Cat is allergic to Merrick--what should I try next?
February 25, 2013 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Are there non-prescription simpler, yet awesome cat food to try to alleviate his allergies?

I inherited a cat from my grandpa in October and I've swapped him over to Merrick food since then. We went halvsies with his leftover food until that ran out and now he's been on Merrick for a few weeks. I don't know what he was on before, but I'm sure it was just some grocery store junk. He had a little hair loss near his ears when I got him, but now he's just scratching himself all up on his head and neck. Judging by some of the pictures of hair loss and allergy-related symptoms I looked at on Google, I'm even wondering if he had a slight allergy to his previous food.

I haven't completely ruled out parasites, but none of my other animals are having a reaction and this at least seemed to correlate with the change in diet. He's white and obviously has no fleas and his ears are very healthy and clear of ear mites. Doesn't mean he doesn't have lice or something else, I suppose, but I'd like to first try diet change to see if it's that simple.

I'm assuming everyone will suggest Evo or Wellness Core, which I don't doubt are great foods. The only thing I'm concerned with is that all of these foods have basically the same ingredients (similar carb and protein sources, and a variety of them) so how am I supposed to figure out what he's allergic to or hope that switching to one of these expensive brands will alleviate the problem? Are there non-prescription simpler, yet awesome cat food?
posted by rawralphadawg to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
My pet-expert friend gave us this advice when kitty was vomiting his food: most allergies are either to grains, dairy, or a specific type of meat. Allergies can develop and get worse. The best solution is to limit the diet to a food with the most natural ingredients and hopefully catch what the allergy is. Or you can switch kitty to a raw diet, thereby excluding almost everything that he could be allergic to.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:59 PM on February 25, 2013

And on re-reading your question -- you should probably get him to the vet to test for other things like hypothyroidism.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:01 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with DoubleLune about a vet visit, but in the meantime:

Usually my vets (I'm a vet assistant) recommend looking for a high protein, grain-free diet, especially if it has only one protein source. It's possible the Merrick has another protein source that wouldn't be a problem for your kitty. Is it the grain free Merrick, or another kind? Is it a chicken based food? Maybe fish would be better, if that's the case.

Personally, I would go to a different protein source and a different brand. Orijen, Evo, and Acana are all pretty good.
posted by faethverity at 9:57 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

According to my vet (and my own anecdotal experiences with my two cats) the most common sources of food allergies comes from poultry and grains, because those are in nearly every cat food out there. Try switching to grain-free food that has a novel non-poultry protein source such as venison and green pea. Duck is also considered a novel protein source but, in the case of my cats, it did not solve their allergy problems because it's poultry, even if it is a lesser-used form of poultry.

FYI my cats now eat Call of the Wild venison and green pea dry food, and Natural Balance venison and green pea wet food and all of their skin allergy issues have completely disappeared.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:58 PM on February 25, 2013

How about starting with Evo in the chicken and turkey flavor? That would remove grains, and reduce the meat types to just chicken and turkey. They also have a duck flavor, a beef flavor and a venison flavor you could try if turkey/chicken doesn't go down well. This simplifies things quite a bit, and IMHO Evo is really good quality.
posted by Joh at 9:58 PM on February 25, 2013

Additionally, depending if your cat is a fussy eater, you might need to find a flavor he likes. My fusspot refuses venison and beef, but loves anything duck or fish flavored! I think that PetFoodDirect and a few other online places offer a sampler pack, so you can try out the flavors.
posted by Joh at 10:00 PM on February 25, 2013

Weruva. All the way. Absolutely transformative for my cats.

You can also get a varying set of flavors, and try him out one by one to eliminate allergies.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 5:54 AM on February 26, 2013

It's not made with a novel protein (i.e. venison) but California Naturals makes both grain free & grain inclusive foods with minimal ingredients. The grain inclusive has only 4 ingredients, in addition to vitamins/minerals; chicken, brown rice, sunflower oil & flax seed.
posted by muirne81 at 5:59 AM on February 26, 2013

Also, hair loss can be caused by non-allergy medical conditions --n'thing a vet trip for bloodwork. Cheap? Probably not, but neither is 10+ years of high-end kittie niblets.
posted by muirne81 at 6:03 AM on February 26, 2013

If he does turn out to have food allergies, Nature's Variety makes limited ingredient diets - I'd probably try the turkey. We've just switched to feeding the regular kind of chicken and rabbit variety cans to our two and they love it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:37 AM on February 26, 2013

Best answer: Natural Balance makes grain-free, limited ingredient canned food.
posted by amarynth at 7:06 AM on February 26, 2013

I tried switching my cat from Evo kibbles turkey and chicken formula (purple bag) to Merrick Before Grain brand of kibbles and she developed a rat ulcer on her lip. The vet treated it with predisolone and I switched her back to Evo. It appeared to be an allergic reaction to something in the Merrick. My guess is it was one of the many fruits and vegetables in the Merrick food.

