Sometimes, things go a bit wrong with the immune system. It might work perfectly fine one day, but then decide that a previously harmless substance is a potentially deadly intruder the next. When that happens, an individual usually ends up with an allergy.
Although we often think of allergies as problems that only affect people, it’s also possible for animals to develop allergies. Your cat might become allergic to pollen, fleas or even certain foods.
Allergies in cats can develop suddenly, without any warning. If a cat has a food allergy, it’s very likely that you’ll need to change his diet. Finding out what your pet is allergic to is the first step. The next is choosing the best hypoallergenic cat food to keep him from experiencing additional reactions.
What is the Best Hypoallergenic Cat Food?
- Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Organic Chicken & Chicken Liver Recipe All Life Stages Canned Cat Food
- Instinct by Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Rabbit Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food
- Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Chicken Pate Recipe Canned Cat Food
- Go! Sensitivity + Shine Limited Ingredient Diet Duck Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
- FirstMate Chicken Meal with Blueberries Formula Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Dry Cat Food
Cats and Allergies
First, the good news about cats and food allergies. Allergies to food aren’t as common as many people think they are, according to the Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts.
That said, food allergies are the third most common type of allergy in cats, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center. All told, food allergies make up about 10 percent of allergy cases in cats. The other two more common types of allergies include flea allergies and allergies to inhaled substances (such as pollen).
For a cat to develop an allergy to a particular food, he would need to be exposed to that food. A cat who’s never eaten wheat can’t be “allergic” to wheat since his immune system would never have the opportunity to develop an antibody or immune response to the grain.
For that reason, there’s a certain unfairness that comes along with food allergies. A cat who has enjoyed chicken or fish for many years might one day become allergic to either the chicken or fish, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the cat to eat either of those foods.
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What Are Cats Allergic To?
It might surprise you that foods cats are most likely to be allergic to are also the foods that are most commonly found in a cat’s diet. Among the most common allergens for cats are:
Many people make the mistake of assuming that foods such as wheat and other grains are the most likely to cause allergy issues for cats. But, as Tufts points out, it’s much more likely for a cat to develop an allergy to an animal protein than for a cat to develop an allergy to grain.
Of course, some cats do end up with grain allergies, which is why it’s so vital for you and your cat’s vet to figure out the cause of the allergy before choosing the best hypoallergenic cat food for your pet.
Signs of Food Allergies in Cats
One of the more interesting things about food allergies in cats is that they don’t cause the type of symptoms you might typically associate with a food allergy.
For example, when a person has a food allergy and comes into contact with the allergen, they are likely to break out into hives or, in extreme cases, go into shock.
In cats, the most common type of reaction to a food allergen is itchy skin. If your cat is allergic to something he ate, he’s likely to develop a series of small bumps on the surface of his skin, according to Cornell.
The most common location for the itching and the bumps is on the head or near the neck. It’s also possible for cats to have itchiness elsewhere on their skin.
The bumps themselves usually aren’t much of a problem. If your cat were able to leave them alone, food allergies wouldn’t be a big deal.
But, it’s a rare cat who’s not going to scratch when he has an itch. It’s the scratching that can make the allergic reaction a problem. Depending on how much your cat scratches in an area, he might develop an infection or cause enough damage to the skin for a wound to form.
Often, it takes some time to notice that a cat is having an allergic to reaction to a food. You might just assume that your cat is itchy when you first see him scratching.
But repeated scratching over the course of weeks and months can have some adverse effects on your cat’s appearance and health.
Cats who scratch too much might develop areas of hair loss, leaving bald patches behind. The overall quality of your cat’s fur or coat might deteriorate as well. Depending on how much he scratches, you might notice visible skin lesions or wounds as well.
While skin problems are the most common symptoms of food allergies in cats, some also develop gastrointestinal issues. According to Cornell, up to 15 percent of cats with food allergies have vomiting, diarrhea, or other signs of gastrointestinal distress.
Diagnosing a Food Allergy
Figuring out whether your cat has a food allergy or if something else is to blame for his problems is both challenging and manageable. Since so many other things, such as flea bites, other insect bites, parasites, bacterial infections and other illnesses, can cause itchiness or gastrointestinal problems, it can take cat parents a while to figure out that food might be the culprit.
Once you’ve determined that it might be food that’s causing your cat’s discomfort, the next step is to bring him to the vet for a checkup. Your vet might perform a skin allergy test to identify the allergen.
It’s also very likely that your vet will ask you to put your cat on a “novel” diet. Essentially, that means you’ll change everything about what your cat eats. The more common “cat foods” such as chicken, fish or beef are eliminated from the diet, and you’ll give your cat foods such as duck, venison, or rabbit (unless he already eats those).
It’s also likely that the novel diet will be grain-free, as there is a small chance that your pet is allergic to certain grains.
Usually, your cat will be on the special diet for 12 weeks, according to WebMD. After that period, you can start gradually reintroducing foods into his diet. For example, you can try feeding him chicken again to see if the chicken is what triggers the symptoms.
Allergies vs. Intolerances
It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between a true food allergy in your cat and intolerance to certain foods. Intolerance to food usually stems from an issue in the digestive system, not the immune system.
For example, if you feed your cat a diet that primarily consists of the cheapest cat food available and that cat food is full of additives, his digestive system might not be able to tolerate the food. Intolerance to food additives can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and other digestive troubles.
An intolerance often stems from the way the food is prepared, not from the food itself.
Reviews of the Best Hypoallergenic Cat Food
While you want to work with your cat’s vet during the initial stages of diagnosing an allergy and only feed him what the vet recommends at that point, once you’ve figured out the source of the allergy, feeding your cat the best hypoallergenic cat food can help him avoid further reactions.
