There are few things more aggravating than attempting to help your cat who is allergic to anything. The cat is scratching and itching and appears to be in pain. Soon, you’re on a mission to locate the most OK food for allergic cats so that your cat’s life—and yours—can return to normal. But, before you go out and buy multiple bags of new cat food, let’s speak about cat allergies a little further. So it’s possible that food isn’t to blame!

Meals That Heal—the 10 Best Food for Cats With Allergies

What Causes Cat Allergies?

Cats are susceptible to three forms of allergies, according to a 2018 report from Banfield Pet Hospital: food, fleas, and environmental contaminants (such as pollen, dust, fabrics, cleaning solutions, and even cat litter). To make matters worse, some unfortunate cats may suffer from numerous allergies simultaneously.

Finding the source of your cat’s specific sensitivity can be time-consuming and costly. Start with your veterinarian to keep things simple. They can assist you in determining the exact cause of your cat’s illness. (It’s possible it’s not even an allergy.) Bacterial or fungal infections can cause skin irritation, for example.) You can start working on your cat’s recovery once you figure out what’s causing the issue.

According to the Banfield study, food allergies are stable—and relatively uncommon, affecting only about 0.1 percent of cats. Allergic reactions to fleas and chemicals in the environment are rising, while food allergies are stable—and relatively uncommon, affecting only about 0.1 percent of cats. 

The study concluded that “food allergies in our pets are uncommon, and other reasons of certain skin disorders should be addressed before pursuing a food allergy diagnosis,” based on 500,000 cats seen at Banfield clinics in the previous year.

Dr. Bruce Kornreich, Director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, told us that the most common cause of food allergies in cats is a protein allergy.

Identifying a Food Sensitivity

While rapid tests for cat food allergies are marketed on the internet, the Cummings Veterinary Center at Tufts emphatically states that they do not work. Instead, speak with your veterinarian.

If your veterinarian suspects your cat has a food allergy, you may be asked to switch your cat to a special prescription diet known as a hypoallergenic diet for up to three months. 

The hypoallergenic diet consists of cat food containing hydrolyzed proteins, which have been broken down so that the cat’s immune system is unable to identify allergenic components. For example, if your cat’s allergy symptoms vanish while on the hypoallergenic diet but return when she returns to conventional food, she most likely has a food allergy.

Meals That Heal—the 10 Best Food for Cats With Allergies

Your veterinarian may then ask you to go back and forth between the hypoallergenic diet and several limited-ingredient diets (see below) to determine which protein was causing the allergic reaction. Be patient; this could take weeks or months.

Allergy-Friendly Cat Food

If your cat has food allergies, you’ll probably try an elimination diet to discover which foods are bothering him. A limited ingredient diet (LID) can help with this.

While many famous cat feeds include several types of protein and lipids (chicken and fish oil, beef and chicken, etc. ), LID foods often only contain one kind of animal protein. 

Your veterinarian may recommend that you try food with beef but no chicken or fish or one with fish but no beef or chicken.

Your veterinarian may recommend a single “strange” protein, such as deer, duck, alligator, or rabbit, as a less-common cat food ingredient. The notion is that your cat hasn’t eaten specific proteins and is thus unlikely to be allergic to them. Instead, testing your cat with limited-ingredient cat feeds or foods with novel proteins requires time and dedication.

“If you’re testing your cat for a chicken allergy, that means no chicken at all—not just in foods, but also in treats during the food trial,” explains Kornreich.