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J Vet Intern Med. 2001 Jan-Feb;15(1):7-13.

Food sensitivity in cats with chronic idiopathic gastrointestinal problems.

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Institute of Veterinary, Animal, and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


The objectives of this study were to investigate the prevalence of food sensitivity in cats with chronic idiopathic gastrointestinal problems, to identify the food ingredients responsible, and to characterize the clinical features. Seventy cats that presented for chronic gastrointestinal signs underwent diagnostic investigation. Fifty-five cats had idiopathic problems and were entered into the study. Diagnosis of food sensitivity was made by dietary elimination-challenge studies by using commercial selected-protein diets as the elimination diet. Sixteen (29%) of the 55 cats with chronic idiopathic gastrointestinal problems were diagnosed as food sensitive. The clinical signs of another 11 cats (20%) resolved on the elimination diet but did not recur after challenge with their previous diet. The foods or food ingredients responsible for the clinical signs were dietary staples. Fifty percent of affected cats were sensitive to more than 1 food ingredient. The clinical feature most suggestive of food sensitivity was concurrent occurrence of gastrointestinal and dermatological signs. Weight loss occurred in 11 of the affected cats, and large-bowel diarrhea was more common than small-bowel diarrhea. Assay of serum antigen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) had limited value as a screening test, and gastroscopic food sensitivity testing was not helpful. In conclusion, adverse reactions to dietary staples were common in this population of cats, and they responded well to selected-protein diets. Diagnosis requires dietary elimination-challenge trials and cannot be made on the basis of clinical signs, routine clinicopathological data, serum antigen-specific IgE assay, gastroscopic food sensitivity testing, or gastrointestinal biopsy.

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