The best hypoallergenic cat food depends on what your cat is allergic to and what he can tolerate. We’ve reviewed some of the best options available and have noted what makes them a good choice and what might make them not such a good choice for some cats.
Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Organic Chicken & Chicken Liver Recipe All Life Stages Canned Cat Food Check Price
Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Organic Chicken & Chicken Liver Recipe All Life Stages Canned Cat Food is designed for cats of all ages, from kittens to senior cats. The primary ingredient in the cat food is chicken, which is listed first on the ingredients list.
The cat’s foods claim to fame, and the reason it claims to be hypoallergenic is that it is entirely grain-free. It has no corn, wheat or soy. If you know that your cat is allergic to grains or soy, it can be the ideal cat food for you.
But, since the primary ingredient is chicken and chicken is one of the top food allergens for cats, it might not be the best hypoallergenic cat food for every feline.
Another benefit of Castor & Pollux Grain-Free cat food is that it’s organic. If your cat has shown a sensitivity to conventional cat food, switching to an organic variety might ease his discomfort.
- Organic ingredients, no chemical pesticides used.
- Made in the USA.
- Contains antioxidants, taurine and omegas to help promote overall health.
- Chicken is the main ingredient, so it’s no good for kitties with a chicken allergy.
- Also contains egg, another common allergen.
Instinct by Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Rabbit Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food Check Price
Instinct by Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Rabbit Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food is a genuinely limited ingredient, hypoallergenic cat food.
Unless your cat usually eats rabbit, the food is likely to contain ingredients he hasn’t been exposed to before, making it possible for you to avoid feeding him the food he’s allergic to completely.
Instinct by Nature is free of chicken, beef, and other common protein allergens. It’s also grain-free. The two primary ingredients are rabbit and pea protein.
Along with being unlikely to be an allergen for most cats, rabbit meat also happens to be a protein that is very easy to digest. That means it can be a great protein option for older cats who have trouble digesting and absorbing the protein they need from their food.
- It’s a true elimination diet hypoallergenic food, as it doesn’t contain any of the most common food allergens.
- Very limited ingredient list.
- Made in the USA.
- The formula was recently changed, and some cat parents note that their pets don’t like the new version.
- New formula contains pea protein, which can be an issue for some cats.
Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Chicken Pate Recipe Canned Cat Food Check Price
Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Real Chicken Pate Recipe Canned Cat Food is designed for cats with known sensitivities to grains or gluten. Since it contains chicken, it’s not intended for cats with an allergy to poultry.
The hypoallergenic cat food only contains a single protein source, so it is a good pick if you know that your cat is allergic to beef or eggs, but not chicken. It can also be an excellent food to feed your cat as you reintroduce foods into his diet after a 12-week elimination diet.
Since chicken’s the only protein, you’ll able to see right away if chicken is what he’s allergic to.
Along with being grain-free, the cat food also doesn’t contain additives or preservatives, making it an excellent pick for cats with known intolerances or sensitivities. It’s also soy-free.
- Contains just one source of protein.
- No additives and grain-free.
- Made in the USA.
- Contains taurine, antioxidants and omega 3.
- Contains chicken, which is one of the most common allergens. Unless you know for sure your cat isn’t allergic to chicken; the food might trigger a reaction.
- Only available in 5.5-ounce cans.
Go! Sensitivity + Shine Limited Ingredient Diet Duck Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food Check Price
Go! Sensitivity + Shine Limited Ingredient Diet Duck Recipe Grain-Free Dry Cat Food could be another elimination diet friendly hypoallergenic cat food.
Its primary ingredient is duck, which is often used in novel or elimination diets for cats, as it’s not something cats usually eat.
But, Go! Sensitivity + Shine isn’t the perfect hypoallergenic cat food. It also contains eggs, which can be an allergen, as well as chicken fat. If your cat is allergic to chicken, there is a chance chicken fat can cause a reaction.
The cat food is free from grains, beef and preservatives, though, so it can be a good option if you know your cat is allergic to those or if he has an intolerance to those ingredients.
- Contains duck as the primary ingredient.
- The formula is designed by vets specifically for sensitive or allergic cats.
- Made in Canada.
- Contains egg and chicken fat, so it’s a no-go for cats with chicken or egg allergies.
- The kibble size is tiny.
FirstMate Chicken Meal with Blueberries Formula Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Dry Cat Food Check Price
If you know for a fact that your cat isn’t allergic to chicken but is allergic to other protein sources, FirstMate Chicken Meal with Blueberries Formula Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Dry Cat Food can be the best hypoallergenic cat food for him.
Chicken meal is the main ingredient in the food. There are no other animal protein sources listed on the ingredients list. The food is also grain-free. It gets its carbohydrates from potatoes and blueberries.
The blueberries are also thought to help improve cats’ eyesight, memory, urinary function, and immune function. They are a good source of fiber, so can help with digestion and reduce hairballs.
The big disadvantage of FirstMate Chicken Meal with Blueberries formula is that chicken is the star of the show and chicken also happens to be the most common food allergen for cats. If you’re still trying to figure out foods bother your cat and he has a history of eating chicken, this food won’t help.
But if you’ve already ruled out chicken as an allergen, it can be an ideal option.
- Limited ingredient cat food.
- Made in Canada.
- Primarily made of chicken.
- Some cats aren’t fans of the flavor and will ignore the food.
Remember, the best hypoallergenic cat food for your feline friend might be considerably different from the best hypoallergenic cat food for another kitty. It’s best to talk to your vet first and figure out what’s bothering your cat before you make too many changes to his diet.