Cats can develop allergies to various substances that they can touch, inhale, or consume. In this post, our Vancouver vets list some common allergies in cats, how you can recognize them, and the treatments available.
Allergies In Cats
Like humans, cats can develop allergies when their bodies become sensitive to something in their environment. As the body's defenses go into 'overdrive,' a range of symptoms can arise. 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 allergies, and food allergies. It's not unusual for cats to have more than one allergy at a time, so your cat should visit your primary vet or veterinary dermatologist for an examination and diagnosis.
Causes & Types of Allergies In Cats
While there are many 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. We have listed a few of them here:
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 a cat's breathing or causes itchy skin dermatitis. Our feline companions can also be allergic to indoor allergens such as perfume, smoke, certain cleaning products, some types of flea-control products, prescription drugs, and several kinds of kitty 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. Like 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 just a single flea bite, which can result in 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.
Specific foods or meal ingredients can also cause an allergic reaction in cats. Common perpetrators often found in commercial cat food include beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken. Your vet can help uncover the foods or ingredients that could be causing the allergies, and develop the best possible treatment plan for your kitty.
Symptoms & Signs Of Allergies In Cats
If your cat is allergic to a substance or has a condition causing allergies, they may exhibit some of these symptoms:
- Watery or runny, itchy eyes
- Loss of fur and itchy, inflamed, red, crusty, or dry skin
- Gastrointestinal troubles (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea)
- Respiratory symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and wheezing (especially prevalent in cats with asthma)
- Snoring (due to throat inflammation)
- Ear infections
- Swollen, tender paws
- Anaphylaxis (rare cases)
If your cat displays signs of an allergic reaction, contact your veterinarian to arrange an appointment. This is especially important if there are respiratory symptoms, as this can swiftly become an emergency.
Diagnosing Cats With Allergies
Your veterinarian will go over 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 cat's allergies are related to food, your 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.
Treating Allergies in Cats
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 could consist of:
- Prescription or vet-approved lotions, ointments, ear drops, or eye drops
- Oral antibiotics
- Anti-inflammatory topicals
- Allergen-specific immunotherapy (a.k.a. allergy shots) for severe cases
- Prescription dietary supplements
- Prescription shampoo or ear flushes
- Corticosteroid therapy (especially for asthmatic cats)
- Injectable prescription medication
Your veterinarian may also recommend giving your cat over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Claritin (loratadine) to help with your kitty's allergies– but it's imperative 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.
Home Remedies For Cats That Have Allergies
If your cat has been diagnosed with allergies, there are several measures you can take at home to help lower or eliminate allergic triggers. Some of these steps include:
- Feed your cat an appropriate diet free of known food allergens
- Using vet-approved parasite control
- More frequent cleaning to reduce dust and dirt
- Use dust-free litter at home
- Avoid smoking around your cat (particularly if they have asthma)
- Regularly clean and wash your cat's bedding
Your veterinarian or vet specialist can determine the best course of treatment so your cat can start feeling better, sooner!
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis o