Limited Ingredient Diets For Cats

brown tabby cat on brown wooden table

Key points

  • A limited ingredient diet for cats contains a very limited number of high-quality ingredients. LID is particularly suited for cats with sensitive stomachs;
  • LID typically contains one novel protein source and one carbohydrate source. Eggs, soy, grain, preservatives, and artificial ingredients are omitted in LIDs;
  • Limited ingredient food can also be used as a trial diet to determine what ingredients a cat is allergic to;
  • Beef, dairy products, lamb, white fish, eggs, chicken, cereal, and soy products are most commonly associated with food allergies in cats;

Nowadays, limited ingredient cat food is gaining widespread popularity. Veterinarians often recommend these diets to treat feline food allergies.

However, are you sure that you know everything about limited ingredient diets? Before trying this type of food out, you need to have a clear understanding of its features, the benefits it can provide, and how it compares to other cat food available on the market today.

What is Food Sensitivity?

Before we can get into all the features of limited ingredient diets, we need to talk about food sensitivities. Food sensitivity is an umbrella term for food intolerance, allergies, and the like. It is essential to understand that food intolerance is different from a food allergy.

person holding white ballpoint pen

An allergy refers to the activation of the body’s own defense mechanisms against food components that have been wrongly identified as hazardous substances. Symptoms of allergies usually include excruciating itching, rashes, and occasional swelling of the mucous membranes. Allergic reactions are carried out by the immune system.

On the other hand, the immune system is not involved if a pet suffers from food intolerance. This condition occurs simply because the pet’s body is incapable of digesting some product. Intolerances are often accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting.

While it might be hard to tell the difference between the two, the solution for them, fortunately, is the same. A limited ingredient diet is typically the best decision for sensitive stomachs. It might help settle your cat’s sensitive stomach, regulate its gut health, promote regular bowel movements, and increase the amount of moisture in its diet.

Which Foods is My Cat Sensitive to?

“Wrong” protein sources are the most common triggers of food intolerance and allergies in pets. Most cats develop adverse reactions to certain proteins present in the meat or grains found in their pet food. The following food allergy or intolerance triggers are at the top of the list:

  • Beef
  • Dairy products
  • Lamb
  • White fish
  • Eggs
  • Cereals or soy products

Artificial flavors and many other additives such as colorings, flavor enhancers, or stabilizers used in cat food production can also cause intolerance.

egg piled on tray

What is Limited Ingredient Cat Food?

As one might guess from the name, a limited ingredient cat food diet has fewer ingredients than regular cat food formulas. The nutritional value of these diets is typically the same as that of conventional cat food. However, to avoid adverse, i.e., allergic reactions, the number of compounds in this food is very restricted. Limited ingredient foods are also intended to help regulate feline gut health and improve the overall well-being of animals. Many of such diets don’t contain eggs, soy, grains, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.

Many cat owners use limited ingredient diets due to their high protein content, natural blend of minerals, and suitability for cats with different food intolerances.

Please note that in the USA, the FDA doesn’t regulate the term “limited ingredient diet”, so manufacturers can take advantage of this and advertise their products as “limited ingredient” regardless of how many protein and carbohydrate sources they contain. Thus, we recommend checking pet food labels and ingredient lists or even asking your veterinarian if the food in question has a limited number of ingredients.

Limited Ingredient Cat Food Ingredients

High-quality limited ingredient cat food will typically contain a single protein source, single carbohydrate source, optional supplements, and fats to balance the nutritional profile. Moreover, some manufactures also use sustainably sourced protein such as insects, fish, or ecologically farmed meat in their products. This makes these limited ingredient diets not only good for your cat but also good for the Earth.

raw fish lot

Don’t forget that, unlike dogs, cats are obligate carnivores by nature, meaning that they can get enough nutrients only from animal-based protein.

It is also important to ensure that the protein source in the diet is unknown to your pet since novel foods cannot cause allergies in cats. Some examples of protein sources that are likely to be novel to your pet are duck, rabbit, venison, horse, insects, etc.

Commonly used carbohydrate sources in limited ingredient diets include potatoes, brown rice, or peas.