My friend has a cat allergic to poultry and he eats venison and buffalo (I think) food.

I agree with everyone above on checking in with the vet to rule out any other issues.

And just FYI, the only other time she developed a rat ulcer/swollen lip was when she had two vaccine booster shots in one vet visit. I of course panicked, thinking she was having an anaphylactic reaction to the shots, and took her to the emergency vet. It turned out ok; the two vaccines had upset her immune system but not to that severe a degree. She had a benadryl shot and it eventually went down. So, I don't recommend doing that with your cat. Space the shots out a couple of weeks at least.
posted by fozzie_bear at 7:32 AM on February 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions! He's on the Merrick Before Grain Salmon formula so I'll find something with a different protein source. He seems to happily eat anything, although I think he prefers the dog food to his own. He always tries to sneak a kibble or two when I feed her (also fish protein, but a different brand).

Definitely not opposed to a vet visit; I just figured I could try something in the interim that would hopefully have a positive effect.
posted by rawralphadawg at 8:40 AM on February 26, 2013

Best answer: One of my cats is allergic to salmon, so I know that it is possible. I started by limiting his protein to tuna based wet food (I hadn't been feeding any tuna containing foods) until he was healthier, then added other sources back one at a time. When the vomiting started up again, we knew. But do get the cat checked for thyroid problems because before he was allergic to salmon, my cat was hyperthyroid and threw up all the time.

Also, my cats both hate Merrick in general. Wellness is ok, Natural Balance and Nature's Variety both make good salmon free foods, and Weruva actually looks and smells better than some human food. Even if it doen't seem like cat foods are different, like BG and Evo, they use different supplement mixes and oils and the damn cats can tell!
posted by monopas at 12:41 PM on February 26, 2013

Best answer: Late back to the party, but meant to say, the lady who does also does not recommend feeding fish for these reasons:
  • high allergy potential (manifested as skin allergies or inflammatory bowel disease, and possibly asthma)
  • toxin/mercury contamination
  • PBDEs (fire retardant chemicals) - PBDEs are potent thyroid disruptors (apparently in fish?)
  • often high in phosphorus and magnesium
  • highly addictive - the cat will not eat anything else

posted by Medieval Maven at 9:37 AM on March 1, 2013

Response by poster: I just wanted to give an update on Tom. I switched him to Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Duck and Pea formula and actually saw improvement right away. I then took him to the vet for his first check up with me as an owner and she sort of spot checked him and, unfortunately, believed me on the improvement part and didn’t recommend blood work or a very thorough examination IMO. I will be choosing a different vet for our next appointment, which may be soon. I really should have demanded tests instead of being overly optimistic.

The most marked improvement when I switched foods was something I didn’t think to mention, which was throwing up semi-frequently but not overly worrisome like after every meal or to the point his appetite changed. I had a couple really long-haired cats when I was a kid and they threw up legit hairballs every now and then so I thought the barfing was at least a little normal. Also, I know from the state of my grandparent’s house that it occurred regularly and I did switch his food without a change in the throwing up once before. This is my inexperience as a cat owner showing. I’ve since read that it’s really not normal at all! I am SO relieved that it came to a complete stop. He’s only thrown up once since the change.

Otherwise, his wounds cleared up rather quickly and have had a chance to heal since I keep on top of trimming his nails, but he’s STILL scratching (although less fervently). After establishing that the food made a positive impact, but not a total cessation of the itchies, I bought cat Frontline Plus and monitored him for a month. He just had his second dose a week ago and I’m sort of leaning toward mites or lice, although I haven’t seen any parasites (and the vet said his ears and such seemed very healthy/parasite free, but they didn’t test his skin or anything so…). He just seems to be itching a bit less now and actually recovering.

His hair is pretty much growing back in and he looks nice again, but he still itches some. I’ve also noticed now that he’s overgrooming his inner front legs and “armpits,” but the problem doesn’t seem to be worsening. I realize this could be stress, but he seems so well-adjusted! He plays, he grooms the dog, he’s not fearful of ANYTHING, and he’s abundantly affectionate. It also showed up 5-6 months after I got him, so I’m leaning more toward environmental cause.

I also switched his litter to a non-clay litter independent of the above “trials” of food and Frontline just to make sure that wasn’t an/the issue. Nothing happened and I don’t like that litter at all.

I will probably take him to a different vet in the near future for a second checkup exam and some blood work to be sure. After he’s finished this bag of NB LID, I will try to find a non-LID that he does well on (now that I know what that looks like) in case I need to do an elimination diet in the future. Leaning toward Weruva based on recommendations here and the variety.
posted by rawralphadawg at 7:06 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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