There are a lot of things that can cause itchy skin or upset digestion in your cat. Mild allergies or intolerances are surprisingly common and often misdiagnosed as something more severe. Identifying what’s bothering your cat and finding a diet that suits them can take some time, but it will be worth it in the end when they are happy and comfortable.
Food allergies occur when your cat’s immune system overreacts to a protein found in the food they are eating. The allergen triggers an over-reaction that results in your cat exhibiting signs like itchy skin, scratching or biting themselves, excessive grooming, upset tummy and secondary infections. If you suspect your cat may have a food allergy, talk to your vet about doing a food trial. During the food trial you would feed your cat a special hypoallergenic diet and see how they react. The diet will most likely contain hydrolyzed proteins which is a process that breaks down the protein molecules so your cats immune system doesn’t have to recognize them as allergens.
Once your cat food for allergies have been diagnosed and you have found the food that works for them, it is important to stick to the diet long-term to prevent the symptoms from returning. It is also a good idea to avoid all table scraps and any treats that could potentially contain the protein your cat is allergic to. If you do give your cat a treat it is best to do so with your vet’s permission and ideally before starting the food trial so they can ensure the treat won’t interfere with the outcome of the food allergy test.
While you can purchase a number of products in pet stores that are advertised as being low-allergen, these foods will not have the extreme health and safety protocols used in veterinary diets. You are also more likely to find foods that are low-allergen in your local supermarket but that will still have the usual suspects such as chicken, beef and fish so they won’t work for most cats with allergies.
In the case of a food allergy, your vet will recommend that you start your trial with a food that contains novel proteins such as rabbit, duck or venison. This is because these are less common ingredients and will therefore have a lower chance of your cat reacting to them. Once your cat’s symptoms have cleared you can then try to reintroduce the old ingredients one at a time. However, if you are unable to do this or your cat has a severe flare-up of symptoms then your vet may prescribe medication for them. This is very rare but is necessary to help get your cat back to normal as quickly as possible.