Fruits, vegetables, and other additives are generally avoided in these diets since they make it harder to determine a cat’s reaction to a specific source of protein.

Is a Grain-Free Diet the Same as Limited Ingredient Cat Food?

Generally, veterinarians do not consider grain-free foods to be limited ingredient diets, even though they have ingredient restrictions. The term “grain-free pet food” is not regulated by most government agencies around the world. According to many specialists, it is often used for marketing purposes rather than to provide a customer with information on ingredients. Moreover, the term “grain-free” doesn’t tell the customer anything apart from the fact that the pet food doesn’t contain any grain. As a result, even grain-free food can include a large number of ingredients and additives.

So the only difference of grain-free pet food compared to conventional cat food is that instead of containing common whole grains, it is manufactured with other carbohydrate sources such as lentils, peas, and sweet potatoes. At the same time, this food has the same protein sources, including dairy products, beef, chicken, etc.

Since cats digest grains well and feline allergies to grains are very rare, there aren’t any significant scientifically proven benefits of grain-free cat food. However, if your cat is generally prone to allergies and cannot tolerate grain well, you can try switching it to a grain-free or limited ingredient diet to see if it improves the pet’s health.

Benefits of Limited Ingredient Cat Food

There are many benefits to placing your allergy-prone cat on a limited ingredient diet. However, compared to regular feline diets, there are no evident advantages of limited ingredient cat food for otherwise healthy cats. So if you’re considering switching to limited ingredient pet food even though your cat doesn’t have any indications for it, it probably won’t have any influence on your cat’s well-being. However, it also shouldn’t hurt your pet.

How do I Know My Cat Needs Limited Ingredient Food?

Cat owners often use limited ingredient foods to diagnose or treat feline food allergies.
If you suspect that your pet may be sensitive to one or more ingredients in its food, you have to keep an eye out for symptoms of feline allergies.

Allergic cats often develop hairless, crusty spots in front of their ears and on their backs. They can also experience itching. Since scratching typically causes small injuries on the skin that can easily get infected with bacteria, inflammation is another common symptom of food allergies.

Many cats with food allergies also experience gastrointestinal reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, and constipation.

However, feline food allergies are not that common. If your vet suspects that your cat is suffering from one, they might prescribe a trial diet with limited ingredient foods. Pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease are also common indications for limited ingredient diets. However, a limited ingredient diet shouldn’t be used as a preventive measure.

You should always remember to consult your veterinarian before switching your pet to another diet. The professional can correctly determine the best food formula and protein source based on your cat’s dietary history.

How to Switch to Limited Ingredient Food For Cats?

Transition to a new diet should be carried out gradually since unexpected food changes can provoke health issues in your cat. Depending on your cat’s body, the transition might take up to several weeks. During the transition, you should combine limited ingredient cat food with the foods your cat is used to but not allergic to. Increase the proportion of new food every day and reduce the proportion of regular food. Remember that your cat typically needs only 200 – 400 calories a day, so don’t give it more than that. Overfeeding can lead to obesity even if you feed your cat high-quality pet food.


Is a limited ingredient diet good for cats?

Veterinarians recommend limited ingredient diets for cats that suffer from food intolerance or allergies. Such diets are beneficial for felines with hypersensitivity since they can help improve the cats’ hydration levels, regulate bowel movements, enhance gut health, and promote overall health.

What is LID cat food?

Limited ingredient diet (also known as LID) is pet food that contains a restricted number of high-quality ingredients. Such diets typically have only one source of protein and one source of carbohydrates. Despite the limited number of components, LIDs are full of essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and other nutrients.

What should the first ingredient in cat food be?

The order of the ingredients in cat food is essential since the ingredients are listed in order of predominance, so the first ingredient accounts for the largest portion of the food. Therefore, a protein source such as chicken, beef, insects, etc., should be listed as the first ingredient on the pet food labels.

What are the most common food allergies in cats?

In most cases, cats develop allergies to beef, fish, chicken, and dairy products.

What is the best dry cat food for a sensitive stomach?

Hypoallergenic insect-based pet food manufactured by PetCan is a healthy and reasonably priced option for cats with sensitive stomachs.