If you’re a long-time cat owner, you likely know that many of our feline family members can exhibit sensitive reactions to many things. From finding puke piles around your house to watching your kitty scratch herself incessantly, it’s so confusing to figure out what’s going on with your cat and what you can do to help.
In these cases, your kitty’s symptoms may be due to allergies to what she’s eating or certain allergens in her environment. Like humans and pet dogs, our kitty pets are prone to several different kinds of allergies, including those to food ingredients, environmental factors, and fleas. Similarly, cats can also suffer from intolerances to food ingredients like their human and canine counterparts.
To help you figure out what’s causing your furball’s symptoms, we’ll share with you the types of veterinary and at-home dog allergy testing available. We also explain how they all work, what they can potentially identify, and whether they’re worth your money and time.
At A Glance: Best At-Home Allergy Tests For Cats
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What Causes Allergies In Cats?
Feline allergies fall into three main categories: flea, environmental, and food allergies.
- Flea allergies are the most common type of allergy in cats. While most cats only have minor skin irritation from a flea bite, some cats are allergic to flea saliva and can develop more severe reactions. Even one bite from a flea can cause intense itching all over the body.
- Environmental allergies can be caused either by inhaling allergens or through direct contact with items like shampoo or flea collars (although contact allergies aren’t nearly as common). Inhalant allergies, also called atopic dermatitis or atopy, can be year-round or seasonal. Common environmental triggers include dust mites, molds, pollens, and grasses. But cats can also be allergic to perfume, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke.
- Food allergies or intolerances in cats can develop anytime during their lifetime. The most common triggers are protein sources, such as chicken, fish, and beef, as well as dairy. Cats rarely have allergies to grains or gluten. True food allergies in cats can result in both skin and GI problems, while a food intolerance only causes GI issues.
When Should I Consider Getting My Cat Tested For Allergies?
If any of the following symptoms are ongoing, you should consider testing your kitty for allergies or intolerances to find the culprit and give your furball much-needed relief. Note: while environmental allergies usually don’t cause gastrointestinal (GI) problems, cats with food allergies or intolerances can exhibit any of these symptoms.
- Excessive scratching or licking
- Itchy skin leading to hair loss and skin infections
- Sneezing, coughing, and wheezing
- Itchy, runny eyes
- Swollen paws
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
We highly recommend scheduling an initial consultation with your veterinarian to discuss your cat’s symptoms. Your vet will ask you about the frequency and severity of symptoms as well as whether they occur all year or seem to be seasonal. Armed with this information, your vet can help determine what type of veterinary allergy testing is best based on your kitty’s symptoms.
Another option is to come to your vet visit with results from an at-home cat allergy test, which could help narrow down the suspected allergens. We’ll discuss these testing kits in more detail below and whether they’re worth considering.
How Does Cat Allergy Testing Work?
Allergies are caused by the body’s immune system, which produces a specific antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). A veterinary skin or blood test measures these IgE antibodies against different allergens to pinpoint the cause of atopic dermatitis (inhalant allergy).
They can also confirm a flea allergy. However, skin and blood tests cannot determine food allergies. Still, studies have found that an estimated 20-30% of felines with food allergies also have flea or inhalant allergic dermatitis so testing could still be beneficial even if a food allergy is suspected.
Intradermal Skin Testing
In intradermal skin testing, a veterinary dermatologist injects small amounts of different potential allergens just under the skin’s surface. The vet then looks for signs of an allergic reaction (hives, redness, and swelling) at each site. While it’s considered a bit more sensitive than blood testing, skin testing can be expensive, requires sedation or anesthesia, and must be performed by a veterinary dermatologist. But the results are immediate.
In blood testing, your regular veterinarian takes a sample of your cat’s blood and sends it to a laboratory to measure IgE antibodies against various allergens. While blood testing is prone to more false positives than skin testing, and results won’t be available for a couple of weeks, it’s less expensive, doesn’t require sedation, and can be performed by your regular vet.
Food Elimination Trial
In a food trial, your vet will put your cat on a restricted diet that doesn’t contain any proteins your cat has previously eaten. Food trials last for at least eight weeks. Vets use two approaches: a hydrolyzed diet or a novel ingredient diet. Hydrolyzed diets include proteins that have been broken down (hydrolyzed) to be too small for the immune system to recognize. A novel diet only includes ingredients your cat has never eaten before.
If you suspect that your kitty has a food allergy or intolerance, you can also try a non-prescription limited ingredient food, like Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet, to see if that helps. For best results, make sure you’re feeding your feline friend a protein she’s never had before (Natural Balance has duck and venison options). And make sure to choose a complete and balanced diet that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines.
At-Home “Allergy” Testing
At-home testing uses an entirely different method than vet allergy testing. It’s important to know that these at-home tests are intolerance tests rather than true allergy tests that your vet performs. What’s the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?
