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What are food sensitivities or food intolerances?
Food sensitivities/intolerances are caused by a reaction to a particular ingredient, which is usually a protein. Sometimes referred to as an ‘adverse reaction to food,’ it is defined as an abnormal response to a food or food additive.
There are two classes of adverse reactions: those in which the immune system is involved (generally called food sensitivities), and those that occur without an immune component (generally called food intolerances).
Sensitivities may last a lifetime so the ingredient must be permanently removed from your cat’s food.
What causes food sensitivities or food intolerances?
The most common causes of food sensitivities or food intolerances in cats include:
- Food: Sensitivity is most commonly associated with protein sources, usually from beef, fish or dairy products in your cat's food.
- Damage: Inflammation, infection, surgery and some medications can damage the digestive system and may lead to food sensitivities or food intolerances.
- Age: Food sensitivities and food intolerances can occur at any age.
- Breed: Some cat breeds appear more likely to develop food sensitivities or food intolerances, including Siamese cats.
It may take months or years before your cat develops a sensitivity or intolerance to a particular food. However, once they develop a sensitivity, they will almost always have a negative reaction to that food.
Is my cat sensitive to foods?
According to the PDSA, the following can be signs that your cat has a food sensitivity:
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Itchy skin that persists year-round, particularly on the face, ears and neck
- Over-grooming and related hair loss on the tummy and sides
- A bumpy, crusted skin rash
Other signs of food sensitivities or intolerances might include:
- Poor coat condition
- Frequent scratching
- Red, inflamed skin
- Poor growth
- Coughing, wheezing or sneezing
- Chronic ear problems
IMPORTANT: Some symptoms of food sensitivities or food intolerances are similar to those of other serious conditions, so consult your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.
The importance of nutrition
Food sensitivities or food intolerances may last a lifetime. The main goal in managing sensitivities or adverse reactions to food is to find and avoid the food ingredient responsible for causing the problem. Dietary elimination trials --- removing the ingredient from the food your cat eats --- are the most practical and accurate methods of diagnosing food sensitivities in cats. Be mindful to remove access to all other cat food, table food, treats, snacks and chew toys while you are isolating the cause of the problem.
If your cat suffers from food sensitivities, it’s even more important to feed the right cat food. The food your cat eats should be balanced and contain as few ingredients and additives as possible.
If your cat has a reaction to a certain meat, you may want to try a food with a new protein source - new to your cat, that is - such as duck or venison. If none of this helps, your cat may be sensitive to these proteins and will need a food with specially broken-down proteins.
For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your cat’s food sensitivities.
Food Sensitivity Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian
- Are there any foods I should avoid giving my cat because of their sensitivities/intolerances?
- How may human food affect my cat's health?
- Would you recommend a Hill’s Prescription Diet or Science Diet cat food for my cat's sensitivities?
- How much and how often should I feed the recommended food to my cat?
- Which treats can I feed my cat alongside the recommended food?
- How quickly should I expect to see signs of improvement in my cat’s condition?
- Can you provide me with written instructions or a handout on food sensitivities for my cat?
- What is the best way (email/phone) to reach you or your hospital if I have questions?
- Do I need to make a follow-up appointment?