Cat Food Allergies with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM

| August 14, 2015 | 3 Comments

Charlie scratchingCat Food Allergies with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM

Originally published June 7, 2013

Thank you to Dr. Jean for taking the time to talk to Floppycats about Cat Food Allergies.

Dr. Jean’s book, The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care: An Illustrated Handbook, is an excellent book about holistic cat health and care.

Dr. Jean also covers Food Allergies in Cats with Dr. Jean Hofve on her site as well as in an article that she wrote on Only Natural Pet – “Overview of Allergies – Part 1 of a 3 part series“.

Here is a quick list of our other interviews with Dr. Jean:

Cat Food Allergies with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM

Audio Recording: Cat Food Allergies with Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM (click here) or listen via the YouTube video below:

Jenny of Floppycats: OK. I think it’s being recorded. Did you hear that it was?

Dr. Jean: Yes.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK, good. So today is June 7, 2013 and we are going to talk to Jr. Jean Hofve about cat food allergies. Dr. Jean, thank you very much for doing another interview with us.

Dr. Jean: Oh, my pleasure.

Jenny of Floppycats: Can you talk in general about what allergies are caused by?

Dr. Jean: Well yes. Allergies in people, in dogs and cats, and I suppose in turtles and fish maybe, are caused by protein. For some reason, your body reacts badly to a protein. Allergies are a big deal. They involve the entire immune system. They involve making antibodies to a particular protein. In cats, in cats and dogs, allergies tend to be formed to things that they’re chronically exposed to. Whereas people can be allergic to a bee sting the first time they get stung, that’s very uncommon in animals, and that kind of anaphylactic reaction is very uncommon. But what we do see is we see allergies to things like pollen and dust, dust mites, and to food, sometimes to bedding, sometimes to things in the environment, carpet. Inhalant allergies are by far the most common, but food allergies do occur.

Jenny of Floppycats: You had mentioned when we were emailing about this that many cats have food intolerances but not really food allergies. Is there a way to distinguish from the symptoms what it is?

Dr. Jean: Not well. Do you have a cat that’s reacting and you think it’s to the food? There are two possibilities. One is that it’s just reacting to something or one or more things in the food like the colorings or the flavorings or the preservatives or some component of the food rather than an allergy. It’s much more common to have it be an intolerance than an allergy. But both can cause skin signs, and GI signs like diarrhea or vomiting. But food allergies are much more apt to result in skin symptoms in cats. In dogs, inhalant allergies usually cause skin symptoms and in cats to some extent. And people get a little confused on the point about inhalant allergies. We would call it in people hay fever. But in dogs and cats they don’t get hay fever systems. If they’re allergic to pollen or dust or whatever, they generally break out in skin symptoms, a rash or a little dermatitis somewhere, or they’ll get an area where it’s itchy so they start licking and they create a hotspot by just going after it too much. Gastrointestinal signs are more likely to be a food intolerance but it could be an allergy. And the way to tell is to switch foods. But if it’s an allergy, just switching foods may not be enough and you are going to want to do a diet trial. Now before you start trial treating basically, there’s not really a way to tell them apart because they’re so similar. But you can bet that in the case of diarrhea in particular that it’s more likely to be a food intolerance than an allergy. In both cases, you’ll see a response with a different food, but a food allergy you have to change the food completely. Like if it’s chicken based food, you would go to something like rabbit. You have to switch proteins.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK.

Dr. Jean: We can talk a little bit more in detail about what a diet trial involves. It’s a fairly intense process.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. Being one that switched my cats from dry food to wet food, any diet change is not so fun, but the benefits are worth it.

Dr. Jean: I had a cat, my own cat, I’ve known client cats to take two years to switch from dry to wet food.

Jenny of Floppycats: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Jean: And my own cat—he ate the wet food OK. But when I started feeding raw foods, the one cat would eat it. She would eat anything. She would eat an elephant if I tethered it to the ground. She was fine with it. But the other cat, Spirit, for whom Spiritess is her name, she had that raw food sitting next to the wet food for three years before I saw her take a bite.

Jenny of Floppycats: Wow.

Dr. Jean: It was an act of crime to convert her but she watched [INAUDIBLE 6:08] for three years eat that food. She was a stubborn, stubborn girl. But eventually she got over it and she loved the raw food after a while. But boy, she was a tough cookie.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. I’m trying to get Charlie and Trig on raw food but I’m dreading the process.

Dr. Jean: Yes. Mine eat the raw food. They like the Rad Cat and they like it even better if I make the food so there you are. They prefer mom’s cooking. I wish they didn’t.

Jenny of Floppycats: Right. Of course they do.