While a true allergy is caused by the body’s immune system, an intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system and is generally due to a digestive issue or a chemical reaction. These kits don’t test for IgE allergies. We’ll explain these tests’ methods of analysis in our reviews below.
At-Home Cat Intolerance Test Reviews
These commercially available testing kits are easy and non-invasive options that aren’t as expensive as veterinary testing. You order a kit online, collect your cat’s hair sample, mail it in, and receive results by email.
5Strands Pet Food & Environmental Intolerance Test
The 5Strands Pet Food & Environmental Intolerance Test is a popular option that many pet parents say was certainly worth it for their cats and dogs suffering from allergy symptoms. This test scans 10-15 strands of your pet’s hair using a holistic medical technique called bioresonance testing. Bioresonance measures electromagnetic waves emitted from your kitty’s hair to determine energetic alignments and imbalances in your cat’s body.
As 5Strands’ website explains, “Bioresonance works by scanning a hair sample to create a profile of the energies that radiate from a person or pet. This is called their energetic blueprint or profile. With this created profile, it can now be compared to all of the energetic profiles of all of the other items we test for. If the created profile from the hair sample does not harmonize with the items tested, the energy is distorted, and intolerance or imbalance is detected. The stronger the distortion, the higher the intolerance or imbalance.”
Food items tested for include proteins, grains, vegetables, fruits, fats, seafood, additives, and preservatives. Environmental testing covers fabrics, cleaning supplies, grasses, trees, mold, dust mites, and other animal dander. Results are color-coded and easy to decipher: red for a severe intolerance, yellow for moderate, green for mild, and gray for no response.
UCARI Intolerance Testing Kit For Pets
UCARI’s Intolerance Testing Kit For Pets is newer to the market but has already gotten many excellent customer reviews. Like 5Strands, this test uses bioresonance technology to analyze imbalances found in your pet’s hair. But UCARI’s kit is much more affordable and tests for many more items than 5Strands: 350 foods, 300 environmental factors, and 100 common pet care ingredients. They also say they can detect over 400 potential nutritional imbalances in your kitty.
The process is easy, and you get results much faster than other companies. UCARI’s results are color-coded to indicate severe and moderate intolerances, normal results, and nutritional imbalances. They also give you alternative food ingredients to replace ones that they’ve found intolerant for your kitty. Some customers, however, found the results confusing.
EasyDNA Cat Intolerance Test
EasyDNA’s Cat Intolerance Test is another affordable option, but it doesn’t test for as many items as 5Strands or UCARI. Still, EasyDNA has been in business for over a decade, providing dozens of different at-home DNA tests for humans, dogs, and cats. And they get overall very positive reviews.
This test also requires samples of your cat’s hair, but unfortunately, there’s no information on the website about the method of analysis. (We’re assuming it also uses bioresonance technology.) It says the results include items displaying a score of 85% and higher, which is the “turning point where symptoms begin to develop into an intolerance.” This, they say, is based on the laboratory’s analysis of thousands of pet intolerance tests. The results are easy to understand but not very detailed.
Are At-Home Tests Reliable?
For the most reliable results, a veterinary test is your best option if you suspect your pup has environmental allergies. No research has found at-home intolerance tests to be scientifically accurate, and many traditional veterinary experts find them questionable. However, some holistic veterinarians use bioresonance technology (similar to these at-home testing methods) to diagnose pet allergies.
We’ve also seen hundreds of reviews from pet parents who found that the results from the at-home cat intolerance tests we review here helped them nail down suspected allergens. Still, these kits shouldn’t replace a consultation with your veterinarian. We recommend that you discuss these kits’ results with your veterinarian.
How Much Does Veterinary Allergy Testing Cost?
Veterinary allergy testing varies by location and vet. But in general, you can expect to pay $195-$250 for skin testing, $200-$300 for blood testing, and $22-37 for prescription hypoallergenic food. However, these prices are just for the tests. You’ll also likely have to pay a vet consultation and examination fee. And if your kitty is getting skin testing, your regular vet will likely refer you to a veterinary dermatologist. Skin testing also usually requires additional fees for sedation or anesthesia.
An existing pet insurance policy may help you cover some of the costs of vet allergy testing, vet specialist visits, and even prescription cat food. But coverage can vary based on the pet insurance provider and your specific policy.
It’s heartbreaking seeing your kitty suffer from ongoing tummy problems or itchy skin. If you suspect your cat has allergies and you can’t afford vet visits or expensive testing, we hope we’ve provided some helpful information about at-home allergy tests and DIY food trials. However, we still recommend consulting your vet about your cat’s symptoms because they could be due to conditions other than allergies. It’s important for your vet to rule out any potentially serious problems.