Saturday 8 March 2008

Hypoallergenic cat food

What is hypoallergenic cat food? I'd never heard of it until recently. I'd certainly never considered buying it. My cat, though, has a skin condition, dandruff or flaky skin. This, in her case, is caused, I believe, by a lack of proper grooming on her back, which she can't get to due to her size! Although her diet might exacerbate the problem.

Purina call it, "Dietetic food for reduction of ingredient and nutrient intolerances". It is intended to be food that reduces or eliminates the chance of your cat having an allergic reaction to an ingredient in her food. Hypoallergenic food is therefore cat food that removes elements of your cat's normal food that may cause allergic reactions.

One such food is Purina Veterinary Diet Feline HA. A mouthful :-) What does this really mean? In my view cat food manufacturers are understandably very commercial in a competitive market and prone to making claims that are on the edge of reality. It could also be argued that some manufacturers are practicing double standards in presenting themselves as concerned about cat welfare while conducting animal testing to improve their products (or make them more marketable). Purina is one such company.

Hypoallergenic cat food is essentially an elimination diet. An elimination diet is one used by doctors (for humans) and vets (for cats) to see if our cat is allergic to an ingredient in her normal food. See the update below for other versions of hypoallergenic cat food as described by Dr. Hodgkins.

The ingredients in the Hypoallergenic cat food must therefore be known to not cause an allergic reaction or at least be very unlikely to do so. If during eating this cat food your cat's symptoms improve or clear up it will be a strong indication that she is allergic to something in her normal diet. In short this food is a diagnostic tool. The problem is you won't know exactly what she is allergic to. This means she will have stay on the Hypoallergenic cat food permanently or further tests carried out by your vet to isolate the causative ingredient.

It seems strange to permanently feed your cat with a product that is essentially meant to be a diagnostic tool. Although it is formulated to be eaten permanently.

The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) makes regulations on claims about drugs. The UK equivalent is the Department of Health and MHRA I believe. FDA says two important things. First the usual elimination diet is lamb and rice and second that prolonged eating of an elimination diet may produce an allergic reaction to this diet or components of it.

Many hypoallergenic cat foods were apparently made up of lamb and rice and designed to turn an elimination diet into a full time diet. One such food that can be bought in the UK is Grau Complete Cat Food Lamb & Rice. Claims are then made that the food would resolve symptoms of food allergy.

You can see that the science as practiced by the food manufacturers in this matter is naturally rather vague and imprecise. This has to be the case because they are trying to substitute a proper trial by a veterinarian with a food that may ease symptoms. It other words it is a form of treatment albeit vague and imprecise.

Purina's Purina Veterinary Diet Feline HA can be bought without a vet's recommendations from general food outlets. However it would seem sensible to get a vet's input but that would mean trials and cost, a big barrier for many.

Conclusion: I exercise caution when buying such products (and in respect of claims). Such products are by nature more expensive (usually) and in the long term it might be cheaper and more sensible to seek a vet's input and find out the problem ingredient and eliminate it from your cat's food (it may though be difficult to isolate the rogue ingredient). You've got to start with your vet anyway if your cat is showing signs of food allergy.

Update: Dr. Hodgkins is well known for her soundly argued thoughts about commercial cat food and has written a book about cat health ("Your Cat"), which describes how modern commercially produced cat food can have a negative impact on cat's health.

One relevant area is food allergies. Vets are, it seems, dealing with more cases of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). Dr. Hodgkins believes there is a relatively simple explanation to the increase in incidence of this condition and its cause.

IBD occurs in the cat's gastrointestinal organs (the digestive tract/organs). These organs incorrectly stimulate the immune system causing disrupted digestion and fluids to come into the intestines (and stomach) causing diarrhea and vomiting. IBD is therefore an immune system disease. A cat's food is most likely to be the substance in the digestive system that causes this incorrect stimulation of the immune system. This indicates that cats are eating the wrong food (i.e. food that contains ingredients that are detrimental to a cat's health).

Treatment for IBD includes administration of drugs that suppress the immune system but these deal with the symptoms but not the cause. The food manufacturers have formulated "second generation" hypoallergenic cat foods in response to this heightened problem. These are expensive and the protein in them has been broken down to amino acids (the basic component of protein). Dr. Hodgkins argues that this hypoallergenic cat food may help but some of the ingredients that cause the allergic reaction are still present.

It is also possible apparently to buy wet canned cat food that contains low carbohydrate concentrations, which can alleviate mild cases of IBD (Dr. Hodgkins prefers canned Innovative Veterinary Diets a hypoallergenic cat food- this I presume is USA based food only).

However, Dr. Hodgkins prefers to go back to basics and try and replicate the cats normal diet (i.e the wild cat's diet) which does not contain artificial ingredients and is not over processed. Accordingly, she recommends a raw meat diet for all cats who suffer from IBD who do not recover after trying the best hypoallergenic canned food mentioned above (Innovative).

A raw food diet needs proper preparation with care. Most veterinarians find this recommendation unacceptable she admits.

The header photograph is published under a creative commons license - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.

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  1. Please correct me if I am wrong. I thought that wheat was one of the most common food allergies that cats have, and that "hypoallergenic cat food" was simply food that doesn't contain wheat.

  2. Hi, thanks for the comment. As I understand it, wheat may be one of the ingredients to which a cat is allergic and may be a common one but it is not the only one. However, if you know that your cat is allergic to wheat and eliminate it from the diet you have a hypoallergenic diet tailored for your cat.

    If you know she is allergic to some types of food but not sure which a true hypoallergenic diet (i.e. hypoallergenic for the vast majority of cats) would we one that is an elimination diet as referred to in the post.

  3. Our cat at home has some food allergy issues; the vet recommended removing a few common triggers including rice, beef, corn, and chicken. We already knew not to feed our cat chicken as it makes him fart, but after switching diets his scratching decreased and his coat became softer and shinier. Every cat is different, but simply picking a basic cat food that doesn't include a few key ingredients may help a lot!

  4. Hi, thanks for adding to this post. It makes it more useful.

  5. Hi,

    Can someone please tell me what is the best wet cat food to feed my fussy maine coon...he won't touch lily's kitchen and he will only lick the juice/gravy from james wellbeloved...the only food he will eat at present is royal canin oral sensitive, but I would like to get him off the dry food.

    1. Hello, the trouble is that each individual cat has their own personal tastes so is not so much about the tastes of a breed of cat but the tastes of an individual cat. Therefore you can't say for sure what that taste is. You just have to work it out by trial and error. Some cats are more choosy than others but you are not alone by any means.

      One of the authors on this website, Jo Singer, looks after 2 Oriental Shorthairs - she describes them as finicky.

      My cat tends to be choosy and a bit difficult sometimes. It appears to be a trait of the modern domestic cat!

      If you click on the following link you can see what I think is the best wet cat food in the USA but it might not help! Best Canned Cat Food.

      Good luck and thanks for visiting.

  6. Hey in wondering if some one can help my English blue cat eats gocat dry food and always throws up is it da dry food or can it be something. Else thanks


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