Our LoveToKnow Cats expert gets a lot of questions about food allergies in cats. So, we thought it would be good to speak with a professional veterinarian to learn more about this topic and how it relates to many cat skin problems.
Meet Dr. Randy
Dr. Randy Aronson has owned a successful pet hospital, helping and healing animals for over 25 years. He's been bitten, scratched, barked at and slobbered on. Sometimes by the animals, sometimes not.
Blending Eastern and Western philosophies and procedures, Dr. Randy uses complementary therapies. In addition to a traditional Western veterinary degree, he has completed courses in animal acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, rehabilitation medicine and chiropractic care.
Dr. Randy founded Speaking of Healing Animals in 2004 to spread positive healing messages and encourage strategies for health and well-being. He's also a columnist and host of the call-in radio show "The Radio Pet Vet."
About Food Allergies in Cats
Dr. Randy, please explain what causes food allergies in cats.
A food allergy results from the cat's body reacting to something in their food that is recognized as "foreign" by their immune system. Typically, this is a delayed type of hypersensitivity, which means the cat's body has been exposed to this substance in the past, but now is reacting to it. Many veterinarians feel the culprit is the protein component of the food. In traditonal Chinese medicine, this condition may be known as "Damp Heat," and I feel that grains are often the culprit along with certain proteins that create a lot of heat in the cat's body.
What are the major clinical signs that suggest a cat is suffering from a food allergy?
Most veterinarians will tell you that the number one sign of food allergy in cats is scratching around the face or head shaking. There seems to be an increased release of histamine around the cat's head that can cause these signs. I have seen a number of presumed food-allergic cats that will show a range of other signs. Pulling hair from the flanks or belly, scooting, biting at the feet or toe nails and gastro-intestinal signs like vomiting and diarrhea may all be related to a food allergy.
Why is it that food allergies seem to affect a cat's skin so much?
The skin is a primary organ of defense for the immune system in cats. The cells that control this immune surveillance release histamine, which is one of the main culprits in producing the allergic signs in cats. There is a lot of discussion about "leaky gut syndrome" and the fact that with a food allergy, the intestines allow many substances to enter into the blood stream that they wouldn't have normally, leading to allergic reactions. The skin is the largest organ in total surface area, and the place where many toxins will exit the cat's body, so in a way it's natural that the skin is affected so much.
How can a vet distinguish whether cat skin problems are caused by a food allergy or something else?
Food allergy is considered a diagnosis of rule outs. In other words, you need to rule out the food sources that don't cause a reaction until you're left with the ones that do.Other causes behind the skin problems may include:
- Ear mites
- Demodectic mange
- Fungal disease
- Endocrine or hormonal abnormalities
- Arthritis or musculo-skeletal pain
- Inhalant or contact allergies
Each tentative diagnosis has specific tests that may be done to assure that we are or are not dealing with that problem.
Once a food allergy is suspected, how do vets and owners figure out which food(s) a cat is having a reaction to?
If food allergy is suspected, an elimination diet is started and must be strictly adhered to for a minimum of 90 -120 days. I like to try a grain-free diet first. Many veterinarians will start with a diet where the protein molecule is very small; this is called a hydrolyzed protein. An example of this is Science Diet Z/D or Z/D ultra. All treats must be eliminated, and we just feed the prescribed food for the 90 - 120 days. If the allergy subsides when a certain food type is eliminated from the diet for an extended period, then you've isolated the allergen.
What are some of the most common foods that provoke allergic reactions in cats?
As I mentioned above, I believe that many foods that contain corn, soy or wheat are the culprits. Also, any protein that is digested and produces heat in the cat's body could also be responsible for the food allergy. Of course, there are cats that can have an allergy to any protein fed.
Will eliminating the allergen from the diet completely cure the accompanying cat skin problems, or is further treatment needed to bring the feline back to full health?
Eliminating the offending allergen will certainly start the process of healing. I will add to my elimination diet two products called Essential Fats for Pets, an Omega 3 source, and Allergy Defense Formula, a natural product to reduce histamine production that you can find at 2Docs Pet Wellness and Nutrition.
I also like to make sure there is a source of probiotics added to the diet to help obtain wellness. Additionally, I might add one of the classic Chinese herbal formulas to my treatment regimen.
What can owners do to help their cat's fur grow back normally after major hair loss and scabbing have occurred?
To stimulate growth after hair loss, I have my owners really increase the amount of brushing using a bath oil product that is diluted and misted onto the fur. Many of my cat parents use a brush called a "Zoom Groom" that the cats really seem to enjoy. It makes the brushing less of a chore for everyone concerned.
LoveToKnow Cats would like to thank Dr. Randy Aronson for sharing his time and expertise with us. If you would like to learn more about holistic veterinary care, visit Paws, Partners in Animal Wellness.