High protein. Grain-free. Limited ingredient. Single-source protein. These are just some of the phrases you've probably seen cat food described or labelled as. However, one term that's fast becoming the most commonly used of them all is "hypoallergenic cat food". Despite its prolific use, we often see it misused or misunderstood. That's why we're giving you the low down on what it really means, whether it's actually any better for your cat, and how to make the right food choice for your precious kitty.
Intolerances vs Allergies
The main reason that the word hypoallergenic is misunderstood, is really down to two other words often being misused; intolerance and allergy. These are often used interchangeably, despite being two very different things.
Food allergies are typically in response to a protein, causing an immune system reaction. Essentially because the immune system mistakes the protein for something dangerous. The severity of the reaction can vary from mild itching to life-threatening. Food allergies tend to develop around 4-5 years of age but can affect kittens too. The only way to identify if your cat has a food allergy is via an elimination diet. This can take over 8 weeks and is no walk in the park. Your cat is only allowed to eat ONE ingredient at a time, feeding even one naughty treat could ruin the results. Blood, saliva, or hair tests do not work, so don't fall for internet gimmicks!
Food intolerances revolve around your cat's digestive system. Commonly caused by sensitivity to a certain food group or additive, food poisoning, or your cat lacking a certain enzyme. Whilst unpleasant, an intolerance will never be life-threatening and are much less serious. However, you are likely to experience tummy issues. Watching out for these symptoms is the main way to identify an intolerance, so we've listed them below for you.
Finally, it's also important to remember that despite popular belief food intolerances are actually incredibly rare in cats, and food allergies are even rarer. If you think your cat has an allergy, it's much more likely to be environmental. For example due to fleas, pollen, grass, or mites.
Signs of cat food intolerance
Here are some of the common symptoms of cat food intolerance:
- Gas (no it wasn't your hubby that just let rip)
- Abdominal pain (your kitty may seem off, or hide away when in pain)
- Bloating (visibly or hard to the touch)
Don't forget that there is a whole range of other gastrointestinal issues that can also cause these symptoms. For example infections, parasites, viruses. So blaming food should never be your first port of call!
Cat breeds that are more susceptible to allergies
Sadly there is no definitive list of the cat breeds most susceptible to allergies, although Siamese cats are often referenced. Genetics certainly do play a role though!
What is hypoallergenic cat food?
Theoretically, hypoallergenic cat food is one that doesn't cause an allergic reaction. However, what brands tend to use it to mean, is that they avoid common allergens (ourselves included!). These common allergens typically being gluten, soy, dairy, and egg. Although every brand tends to cite different ingredients.
The phrase is therefore misleading for three reasons. Firstly, your cat could be intolerant to an ingredient that's not considered "common", or that that brand doesn't consider as "common". Secondly, in reality, the most common allergens for cats are actually chicken, beef, and fish. Thirdly, it insinuates that food allergies are common and lots of cats need to avoid certain ingredients when they don't.
As there is no regulation of the phrase, one brand's hypoallergenic cat food can differ hugely from another, and neither could ever guarantee your cat couldn't be allergic to it.
Is hypoallergenic food better for cats?
NO! Somewhere along the way, the word hypoallergenic has become synonymous with being more premium. This is simply wrong, as there's nothing inherent about a recipe that avoids common allergens that makes it any better for your cat. What does make a good cat food is one that's predominantly packed with a good source of protein, doesn't contain artificial additives, preservatives, added sugars, or salts, and isn't bulked out with vegetable proteins. If the food also contains digestive probiotics and prebiotics, well, that's just the cherry on the cat food!
Of course, if your cat has been diagnosed with a food allergy, you must look for a recipe that avoids the allergen. To do this check the ingredient list rather than looking for the word 'hypoallergenic'. Your vet may also recommend a hydrolyzed diet, which is really as close as any food can get to not causing an allergy. However, these are heavily processed, so only used if the vet has recommended it.
Similarly, if your cat has a food intolerance that's causing an upset tum, you'll want to look for a suitable recipe. A recipe with the word 'hypoallergenic' on, does not mean it's going to be the right choice for your cat. So again, always check the ingredient list and analytical constituents on the back.
How to ease a sensitive tummy
If your cat suffers from a sensitive tummy and you've spotted some of the symptoms of a food intolerance our advice would be:
- Identify the offending ingredient, or recipe type (e.g soy)
- Make sure you're not over-feeding (this tends to be one of the most common causes we see)
- Look for cat food with no artificial additives
- Supplement your kitty's diet with probiotics and prebiotics, or find food with these already included. Like our full range of dry and wet cat food!
Hopefully, after some testing (and patience) you'll find that bowl of porridge that's just right, and pretty poops will be an everyday occurrence! Check out what healthy cat poop looks like here.
What is the best hypoallergenic cat food?
Hopefully, we now know that looking for the best hypoallergenic cat food isn't what's important for most cats. Rather, to find the best cat food, here's a rough priority of what to look for or avoid:
- The recipe is mostly animal meat
- The animal meat is good quality, not 'meal'
- No secret vegetable proteins are added to bulk out the protein %
- No added sugars or salts
- No artificial additives or preservatives
If your cat has food intolerances, we do offer recipes to suit a whole range of different diets like grain-free or limited ingredients. Plus we never use any artificial additives or preservatives or add sugars or salts. We also add probiotics to all our dry cat food, like our Fish Cat Food recipe and the prebiotic Slippery Elm to our treats and wet food for pretty poops! Check out our full range.