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What causes food allergies in cats?

What causes food allergies in cats?
by Dr Grant Hampson

Read time: 3 min

Tackling food allergies in cats can be tricky. Since our cats can’t clearly tell us what’s wrong, it can be hard to know what’s happening. Is your cat reacting to something in their food or in their surroundings? Is it an allergy or an intolerance? How do you pinpoint the trigger? And once you know, what do you do about it? In this blog, we’ll take a look at the physiology behind allergies and intolerances in cats and try to shed some light.

What is a food allergy in cats and what are the symptoms?

A food allergy is when the body mounts an abnormal immune reaction to an ingredient, as if it were a harmful substance. Food allergies can be triggered by even the tiniest traces and happen reliably every time the food is consumed. In cats, they often result in gastrointestinal problems, but can cause other symptoms as well, such as itchy skin or ear infections. True food allergies are actually very rare in cats – affecting only approximately one in a thousand (Burns, 2018).

Is a food allergy in cats different from a food intolerance?

Yes. A food intolerance is a reaction of the digestive tract, rather than the immune system, to a specific food. It occurs when an ingredient can’t be digested properly or irritates the gut. Food intolerance reactions are often dose-dependent, which means that a small amount may be tolerated, and signs may only appear after a threshold limit is exceeded. Symptoms of a food intolerance are generally limited to gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence or stomach pain.

What causes food allergies?

Right now, there isn’t a clear understanding of why some cats develop food allergies and others don’t. Genetic predisposition plays a role: that means family members of an affected individual are at higher risk. So, if a cat has a food allergy, any kittens they have are at greater risk of having the same allergy. Food allergies often tend to go hand in hand with allergies to the environment, and they can develop at any age.

What are food allergens?

An allergen is a substance that’s normally harmless, but can cause an immediate allergic reaction in a susceptible individual. Food allergens are almost always proteins, but other constituents such as additives can have similar effects.

Among cats, the most common foods associated with food allergies are beef, fish, and chicken (Mueller, Olivry and Prelaud, 2016). An allergic reaction is unlikely to happen on their first exposure though: for an animal to have an allergic reaction to the food, they have to have encountered it before. During their very first exposure, their immune system will prime itself to respond next time.

How can I tell if my cat has a food allergy?

An effective way to figure out if your cat has a food allergy is through what’s called a food trial or elimination diet. We’ll talk more about this in our next blog.

How can KatKin help with allergies?

The reality is, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to allergies and intolerances. Every cat is different. But KatKin does do wonders for lots of cats with allergies, and there are a few reasons for that:

  1. KatKin recipes have no hidden ingredients: we clearly list everything that’s in our cat food, where other brands can hide all sorts of ingredients behind umbrella terms like ‘animal derivatives’, ‘extracts of vegetable origin’ and ‘various sugars’

  2. Our recipes are either single or dual-source protein (they come from either one or two animals) and we’re clear about which they are. Most brands will mix a wide variety of proteins from whatever’s cheaply available, label it as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, and never give you a list of what meats are in there.

  3. Because our food is Fresh and not designed to be kept in the cupboard, you won’t find additives and preservatives, which can be allergenic.

But don’t just trust us – hear it straight from happy KatKin Club members:

“I have two sphynxes and one has had constant allergies. I wanted to try fresh food for a while for their health, even though they’ve always been on dry sphynx food. So, when I saw KatKin, I thought I would give it a go. His skin is clear now, allergy gone, and the change from dry food routine was quite easy.”

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