This is my second attempt at writing about hypoallergenic cat food. I have never had to give it to my cats. But then they have not shown signs that they might be hypersensitive to some cat food ingredients. Feline allergies can be caused by a range of allergens and some of them are in cat food. Sometimes they might be caused by a cat parasite such as a flea.
Cats can become allergic to certain foods or the ingredients in certain foods (food intolerance). These are commonly soy, wheat, corn, fish, eggs, milk, chicken, beef and pork (book 1).
An allergic reaction produces a (non seasonal) itchy rash around the neck, head and back. This may result in hair loss and sores from over grooming of those areas, poor quality coat. Other symptoms might be ear infections, flatulence and poor stool quality (some breeders swear by homemade cat food based on a raw food diet because they see an immediate improvement in stool quality). Indeed a hypoallergenic food should replicate to a large extent a natural raw food diet. Perhaps the best solution is to convert to homemade cat food as a lot of the problems arise from the manufacturing process of making cat food.
In other words the cat is, for example, allergic to processed "chicken" in cat food but not raw chicken (the favorite raw meat used in homemade cat food).
Sometimes it is said that an allergic reaction can cause behavioral problems. Royal Canin say that hypoallergenic food can be used to manage: Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) and constipation that did not respond to a high fiber diet.
It may take a long time for the allergic reaction to develop and it may not necessarily be linked to a recent change in diet. Also the symptoms for food allergy overlap with other illness so a food allergy will need to be indicated before a elimination diet is started.
I would always seek good veterinarian advice (ones that don't declaw) and treat what the commercial cat food manufacturers say with caution. American vets who don't declaw will be more likely to think about cat health than vet profit!
The treatment is to find out what the allergen is and remove it from the diet. The way to find out what the allergen is, is to expose the cat to it and watch the reaction.
This testing is conducted by removing all possible allergens by feeding your cat with hypoallergenic cat food for about eight weeks (note: a fairly slow process so patience is the byword). This can be home made or commercially made. Accordingly, hypoallergenic cat food is cat food that does not contain ingredients that are likely to cause an allergic reaction.
If the symptoms do subside (e.g. diarrhea stops) then the task would begin to discover which cat food produced the reaction. Or the cat could remain on the diet. That may be a simple solution as hypoallergenic cat food would seem to be both designed for testing (food elimination trial) and permanent use. For example James Wellbeloved say that their cat food is hypoallergenic (all of it) as it does not contain beef, pork, soya, wheat, diary, eggs.
It is said that this sort of cat food has modified proteins that might have caused a possible allergic reaction but are rendered unrecognizable by the cat's immune system.
As various cat foods are added to the hypoallergenic diet the reaction is checked and the offending cat food eliminated.
Here is a short list of some hypoallergenic cat foods commercially available (all open in new tabs/windows, please note):
- James Wellbeloved
- Royal Canin - wheat gluten and lactose (milk) free
- Arden Grange - their hypoallergenic food does not contain wheat, beef, soya, diary products, artificial colourings etc. This is a UK cat food. Arden Grange do not animal test
- Purina Veterinary Diet Feline HA (but Purina is alleged do animal testing)
- Hills hypoallergenic treats
These are just a selection, obviously. As I said if we have the time and commitment making proper homemade cat food with care ensuring the supplements are in place is probably the best solution. After all it is the cat food manufacturers who often cause the problem with their manufacturing processes then they claim to resolve it with more hyped products.