Dr. Jean: Yes, because you’re putting that little extra flavoring in it called love. They know. They definitely know when that’s there. But one thing I would like to point out about dry versus wet food is that dry food is much more commonly associated with food allergies. Part of the reason for that is that dry foods are heat processed twice. They get cooked at 250 to 260 degrees or more at the rendering plant, the meat meals and the protein meals they’re rendered first and then they’re put through extrusion which is a high heat high pressure process. So heat denatures proteins. Proteins are very interesting molecules and they’re all folded up into a very particular configuration. The GI tract knows what to expect in there. It’s ready to handle certain configurations. But when the proteins get denatured, they get distorted. The folding goes wrong and they get all gnarly, and the immune system is much more likely to react to that. And there was actually a case study published of a cat that was food allergic and it did not respond to the dry form of the allergy diet. But when they put it on the canned food of the same diet, everything cleared up immediately. Canned food is heated once to about 160-165 degrees and usually in the can, and that’s in. That’s still high enough to kill bacteria and it’s high enough to denature proteins. But it seems not to have as much damaging effect as the dry food processing.

Jenny of Floppycats: Interesting. When I was in Denver last year driving by that Purina plant, I don’t know what highway I was on, but the smell, and that makes sense because of all the heat.

Dr. Jean: Yes, yes. And the ingredients that are going into Purina dry food—we don’t have to go into that. Let’s just say it’s not your steak and potatoes really.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. Maybe that’s also why I thought it smelled especially bad. OK, I know that you touched on some of the symptoms but just to kind of line them out in bullet points if you will of what symptoms do cats display when they’re allergic to something in food?

Dr. Jean: If it’s skin symptoms, they usually develop what’s called miliary dermatitis as opposed to military dermatitis which is if you’re allergic to joining the navy or something. Miliary means lots of little spots. It’s basically a rash, and you tend to see it especially on the face, around the eyes, and in that patch where the hair is thin between the eyes and the ears.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. OK, I’ve seen that. Yes.

Dr. Jean: Sometimes they’ll get itchy feet, but it’s usually around the head. I have seen it kind of on the back of the shoulders, and they can do a tremendous amount of damage there because they can get to it, the face, they go after it with their back feet because it’s itchy as heck. Sometimes you see it on the tummy. But these symptoms can be inhalant allergies, they can be any kind of allergies. They can be a lot of things. So it’s important to work with your vet to tease apart what are the things—let’s try this then that, and make sure you get—a biopsy is usually not rewarding because it will just say it’s inflammation and it doesn’t tell you anything about the cause. Now even if the cat is developing a symptom in response to an inhalant allergy like pollen or dust mites or whatever is floating around in the air, they develop the same symptoms. But a hypoallergenic diet trial will often help clear those up also because my theory is and it has no basis in science but it’s based on 20 years of looking at it, when you simplify the diet or you change the diet so those common allergens aren’t there, I think just simplifying the diet or going to a canned or raw or homemade, there are fewer allergens presented to the immune system. There’s just less crap going in that the immune system has to sort out. And I think just simplifying things just gives the immune system a break. Sometimes it’s hard to tell even when they do respond to a diet trial, it may not have been a food allergy. So it’s very tricky to tease it apart. The other major symptom is diarrhea and vomiting and sometimes vomiting is the only sign. Even though the inflammation is usually lower down in the tract, it’s very hard to diagnose without a biopsy what’s going on. But inflammatory bowel disease, which is like turbo allergies, that will have the same signs, intestinal lymphoma, cancer, can have the same signs. And there is some thought that a food allergy that’s not addressed can progress inflammatory bowel disease which can progress to cancer. The thing is if it’s just vomiting, in 20 years of practice my conclusion is cats just like to vomit, and so frequently. So my kind of rule of thumb is if they’re vomiting once a week, a couple of times a month, I don’t worry too much about that, especially if there’s grass in it or hair. You can chalk that up to irritation or just they like it. So they do things to themselves to make themselves vomit, eat too fast, eat too much, eat a moth. That’s fine. But if it becomes more frequent, more than once or twice a week, and if you’re on a pattern of increasing frequency, you want to nip that in the bud. You definitely don’t want it to go further down the road. And of course, you can trial treat yourself with a hairball remedy. That will often differentiate for you if something’s going on in the GI tract versus asthma, because the hairball hack sounds exactly like asthma. So you’ll want to tease those apart and sometimes just giving Vaseline or a hairball remedy will lean you one way or the other as to which is going on. Cats are complicated. There are so many things, but if it’s a hairball that’ll be solved by the Vaseline and asthma won’t and food allergies won’t be made any different with that. So that’s an easy thing to do at home and just see what happens, but don’t let it go on too long before you take more definitive action.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK, and can you just cover what you mean by the Vaseline for first time listeners?

Dr. Jean: Well, actually yes because hairball remedies are basically either mineral oil or petroleum jelly. I like petroleum jelly. It’s completely inert in the body. It’s more carbons in the chain than the body can break down. So it just stays in the GI tract exactly where you want it. It squirts the hair all the way to its destination, the litter box. A finger full of Vaseline, a lot of cats actually like it. And mine of course prefer brand name Vaseline. They won’t eat generic. Other cats, generic is good. They like Laxatone better than Petromalt better than Cadillac, whatever. They’re all based on the same principles. You grease it up, you stick all the hair together, and you skid it out the other end, and Vaseline does that very well. Some people give vegetable oil or other kinds of oil for hairballs and the problem with that is they may get the oil out of the stomach which is good but those oils can be broken down and absorbed by the body which is not necessarily a bad thing. But then it doesn’t finish it’s passport duty. It only gets it just so far and I worry about that. So I like something that’s inert, it’s safe, and it goes to beginning to end right there in its same form. It’s pretty handy stuff.

