Just as humans and other animals can experience the symptoms of allergies, so can our feline friends. Today, our La Mesa vets discuss allergies in cats and what you can give them to help relieve their symptoms.
As in people, allergies occur in cats when their body develops a sensitivity to something in their environment. As the body's defenses go into 'overdrive,' a variety of symptoms show up. The type of symptoms that manifest depends on the cause of the allergies, which can be categorized into three main types: environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), flea allergy, and food allergy. It is not unusual for cats to have more than one allergy at a time, so your primary vet or veterinary dermatologist should examine and diagnose your pet.
The Different Types of Allergies in Cats
Although there are a wide variety of allergens that can trigger a reaction in cats, there are some commonly seen types in cats that can affect their respiratory, dermatological, and gastrointestinal health.
Environmental Allergies (Atopic Dermatitis) In Cats
Some of the most common causes of allergies in cats are environmental in nature – pollen, fungi, mold, dust, grass, and weeds can trigger an allergic reaction that affects their breathing or causes itchy skin dermatitis. They can also be allergic to indoor allergens like perfume, smoke, certain cleaning products, some types of flea-control products, prescription drugs, and some types of cat litter.
Despite the common term, cats can be allergic to more than fleas – they can have an allergic reaction to a number of insect bites and stings. As humans can have an allergic reaction to a wasp sting, cats can experience a similar exaggerated inflammatory response to bites and stings from insects like blackflies, horseflies, mosquitos, ants, ticks, spiders, bees, wasps, and, of course, fleas.
Cats that have a severe allergic reaction can become extremely itchy from even just one flea bite, which can lead to aggressive itching and scratching. This can cut or damage the skin, putting your pet at greater risk of infection and a cycle of further itchiness and skin wounds.
Certain foods or meal ingredients can also cause an allergic reaction in cats. Common perpetrators commonly found in commercial cat food include beef, dairy, wheat and chicken. Your vet can assist in determining the foods or ingredients that could be causing the allergies, and determine the best treatment plan for kitty.
The Most Common Symptoms of Allergies in Cats
If your cat is allergic to a substance, or has a condition causing allergies, they 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 displays signs of allergic reactions, get in touch with your veterinarian to book an appointment for care. This is especially important if there are respiratory symptoms, as this can swiftly become an emergency.
Diagnosing 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.
How Allergies in Cats Are Treated
In order to treat your cat, your vet or veterinary specialist will first treat the symptoms (e.g. itching, GI problems) and any secondary conditions or infections. The treatment used for your cat will depend on the underlying cause of their allergies, but can 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
Your veterinarian may also recommend over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Claritin (loratadine) – but it is critical to get the correct formulation of the medicines, as versions with decongestants or pain relievers could harm cats. These medications also tend to be less effective than in humans and have side effects like sleepiness or excessive energy.
Caring For Cats With Allergies at Home
One of the easiest ways to help manage the symptoms of allergies in cats is to take the time to reduce the exposure to allergens in your own home. 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.