Is there anything I can do to keep my kitten from developing food allergies?

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Cats usually develop food allergies between the ages of two and six, but a cat at any age can develop them.

It still hasn’t been clearly determined which cat breeds are more allergy-prone, but many suspect Siamese breeds lead the list. What is known, however, is that both young and middle-aged pets have the greatest problem with allergies, and senior pets, the least. The reason for this is that the white blood cells in senior pets are less efficient at storing and releasing histamine so that histamine-mediated allergic reactions decrease with age (although the immune system weakens in older cats, so they have more difficulty fighting off skin and other infections.)

Prevention is always better than treatment and, while there is no way to completely thwart the problem, you should know that corn and wheat, which are found mainly in dried food, are big culprits. Cats also tend to be allergic to eggs, soy products and milk; many cats are lactose intolerant and, despite a common myth, can’t drink it. (You can always try milk substitute, Catsip, found in most pet supply stores.)

You also need to know the difference between food allergy and food intolerance.

A food allergy is an over-reaction of the immune system. Antibodies are specialized cells of the immune system that protect the body from foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. If these cells become over-protective, they can misinterpret harmless substances like proteins in your cat’s food, and attack. The heightened response to these substances, called allergens, results in allergy symptoms.

Cats can also be allergic to food coloring, preservatives and additives. Since allergies build up, consider rotating her diet every six months. Make gradual changes so you don’t create GI upset. By rotating, you won’t give her the opportunity to develop sensitivity to the food.

Food intolerance, however, shows up immediately. There is no immune reaction, so it usually appears as a gastrointestinal problem, including vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.

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