Jenny of Floppycats: So try like a teaspoon of it and you serve it in their mouth?

Dr. Jean: What I do is I take a little finger full, I stick my little finger in the jar.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK.

Dr. Jean: And my cats will eat it plain like that. Others they like the flavorings in some of the hairball preparations. If you’re going to do that, I would do a pretty good dose I think on the ones that are in the tube if there’s an inch or something, but do that for two or three days in a row and see. Give it a good trial. But if that doesn’t change anything, then you’ll want to call your vet and have a discussion about what the possibilities are or what he or she, it’s more likely to be a she these days which I’m happy to report.

Jenny of Floppycats: Oh, good.

Dr. Jean: Yes. My class at Colorado State was the first class where there were more women than men. So that’s been for a long time so it’s all good.

Jenny of Floppycats: Good. I have had better experiences with females so I’m glad to hear that, no offense to males that are out there.

Dr. Jean: It’s not that guys can’t be good vets. But I think that women tend to understand cats a little better. The cat nature is more feminine if you’re looking at yin yang and things like that. The cat nature is more yin, and dogs are more yang. So I think there’s something to that Chinese thing there.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes, I agree. I think that’s why women are always associated with cats too.

Dr. Jean: Mostly, yes. Except for Jackson.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes, exactly.

Dr. Jean: He’s [INAUDIBLE 19:00] too many roles.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. So you’ve touched on this replying to some of the other questions but what happens if a food intolerance or allergy isn’t treated?

Dr. Jean: Well, a food intolerance will probably just get worse and you’ll be tired of stinky messes in the litter box or you’ll be tired of cleaning up or stepping in cat puke. It kind of tends to be self-limiting in that you are going to do something eventually. It’ll just go on pretty much unabated until you fix something. Allergies, like I said, can get worse. They can turn into inflammatory bowel disease. They can turn into lymphoma. So that’s a road you don’t want to go down. You want to figure it out as early as possible because they will get worse and the symptoms will get worse and your animal will be more uncomfortable, they’ll be itchy, they’ll be jerky or whatever they’re doing, and it will get worse. And they’ll start losing weight because they’re not absorbing the food, they’re throwing it out on the carpet. Food allergies are more serious because they do involve the whole immune system. And once the immune system is kind of primed to make an allergy, to create an allergenic response with antibodies, the whole nine yards, they tend to do that in response to more things. You may start off with a food allergy, but if you don’t treat it they may then form other allergies. Like if you change an allergic cat food to something they’re not allergic to, if you leave it be, this is why I really emphasize variety and rotating food, if you put them on a different protein, eventually they will probably develop an allergy to that also. I like food rotation, and since I don’t like dry foods for kitties anyway, I’m sure we’ve probably talked about that, with canned foods, once they’re eating canned or if they’re eating raw, it’s much easier. You can vary the flavor of canned food every meal. You can vary the type of protein in the raw diet with every batch, which is every couple of weeks or freeze two or three kinds. Make two or three batches, one with protein, one chicken, one bison or emu or whatever you want, or lamb, rabbit, there are all kinds of ones out there if your cats is willing to eat some of the prepared diets. Honest Kitchen makes the dehydrated diet, and they’re not cooked. The diets that aren’t cooked tend not to produce allergies but anything’s possible. But certainly if you take a cat that’s allergic to chicken and because chicken is in everything nowadays, chicken is the most common allergen in dogs and cats right now. If you look at the studies, they don’t necessarily list chicken. But the allergists and internal medicine people say oh yes, totally. It’s number one. So chicken, beef, fish, wheat, corn and diary are the top allergens. But if you change from a processed chicken diet to a raw chicken diet, there’s a good chance that they will not react to the raw chicken because the proteins haven’t been altered. There’s nothing in it that they’re not kind of designed to eat and cats can eat bird without—Chris Rock, you know the comedian?

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes.

Dr. Jean: Once did a rift about food allergies and he said that all his friends have kids that are allergic to peanuts or shellfish or whatever, and he was like “What is allergic to food? It doesn’t make sense. How could you possibly be allergic to food?” And we don’t get allergic to food. We get allergic to processed foods, cooked in some way to not be allergic to the things that are raw. Raw food diets—now I will caution people that if you have a cat with a severe food allergy, bordering or into inflammatory bowel disease, now you’ve got a leaky gut, you’ve got a gut that’s inflamed, the blood vessels are swollen, the cells are swollen, the junctions between the cells are stretched out and they’re not stable any more. So now what you have is a situation where if you feed raw, potentially the bacteria that’s in all raw meat can get through. So you have a higher risk of salmonella or some other organism getting a foot hold and causing a real bad problem in there. So if you want to switch a sever allergy or an IBD cat to raw, I would say start by cooking it a little bit just so it’s pink and not raw, raw. And then as the gut heals you can cook it less and less and less. I know people who’ve gone straight whole turkey dry food to raw overnight no problems. But it’s an increased risk and of course switching a food abruptly can cause a world of hurt anyway. Cats may be willing to eat it or they may not. So a gradual transition is always the best way to go with a kitty because you’re changing a lot of things when you do that. You’re also presenting a different form of food to the bacteria in the gut. And the bacteria are used to doing one thing and the populations have adjusted to that. If you suddenly feed a whole different thing, you’re going to probably have some diarrhea or some other reaction because if you had never eaten raw food before, you might not react well to it. Your gut may say oh that’s interesting. I don’t know what else, protein, would be different from but I’m sure there’s something.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes.

