Cats, like their human companions, can be allergic to a variety of substances that they inhale, consume, or touch. Today, our Orange Park vet team discusses the different types, symptoms, and treatments for cat allergies.
What Are Allergies?
Cats, like humans, develop allergies when their bodies become sensitive to something in their environment. A variety of symptoms appear as the body's defenses go into 'overdrive.' The type of symptoms that appear is determined by the cause of the allergies, which can be divided into three categories: environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), flea allergies, and food allergies. It is not uncommon for cats to have multiple allergies at the same time, so your primary veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist should examine and diagnose your pet.
Types & Causes Of Allergies In Cats
Although many allergens can cause a reaction in cats, there are a few that are commonly seen and can affect their respiratory, dermatological, and gastrointestinal health.
Environmental Allergies (Atopic Dermatitis) In Cats
Some of the most common environmental causes of allergies in cats are pollen, fungi, mold, dust, grass, and weeds, which can cause an allergic reaction that affects their breathing or causes itchy skin dermatitis. They may also be allergic to indoor allergens such as perfume, smoke, certain cleaning products, flea-control products, prescription drugs, and cat litter.
Despite the common misconception, cats can be allergic to more than just fleas; they can also be allergic to a variety of insect bites and stings. Cats can have an exaggerated inflammatory response to bites and stings from insects such as black flies, horseflies, mosquitos, ants, ticks, spiders, bees, wasps, and, of course, fleas, just as humans can.
Cats with severe allergies can become extremely itchy from just one flea bite, resulting in aggressive itching and scratching. This can cut or damage the skin, increasing the risk of infection and perpetuating the cycle of itchiness and skin wounds in your pet.
Cats can also be allergic to certain foods or meal ingredients. Beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken are common culprits found in commercial cat food. Your veterinarian can help you identify the foods or ingredients that may be causing the allergies, as well as the best treatment plan for your cat.
Symptoms Of Allergies In Cats
If your cat is allergic to a substance or has a condition causing allergies, it may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Respiratory symptoms like sneezing, coughing and wheezing (especially prevalent in cats with asthma)
- Watery or runny, itchy eyes
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal troubles (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea)
- Snoring (due to throat inflammation)
- Swollen, tender paws
- Loss of fur and itchy, inflamed, red, crusty, or dry skin
- Anaphylaxis (rare cases)
If your cat shows signs of allergic reactions, contact your veterinarian to schedule an appointment. This is especially critical if there are respiratory symptoms, as this can quickly escalate into an emergency.
Diagnosis Of Allergies In Cats
Your veterinarian will review your pet's medical history with you before performing a thorough physical examination on your cat. The vet may also require other diagnostic tests such as blood tests and allergy skin tests. If your pet's allergies are related to food, the vet may adjust their diet to try to pinpoint the allergen.
Once your veterinarian has determined the cause or causes behind your cat's allergies, they can recommend effective treatments.
Treatment Of Allergies In Cats
To treat your cat, your veterinarian or veterinary specialist will first treat the symptoms (e.g., itching, GI issues) as well as any secondary conditions or infections. Your cat's treatment will be determined by the underlying cause of their allergies, but it may include:
- Prescription shampoo or ear flushes
- Anti-inflammatory topicals
- Oral antibiotics
- Injectable prescription medication
- Corticosteroid therapy (especially for asthmatic cats)
- Allergen-specific immunotherapy (a.k.a. allergy shots) for severe cases
- Prescription dietary supplements
- Prescription or vet-approved lotions, ointments, ear drops or eye drops
Over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Claritin (loratadine) may also be recommended by your veterinarian; however, it is critical to obtain the correct formulation of the medications, as versions containing decongestants or pain relievers may be harmful to cats. These medications are also less effective than in humans and can cause sleepiness or excessive energy.
Home Care For Cats With Allergies
If your cat has been diagnosed with allergies, there are some steps you can take in your household to help lower or eliminate allergic triggers. Some of these steps include:
- Using vet-approved parasite control
- Dust-free litter at home
- More frequent cleaning to reduce dust and dirt
- Regularly cleaning and washing your cat's bedding
- Feed your cat an appropriate diet free of known food allergens
- Avoid smoking around your cat (particularly if they have asthma)
Your veterinarian or vet specialist can help to find the best course of treatment so that your cat can start feeling better, faster!
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.