Cat Scratching? Here's How Pet Food Can Help

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 16, 2014

You're probably tired of seeing your cat constantly scratch, bite, or lick herself? But take comfort, you're not alone in dealing with the issue and there are often things that can be done to help. One possible key: cat food.

What Causes Itchy Skin in Cats

According to Dr. Joel Griffies, a board certified veterinary dermatologist in Marietta, Georgia, cats are affected by many of the same allergens that affect people — environmental triggers such as pollen, molds, dust, and insects (especially fleas). Food allergies are possible, but not as common as some may think. Fortunately, there are ways to help cats with food allergies.

What Causes Food Allergies in Cats

"Cats with food allergies are typically allergic to proteins, which come from animal or plant-based ingredients in the diet," says Dr. Jennifer Coates. "The proteins are broken down into molecules that the immune system misidentifies as a potential threat. Beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken are the most common culprits of food allergies in cats. The development of food allergies, however, takes time. So the cat may have been eating the offending ingredients for quite a long time before symptoms develop."

What is the Best Food for Cats with Allergies?

It can be tricky finding the best food for a cat, so don't go it alone. Consult your veterinarian, who can help you properly conduct a food trial using a "hypoallergenic" cat food that utilizes a novel protein source or hydrolyzed protein.

"A 'novel' protein source is one that is completely new to the cat," says Dr. Coates, "thereby reducing the chance of an immune response." Hypoallergenic cat food options include venison and potato, duck and pea, salmon and potato, or even kangaroo, as long as the cat hasn’t been exposed to these ingredients in the past. 

Hydrolyzed diets, meanwhile, are made when intact animal proteins are broken down into very small molecules that the immune system should not be able to recognize as allergens, virtually eliminating the possibility of an adverse food reaction. "Starches or rice are typically used as carbohydrate sources because they are very infrequently associated with allergic reactions," says Dr. Coates.

Other Skin and Coat Benefits When Using Quality Cat Food

Quality cat food is crucial to keeping cats healthy in so many ways that it should come as little surprise that cat food also plays a vital role in keeping their skin and coat healthy — even cats that don't suffer from food allergies. Cat food with a proper balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, for example, will promote vibrant hair that doesn't split, break or fall out as easily. Additionally, cat foods with omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect to reduce itching and other irritations caused by allergies or environmental conditions (like low humidity levels in the winter).


So why wait? Discuss with your veterinarian how diet and other means can help your itchy cat today.

Image: MOSO IMAGE / via Shutterstock

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