Dr. Jean: The gut appreciates having a transition period to readjust the populations of the bacteria, to gear up the different enzymes. I think it’s just smarter to do a gradual transition. Now if you have an extremely allergic cat and you’re scared to death that something really bad is going to happen, they’re losing weight, you’re desperate, yes, try cold turkey. What have you got to lose? If you have a cat that’s on its way to a very bad state, yes, if you’re that desperate, yes, try it. But in general, we hope that people catch things earlier and you can do it in a more logical fashion.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. I like gradual in general. It makes more sense.

Dr. Jean: Yes, and if you’re transitioning do the digestive enzymes and probiotics to help with that transition. Those are always good. I’d recommend them to put them in the food regardless of what you’re feeding or what you’re changing but especially if you’re doing a transition. Definitely use the digestive enzymes and probiotics.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK. So treatment options available. You mentioned diet trials, we’ve kind of been talking about them already.

Dr. Jean: Yes, a little bit. But what people don’t understand when you’re dealing with an intolerance, you may be able to just change brands and you’ll get a different result. Because if you change the recipe and that one little thing isn’t there anymore, you can change flavors, you can change brands and probably you’ll get a good response. With an allergy, you want to be real clear about the change you’re making and you want to get a completely different set of proteins and carbs because the carbs contain some protein. Corn has a lot of protein. So if you’re going to do that, that’s why they make the venison and rice or rabbit and sweet peas or salmon and sweet potato. But a lot of times if it’s not specifically promoted as a hypoallergenic or a novel protein, that’s what we usually call it, that’s technically more correct, you have to make a complete change from whatever you’re feeding to an entirely new thing, and you have to be very religious about it. So if you’re getting away from chicken and you’re feeding rabbit and rice, and you still give [INAUDIBLE 29:20] or something or fish or something, because most cat foods also have fish meal or fish something in them for Omega 3’s. But if you give Bonito flakes or something or tripe that have chicken, you’re undoing your whole shtick right there because one exposure to that protein is going to cause a new allergenic response to be generated. So it takes 8, 10 sometimes even 12 weeks. Now if your systems are only gastrointestinal, then the response can be very fast within a couple of weeks. But if it’s a skin symptom, those take a long, long time to clear up because those antibodies have to fade out, you have to not stimulate new antibodies every day, and if you accidentally expose them to that allergenic protein, you’re going to have problems. So it’s really important to understand how strict you have to be. If you have multiple cats, they all have to be eating that because a stray molecule could really set off your cat’s whole immune system. It’s like a flea bite allergy where one flea bite can trigger a massive allergic response head to toe and they can be really, really miserable from one flea. So it’s just that easy to trigger the response when they’re already primed and ready. They’re on hyper vigilant immune surveillance in that way. If I see one of those suckers popping its head over the horizon, I am going to blast it to Mars. You really have to give the immune system a chance to settle down and say alright, OK, I think we’re in the clear. I think we’ve got them all. And then once all the symptoms are cleared up, if you’re feeling lucky you can try to reintroduce the suspect proteins back, but be ready for a bad reaction. My philosophy is why provoke it? Just stay with alternate proteins forever. It’s easy. One study not too long ago in the last couple of years, they actually went out and tested over the counter medicine formulas that were promoted to be kind of hypoallergenic. They were venison and green pea or whatever they were. And they found that one of them did not have any venison in it at all but it had soy and chicken. So there’s a lot of cross contamination that can happen. The hypoallergenic diets made by Hills and Purina and Royal Canin and whoever else is out there, those are pretty strict. I would go with the canned formula and I would maybe try and rotate those and try different things. There has been some evidence that after a few months, maybe 4, 5, 6 months, you may be able to switch back. But at that point you may be able to go to a home cooked or a raw, commercial raw or homemade raw, whatever you want. I just wouldn’t go back to the diet that you had before. If your cat reacted badly to Meow Mix, don’t feed Meow Mix ever. There’s lots of alternatives. I really like raw and homemade and even canned for cats. You’re just going to have those problems to begin with. It’s easier to rotate your proteins. It’s easier to keep the immune system a little off kilter so it doesn’t freak out every time it sees something new. That’s always a better way to go. Just don’t provoke.

Jenny of Floppycats: Right. OK. So talking about  prevention and you have mentioned this but again just to lay the question out there, how can you prevent food allergies or intolerances? Go back to rotation?

