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Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Skin/Food Sensitivities Cat Food is our top pick, but if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require a prescription consider Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein.
Hypoallergenic cat foods can be good options for cats with allergies, since they contain ingredients that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction. While true food allergies in cats are actually pretty uncommon, cats that do have them are most likely to have a problem with beef, fish, or chicken. Hypoallergenic foods therefore don’t typically contain these ingredients or have hydrolyzed versions of them that don’t usually cause an allergic response. Despite the hypoallergenic designation, no food is truly without risk of causing an allergic reaction in your cat. Every cat may be allergic to something different, so hypoallergenic foods simply decrease the likelihood of a reaction occurring.
We researched the market to create this list of the best hypoallergenic cat foods, although most will require an authorization from your veterinarian.
Best Overall: Hill's Prescription Diet z/d Skin/Food Sensitivities
While veterinary authorization will be needed to purchase this diet, Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d is a popular choice for cats with allergies. The proteins are hydrolyzed to very small levels, making it unlikely that your cat will have a problem. Only one type of carbohydrate is included in the dry kibble. The high standards of Hill’s pet food manufacturing, its veterinary formulation, and 100 percent satisfaction guarantee makes it our best overall choice for allergic cats.
Best for Skin Allergies: Hill’s Prescription Diet d/d Skin/Food Sensitivities
Veterinary approval will also be required to purchase this venison and green pea formula, but it is a high quality option for cats with allergies or sensitivities. Triangle-shaped kibble has a high palatability score among cats and it has added omega-3’s for skin health. The venison is not hydrolyzed, but is unlikely to cause a problem in cats since it is not a common allergen. It contains no natural chicken or fish meat, and comes with the Hill’s 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.
Best Dry Food: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed Protein HP
This hydrolyzed protein diet will require veterinary authorization, but contains added ingredients not only for skin and coat health but digestive health, too. Prebiotics like fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and beet pulp as a fiber source help cats with gastrointestinal concerns, while omega-3’s health support the natural skin barrier. The hydrolyzed protein should not cause an allergic response plus Royal Canin offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.
Best Natural: Evanger's Super Premium Rabbit & Quail Dinner
Evanger’s rabbit and quail canned cat food is cooked inside the can and is free of preservatives. This pate offers a complete and balanced diet, since it has appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals. It does not require veterinary authorization for purchase.
The family-owned company has been making pet foods since 1935, and was also the first pet food company to hand-pack its products instead of using a machine to fill cans. The company philosophy is to make “simple, meat-based formulas.”
Best Grain-Free: Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet Hydrolyzed for Food Intolerance
Hydrolyzed salmon offers a change from tradition hydrolyzed diets in this grain-free kibble from Blue Buffalo. This diet requires veterinary approval but it contains no chicken, corn, wheat, soy, or artificial preservatives. It also contains probiotics for digestive health, omega-3’s for skin and coat health, and a variety of antioxidants. The food provides complete and balanced nutrition according to AAFCO standards and comes in a round kibble shape.
Best Budget: Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Grain Free Green Pea and Duck Formula
L.I.D. diets from Natural Balance are commonly found in pet stores and may better suit your budget if your cat does not require a hydrolyzed food. Duck is the novel protein and green peas are used as the single carbohydrate source but the food is grain-free. Natural Balance offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee, and this limited ingredient diet will help you avoid some common allergens while staying within your budget. This food does not need veterinary authorization to be purchased.
Best for Picky Eaters: Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Grain Free Recipe
Some cats can be really picky eaters, which makes it especially difficult to find a hypoallergenic food that they’ll eat. Pet owners give this flavor of Instinct cat food a high rating on flavor, so picky pets may be more apt to give it a go. Rabbit is the novel protein in this food and it contains no grain, chicken, fish, beef, dairy, soy, or potatoes making it less likely to cause a problem for a cat with allergies.
With concerns for the quality control of pet foods and the potential for a product to contain an allergen, trusted companies like Hill’s and Royal Canin can provide scientific research, high manufacturing standards, and satisfaction guarantees on their products. Hydrolyzed proteins and single carbohydrate sources are the safest option for allergy-prone cats, so foods like Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d (view at Amazon) are recommended. Hill’s Prescription Diet d/d (view at Amazon) is another quality option to ensure common allergens are avoided.
What to Look for in Hypoallergenic Cat Food
Hypoallergenic cat foods are also referred to as novel protein or hydrolyzed diets, and may contain a hydrolyzed protein and a single carbohydrate source. Many people think that grain allergies are common in pets but they are actually very uncommon. Animal proteins are what cats are more often allergic to, so by hydrolyzing them, the body is tricked into thinking they aren’t allergens.
Hydrolyzation involves breaking a protein down into smaller pieces and typically prevents the immune system from reacting to it. This means that some hypoallergenic foods may still contain beef, fish, chicken, or other proteins, but they will be hydrolyzed and therefore unlikely to cause a problem.
Other hypoallergenic foods contain different types of animal proteins aside from beef, fish, or chicken. These less common proteins are often called novel proteins. Grains or carbohydrates are less likely to be a problem, but a hypoallergenic diet may also have only one of these options to further decrease the variables.
To further complicate things, some pet foods have also been found to contain ingredients that aren’t on the label. This makes it even more difficult to avoid ingredients that your cat is allergic to or to figure out what your cat is allergic to in the first place. Finding a high quality, trusted hypoallergenic cat food is of utmost importance if you and your veterinarian suspect your cat has food allergies.
Age of Cat
The Association of Animal Food Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends feeding different diets to kittens and adult cats. The nutritional requirements of these two age groups should therefore be taken into consideration when looking for a hypoallergenic cat food. Most hypoallergenic foods are designed to meet the needs of an adult cat, but kitten formulas are possible to find.
Senior or geriatric cats should eat adult hypoallergenic cat food options, but some products may be labeled for seniors. These foods may have added ingredients to help support an aging cat but the nutritional requirements will still follow the AAFCO recommendations for an adult.
Weight of Cat
Obesity is a common problem among housecats. If you have an overweight cat that also needs to be on hypoallergenic food, decreasing the total amount you feed is your best option for your cat to lose weight. Increasing the amount of exercise that your cat gets will also help to get the weight off your cat but cutting calories, regardless of what type of food you are feeding, is what will really help your feline friend lose those unwanted pounds. This way they’ll feel better not only because they have less weight putting stress on their joints, but because their skin and coat are more comfortable from the hypoallergenic food.
Some hypoallergenic cat foods will require a veterinary authorization before you can purchase them. This is because these foods are not designed for cats that don’t have diagnosed allergy concerns. Many “prescription” diets are intended to be fed under veterinary guidance because they will not work as intended if you feed your cat other things or don’t manage your cat’s symptoms with other therapies.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Adrienne Kruzer is a Registered and Licensed Veterinary Technician in three states and has been writing about pet and vet information for over a decade. She also regularly lectures on pet nutrition to fellow veterinary professionals and works for a major veterinary supplement manufacturer.
She has both a personal and professional interest in pet nutrition and enjoys helping owners solve problems with their pets. Her years of working in various animal hospitals alongside her formal college education and elective continuing education classes have provided her with a wealth of experience and knowledge.