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Food Allergies in Cats

By Colleen Williams
published: January 13, 2016 - updated: November 20, 2019 • 2 min. read

Feline food allergies and intolerances can prove frustrating; it’s often a long, hard road to determine the allergen; and furthermore, these two conditions are caused by two different body systems but produce very similar symptoms. Once the trigger has been identified, it’s simple for pet parents to keep their cat healthy and symptom free.

Causes: An allergy to a food ingredient is initiated by the animal’s immune system, which sends antibodies that then produce histamine. It is their overreaction is what causes the painful symptoms of an allergic reaction. With food intolerances, the cat’s digestive system isn’t able to digest the particular ingredient, causing the digestive system to wreak havoc.

The following are the most common irritants and allergens, in order:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Seafood
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Dairy products
  • Wheat gluten

Symptoms: Because allergies and intolerances produce many of the same signs, they are often confused. Although both conditions cause an affected cat to display vomiting, diarrhea, excessive flatulence, and excessive scratching, there are several symptoms that allow pet parents to differentiate the two.

  • Food Intolerances: Since food intolerances are controlled by the digestive system, symptoms like abdominal pain, weight loss, and lack of appetite will be present.
  • Food Allergies: The telltale sign of a food allergy is the condition of the cat’s skin. Pustules, plaques, crusts, scales, hives, wheals, and sores may appear. Hyperpigmentation of the skin and a leathery texture are also unique to food allergies. Baldness and bleeding from excessive grooming are also possible, as are bacterial and fungal infections from the open wounds.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical exam will be performed by the vet, as well as blood and urine tests to rule out any underlying diseases. A thorough history of the symptoms and any changes in your cat’s diet will also be needed in order to diagnose your pet. Cats with extreme vomiting and diarrhea may need hospitalization to replenish fluids, and antibiotics may be given if your cat has open wounds with the potential for infection.

A food elimination diet for four to thirteen weeks is the only effective way to treat food allergies and intolerances. Your vet will choose a generic food that your pet has not had access to before. It’s extremely important to stick to only this food – no treats or table scraps.


Finding the food irritant is the most important thing; if the elimination diet was successful, stick to a vetrecommended food that doesn’t contain the trigger. Carefully read the ingredients on treats, vitamins, chewable toys, and medications, checking that they do not contain the allergen. Talk to all family members, informing them of the new diet to ensure there are no accidents.

Keeping track of the ingredients in your cat’s foods, treats, and medications is essential to managing this condition. As long as the irritant or allergen is not accidentally fed to your cat, symptoms should disappear.

Want to know more about conditions that can affect your cat? Check out the Healthy Paws Cost of Pet Health Care report for 2017.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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