Dr. Jean: Yes. Don’t feed dry foods. If you must for some strange reason, you live in a [INAUDIBLE 34:15] and you’re always on the road, you can certainly even arrange other things for that. But if you’re traveling for some reason with your cat and it’s got to have dry food because you’re in the middle of Nevada and that’s all you can find, yes, it’s OK to have your cat be able to eat some dry food if in an emergency. That can be in the repertoire as a treat or something. But if the basic diet is not dry food, you have a lesser chance of creating allergies in the first place. And if you feed a variety of foods, then the immune system isn’t getting the same trigger every day, and it’s things that you feed every day for a long time or frequently for a long time, those are the things that are likely to cause the reaction.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK.

Dr. Jean: I think food rotation is great. Most nutritionists do not agree with that. But a few do.

Jenny of Floppycats: I think it is even from a chronic renal failure cat who’s dealing with that and trying to get him to eat anything, I think if he had been exposed to more then I would have had a little more success. So I think it’s beneficial in a lot of ways.

Dr. Jean: Right. And there actually have been studies on a variety of animals and they found that if they’re exposed to a varied diet when they’re very young, just after weaning, 8, 12 weeks old, and you start feeding them a variety maybe then, years later they’ll still be willing to try more things. But cats that are fed dry food from kitten hood, very hard to position because they don’t recognize anything else as food. Canned food isn’t food because that’s not what they’re used to. A different dry food isn’t food because that’s not what they’re used to. I’ve seen cats get into some pretty serious trouble with that because—there was actually—this woman called me and she was looking for Friskies Ocean White Fish that was made at a certain plant because her cat wouldn’t eat anything else. And that plant was closing down. So she was looking for cans with the particular code on the top. She had 142 cans left and if she didn’t find more the cat was going to have some—if he would stop eating, get hepatic lipidosis, probably not make it or just starve himself to death. Cats will do that. Cats are stubborn enough to if they don’t want to eat they will not and they will starve themselves. They’re very unique in that way. Most other animals, when they get that hungry they’ll give in but not cats. Boy, I’m hard headed Norwegian and cats make me look like a wimp.

Jenny of Floppycats: [LAUGHTER] Yes, I experienced that stubbornness in the transition process, very annoying.

Dr. Jean: Yes. When I was raising my kittens, they got everything. They got raw, they got canned, they got dry, they got every kind, they got lasagna. They were exposed to a wide variety of things. And now they’re pretty easy to change. Put a new food down and they’ll eat it. Now there’s a syndrome in cats where you put a new food down, they’ll eat it for two days like gang busters and they’ll never eat it again. Do not rush out and buy a case of a food that you think your cat really loves. If it passes three or four days and they’re still eating it, maybe yes. Maybe they’re going to be OK. But if they’re used to eating variety—my cats—there are foods that I think are good for my cat just like my mom fed me broccoli. Never liked it, still don’t, but I’m getting over it. I’m really trying. I’ll eat it in Chinese food at this point. But there are foods that I just think are better for them, it’s variety, and I want them to maintain their willingness to eat a variety of things. I’ll put it down until they eat it. Sometimes I have to put cheese on it, or a little baby food or something. But I make them eat it. It’s like tough love in this house. They need to maintain that willingness because you don’t know, we could have a blizzard. We had a fairly good—we had 7 inches of snow on May 1st. So you might not be able to get to the grocery store for a few days and if you run out of that, then you’re in trouble like the Ocean White Fish kitty. You want them to be willing to do that and you’re just going to run into fewer problems over time.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. I talked to a Ragdoll cat breeder one time and she mainly fed her cats raw, but also can and dry food. And I was like what? Why do you feed them dry food at all if you’re into the raw thing? She’s based in Florida and she said I want to expose the kittens to everything so that if there’s a hurricane and I can’t get food they can have food. So yes, it makes sense and it goes back to what you were talking about earlier.

Dr. Jean: I keep a little dry food on hand. Sometimes I use it as a treat. If they’re really bugging me, used to keep a bowl of it in my desk drawer because one cat, between me and the computer, that’s OK, I have a good place for that. Two cats can barely fit, and when the third one comes up, it’s like OK. That’s it, and I take a handful of dry, throw it through the door out, and they would be occupied then for a while, and then [INAUDIBLE 41:00] would get to play again. But as a treat, why not? I get popcorn for dinner every once in a while. I can go to Dairy Queen once in a while. I don’t do it every day but once in a while is not going to hurt anything. I’m anti-dry as a mainstay of the diet or even every day. But once in a while as a treat, I do want them to be willing to eat it. So I keep some stashed away. There’s a bag on the top of the refrigerator.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes.

Dr. Jean: You just want lots of options. With a kitty, it’s really, really important because you don’t know when you’re going to really, really need it.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. Hurricanes and snow are not things I really think about in Kansas City, but yes.

