if the signs and symptoms stopped during the food trial but return within one week of the food challenge. 

Besides a food trial, your vet can also check for allergic reactions through blood tests and skin tests. 

How to make hypoallergenic cat food? 

Prescription diets can cost a lot and some cat owners opt to switch their cat to commercial hypoallergenic cat food. It is possible to make hypoallergenic cat food at home for your kitty. All you need to do is some simple preparations and make sure to eliminate the foods that do not sit well with your cat. 

Common Offenders

Be aware that there are certain types of food that cats are more likely to be allergic to. This includes:

  • Grain such as wheat, and corn
  • Proteins such as chicken and fish that your cat has been exposed to frequently
  • Chemicals and additives that are used in commercial pet food

To start making hypoallergenic cat food, remove these common offenders from your cat’s diet. Use fresh meat and natural healthy oils as the base of the new diet. If you are looking for fresh meat, Petcubes offers novel fresh proteins such as duck, venison, kangaroo and lamb which are made from all natural ingredients. 

Elimination Method

Eliminate all potentially offending food except one or two ingredients. Your cat’s body will start clearing itself and thus, you will be able to tell which foods it is allergic to. You can start introducing some new food as you reduce the current food. This should be carried out slowly over a few weeks. You can start with small portions to test if your cat likes the new meat or ingredient. 

Add new ingredients

If kitty is okay with the current new introduction, you can add another protein or ingredient. Again, start with a small portion. You can continue to add different meats and ingredients slowly, one at a time as you monitor your cat. 

How much food does my cat need? 

As you cook hypoallergenic meals for your cat, remember that your cat should be taking in about 80% protein and 20% healthy fats which includes healthy oils that boost their immunity. Cats usually only need 200 to 400 calories a day. If you are unsure of how this measures out in actual food, do check with your vet on how many meals you should give your cat a day, as well as the serving size for each meal. 

When should I see a difference with hypoallergenic cat food? 

As your cat will need some time to clear its system of the food it is allergic to as well as to heal, you will need about 10 to 12 weeks for hypoallergenic food to work its magic. 

In 2 to 4 weeks, your cat should be clear of gastrointestinal issues if it’s a food allergy. Itchiness will subside a little later when new outer skin cells grow. This takes a minimum of 10 weeks. 

If you have been really careful about giving only hypoallergenic cat food yet do not see improvement after 12 weeks, then you should check if the signs and symptoms are due to other health conditions. 

Conclusion

Your cat’s frequent scratching may point to food allergies.  If you do suspect that your cat may not be able to tolerate certain foods, it may be best to consider starting a hypoallergenic diet. The itchiness and gut issues might just go away with a change in diet. Do remember to always check with your vet for the best treatment and/or diet for your cat. 

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