Dr. Jean: Yes, we had a blizzard a number of years ago in March and we had I think three or four feet of snow. My street got plowed because it was a snow route, it was the ambulances and there is a hospital a few blocks away so that was the main drag for the ambulances and fire trucks so it got plowed. But I couldn’t get my car out for days. It took me a week to dig out. And there was nothing within walking distance if you didn’t have snow shoes and a really stout heart you weren’t going to be getting anything you hadn’t stocked up on beforehand. And that was fine. We got over that. And by the way, when the post office says rain, hail, sleet or snow, they don’t really mean it.

Jenny of Floppycats: Not for three or four feet?

Dr. Jean: No, and they actually didn’t deliver for almost a week when everybody else could get out, they still couldn’t deliver the mail. It was really weird because it was way more than what it should be but you know, the post office has its problems. You know how Congress is—that whole thing. Then it snowed a couple of weeks later only 7 inches and we lost power for 4 days. I couldn’t get my car out of the garage because it was a flat roof and the snow weighed it down. The garage door wouldn’t clear it and there was no power. I couldn’t even open it manually. The door wouldn’t budge, and that was a real disaster. So you don’t know. We were out with the hurricanes, people were without power for days, weeks even. It’s good to have keep your supply handy but make sure that you have cats that will go along with that program.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. OK. I have some questions from readers but you had also mentioned that you wanted to talk about drugs. So did you want to do that before I ask the reader questions?

Dr. Jean: Yes, because that’s pretty simple. The number one drug of choice in cats with severe allergies is Prednisolone. It’s a form of steroid. Prednisone is a little different and cats metabolize Prednisolone better and it doesn’t require the liver to get involved. If there’s ever any reason to give Prednisone, you must have Prednisolone. Make sure your vet gives you Prednisolone. So that’s the number one. Sometimes they’ll give an injectable to give you a few weeks of relief in which you can be working on the other things, the diet and all that. Depo Medrol is the common one. One side effect is diabetes and I’ve seen it in cats their first shot of Depo Medrol. They get diabetes.

Jenny of Floppycats: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Jean: The very first shot. I had a client, it happened to him twice, which is why he ended up at our clinic. It’s like “I can’t believe this happened to two cats, the same thing, first shot, boom.” Overweight cats are more susceptible because their insulin is already screwed up. If they’re eating dry food their insulin is already screwed up. So you give a steroid on top of it, steroids and insulin work hand in glove. If you have a cat in a diabetic crisis, one of the drugs they give it is steroids. So closely tied in is a known side effect of the Depo drugs so you want to be very careful about that. But if your cat’s really miserable, treat it, even get a shot that lasts a few days, try [INAUDIBLE 46:36] or something that’s just short actin. But you’ve got to give them relief if they’re in pain. Inflammatory bowel disease is painful. If you’ve got an inflamed gut, you are miserable. That’s just not a happy thing. I think maybe in that case they really aren’t having a lot of fun vomiting. It’s just so severe. If they don’t respond to that, there are other drugs Cyclophosphamide, these are chemotherapy drugs. Even Prednisolone is a chemotherapy drug. So what they’re doing is thumping on the immune system and shutting down the immune response, period, right now, right away, for good. This is totally nasty immune system. Then you’re still prone to infections and other lovely things like that. These are serious drugs and they’re useful if you have a real problem and your cat is miserable. I wouldn’t say never use them but I’d say try them and see first. Try not to go there but there are cases where suppose you’ve been traveling and the cat sitter has been cleaning up vomit every day and never bothered to tell you or you weren’t accessible climbing Mount Everest, maybe and you didn’t have a cell phone. I would still carry my iPhone to take pictures I’m sure. But I can imagine scenarios where all of these things would be in the worst possible configuration. You’ve got to be prepared for that kind of thing. I can see situations that could get out of hand and you wouldn’t really realize it. You’ve got 12 cats. You don’t know who’s puking. And by then you figure out it’s the one that’s losing weight. You may be in a tough spot so those drugs do have their place. You want to use them the shortest period of time possible and really be working on getting around it in other ways. Herbs are helpful, acupuncture can be helpful, homeopathy can be helpful, all of these things take time to work. Natural therapies tend to take time.

Jenny of Floppycats: Right. Gradual.

Dr. Jean: Yes, because you’re working with the body instead of just shutting it down. I know to dial down something it takes more time and effort than to flip a switch. People have to be prepared for something that they’re going to have to deal with for a while. Stress plays a role in all of this too because stress with the immune system, you can get all kinds of weird reactions from that. I had a kitty that we finally got her dermatitis cleared up, finally. And she came in for her vaccine. It was due for rabies, it was a situation he had little kids. And I said I really don’t want to vaccinate this cat. And he—there was a reason why we really had to do it. And I only gave rabies, and in three weeks she was back with the same.

Jenny of Floppycats: No.

Dr. Jean: I said OK, that’s it. That’s it. We’ll never again. There are people that absolutely refuse to forgo vaccines, but vaccines call on the immune system for a big response and while it’s in the neighborhood well why not react to something else. So an allergy to anything can show up as skin systems in a cat, anything. It’s difficult to tease apart a skin condition. But very few of them are food allergies. On the other hand, ear infections in cats, more likely to be food allergies. Ear infections, you wouldn’t think, but I had a dermatologist that I worked with at CSU and she said she felt that 50% of cat ear infections were actually allergy based.

Jenny of Floppycats: Wow.

Dr. Jean: Yes, I haven’t seen anybody else say that but they don’t usually separate skins and ears and things. Ears respond to steroids, topical steroids. So then you never know what caused it. If you’ve got a chronic bad ear, yes, change the diet.

Jenny of Floppycats: Interesting. Well that kind of goes into one of the first questions, is there a way to differentiate between food allergies and environmental allergies was one of the reader’s questions.

Dr. Jean: Not really. Not really. A diet trial is your first recourse because both could respond to steroids. Allergy testing in cats, there are blood tests for allergies in dogs and there’s skin testing which requires anesthesia, big deal. Neither of them is worth a darn in cats. So really kind of trial treatment is the only way you’re going to know. And the only way you’re going to really know is once they respond to a novel diet you have to start reintroducing other food. If it’s an inhalant allergy, when they start to wear off it’s going to come back for its natural response. Inhalant allergies sometimes respond to a diet change. It gets really complicated. But there’s no good way to differentiate them in a cat, not without a lot of time and effort and you might never know.

Jenny of Floppycats: Right, process of elimination.

Dr. Jean: Right, and you may never know. You could try moving to a place that has different allergens if this cat is fighting with an inhalant allergy. But if it’s dust mites, then no matter where you are.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes. OK, this one, my rag doll has gas. What kitten food additives could cause this and recommendations?

Dr. Jean: Well there are 27 categories of additives that are allowed in pet food and many, many additives in each of the 27 categories. So it’s impossible to say which. However, gas forming bacteria, big one. So digestive enzymes and probiotics.

Jenny of Floppycats: Would be the solution?

Dr. Jean: Yes. And if you’re feeding dry food, get them off of dry food and especially kittens should not have a major part of their diet as dry food. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

Jenny of Floppycats: You’ve answered this one but just to make it clear because it was asked, can certain foods make a cat throw up?

Dr. Jean: Yes, if it’s an intolerance, any of those additives can do it. It could be an allergy. It could be a lot of things. And like I said, cats like to throw up so they will create circumstances for themselves to throw up. They’ll eat your [INAUDIBLE 54:40]. They’ll find something. They’ll find a bug or something to eat to make themselves throw up. It’s just when it gets more frequent then you start to say OK, this may be a real problem. But a kitten throwing up, that’s a problem. So yes, definitely get that checked out.

Jenny of Floppycats: I think this is for an adult cat. Sorry, I should have told you new question. So, new question.

Dr. Jean: It would be an issue in kittens.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yes, yes. That’s actually good to know. Here’s the next one. My kitty has a sensitive stomach to cat biscuits/food. Is it healthy to feed them raw mince, I think this might have come from a British reader, or chicken cooked with rice/veg as their diet or will they be lacking in vitamins, minerals, etc.

Dr. Jean: Well in extreme cases where you don’t want to use steroids and they’re in bad shape, you can do a meat and rice and maybe a couple of veggies. Veggies don’t add much nutritionally. If they’re cooked then some of the vitamins are gone but they can’t digest then unless they’re cooked or puréed or broken down somehow. There’ll say give ground lamb and rice for a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. But that is not a complete diet. In fact it is very, very difficult to get all the [SILENCE]. So you can do it for a while, not in a kitten, not in a kitten because they need their vitamins and minerals, but now that I’m on kitten, kitten on the brain. But yes, cats need meat. They definitely need meat. You cannot give a cat a vegan diet or even a veggie diet. That’s just ridiculous. I have a fairly extensive article on my website about vegetarian cats on LittleBigCat.

Jenny of Floppycats: I’ll link to it.

Dr. Jean: I’ve heard mince used in a couple of different ways. Sometimes it’s the canned or what they would call tinned food. That’s fine, sir. Oh dear, my alarm is going off for some reason. I wonder why. It’s probably reminding me to call you in a different time zone or something. But yes, if you could, just get him off of the dry food because that’s probably part of the problem. But if you’re mincing the meats, sure. But not just minced vegetables and rice, and you don’t want to do it in an unbalanced way for more than a few weeks.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK. The next one, I have a rag doll with apparently a sensitive stomach. He doesn’t throw up all the time but much more frequently than the other two. If he has anything with beef, he throws up within a minute. Is this an allergy or is this hard to digest? I’m speaking of cat foods not table food.

Dr. Jean: It could be either one. I saw a remarkable video one time. They had an endoscope in a dog’s stomach that was known to be allergic, I think it was to wheat. They had the endoscope looking at the wall of the stomach and they went in with a drop of concentrated wheat gluten.

Jenny of Floppycats: Oh, how cool.

Dr. Jean: And it was like watching a volcano erupt. It touched the stomach and the inflammation was instantaneous and massive. It was just amazing. The dog was under anesthesia.

Jenny of Floppycats: Right, right, but just thinking about him and his everyday life.

Dr. Jean: It could be an allergy. I think it’s probably more likely to be an intolerance because either one could cause inflammation. But an allergy involves the whole immune system and the whole antibody response. Once that response is formed, it can be pretty instantaneous but an intolerance is still more likely because there may be something in the food that the stomach has a similar reaction to and says oh no. So it could be either one. It’s hard to say with cats but obviously don’t feed him beef and be aware that natural flavors could include beef. There’s a whole lot of things that beef could be in so you’ve got to be careful. Here’s a point that we ought to make probably is that grain free—there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with grains as opposed to any other carbs. Carbs are not good for cats and low carb diets are best, wheat free or gluten free or corn free or soy free, yes, those all can be allergens. They’re uncommon allergens and if your cat is allergic it’s much more likely to be through a meat. There have been cases where dogs have been proven to be allergic to gluten. They have celiac disease. But it’s real rare, it’s real rare. So if your cat is reacting to something that has corn in it, don’t assume that corn is the culprit because chances are it’s fish or chicken.

Jenny of Floppycats: OK, interesting. OK, the last question says not sure how to word it but with my cat Merlo, we thought for a couple of months we were dealing with food allergies but it turned out to be dry FIP. If we had had diagnosis earlier we would have had the time to try PI or interferon, is that how you say that.

Dr. Jean: Yes, interferon doesn’t work particularly well sometimes.

Jenny of Floppycats: And he would not have lost as much weight from trying new foods. So I guess it’s not a question, but…

Dr. Jean: Maybe, maybe. Still it’s a fatal disease. It might have bought him a little more time but I would not beat yourself up over that. The food would have been a very minor issue with that going on. In the case of FIP, FIP itself is already an aberrant immune response. It’s a hyper immune response. So now you have an animal that could react to anything at any moment that at the moment is reacting to corona virus or something else. FIP is not caused by the virus. It’s associated with the virus. Flies are associated with garbage. It doesn’t mean flies cause garbage. But the idea that corona virus causes FIP to my mind it’s involved certainly. But is there a causation? There’s not really proof of that in my mind. But you have an immune system that’s reacting abnormally and it’s the inflammation caused by the immune system and the immune plaque and just the crazy immune response. That is what kills them.

Jenny of Floppycats: Yep, that’s awful.

Dr. Jean: It’s a horrible disease. And dry FIP can look like anything. It’s very, very tough.

Jenny of Floppycats: Knock on wood. I hope I don’t have to hear much more about those sort of stories. Awful.

Dr. Jean: Yes. And FIP is not as contagious as everybody thinks, and the vaccine is completely worthless. Do not vaccinate your cat for FIP.

Jenny of Floppycats: [LAUGHTER] Sorry, just completely worthless just made me laugh.

Dr. Jean: Well it is, it is, and there’s not an expert on the planet, anybody that really understands the immune system, nobody recommends that vaccine, or FIV for that matter.

Jenny of Floppycats: I know that vaccinations is on our list of topics so hopefully we can cover that soon. Is there anything else that you wanted to touch on?

Dr. Jean: Well the vaccine allergy connection, that’s certainly there. Let me look at our list here. Yes, I think we’re good. I think we’re good.

Jenny of Floppycats: Well thank you so much for your time and I look forward to future interviews.

Dr. Jean: Yes, we’ll do it when I get back from my trip. I’m getting ready way early. The weather up there is pretty good even, it has been for months which is unusual. I think by the time we get there it will be all good. And bear 399, the grizzly that lives in our neighborhood, he has three new cubs. So her last three cubs are still in the area and the two surviving cubs from the previous litter are also there. So now we have at least 5 in the area. How about that.

Jenny of Floppycats: That is really cool.

Dr. Jean: Yes. We used to see mostly black bears but now we see more grizzlies, like see them. We see a lot of grizzlies up there now. So it’s wonderful that their population is rebounding and 399 she’s a very smart bear. She hangs around culture bay and the human habitation because the big males will not come in there. Her cubs are safe from males that are not the father who would kill the cubs if they catch them, but they won’t come in that close to humans. She is a smart bear.

Jenny of Floppycats: [LAUGHTER] Sounds like it. Well that’s cool that you get to experience that every year because well it’s something more to look forward to.

Dr. Jean: Yes. I’m going to go over this afternoon and repair the screen house that the curious bears kind of tore apart last year.

Jenny of Floppycats: Good. Well thank you again and I’ll reach out next month sometime and I’ll certainly let you know when this gets transcribed and up on the site.

Dr. Jean: OK, perfect.

Jenny of Floppycats: Thanks and have so much fun.

Dr. Jean: If I just sit in my hammock for two weeks I’ll have fun.

Jenny of Floppycats: I get it.

Dr. Jean: Yes.

Jenny of Floppycats: All right, well I will talk to you soon.

Dr. Jean: OK. Take care

Jenny of Floppycats: Have a great weekend. Bye.

Dr. Jean: Bye.

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Category: Cat Food, Health Care

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About the Author ()

Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

Comments (3)

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  1. Great in-depth post, questions from you, and answers by a well-respected veterinarian! G

  2. Patti Johnson says:

    Always good to see this info again! Thanks, Jenny! 🙂 <3

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3

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